PTA Radio Systems Replacement project falls victim to US-China trade war

The consortium delivering the digital radio systems project in Perth has fallen apart.

An alliance of Huawei Australia and UGL (HUGL) won the contract to upgrade radio communications for Western Australia’s Public Transport Authority (PTA) in 2018, however on March 27, 2020 WA Minister for Transport Rita Saffioti announced that the current contract will no longer proceed.

The HUGL consortium fell victim to increasing trade restrictions placed on Chinese exports by the US government, with restrictions imposed in August 2019 cited by the WA government as the tipping point.

In 2017, the WA government announced the $120 million project, which would involve installing new towers and poles with digital-friendly infrastructure, to enable the replacement of the current analogue radio system with a digital one. This involved all radio devices in trains, security vehicles, and handheld radios. Moving to a digital system would allow for data as well as audio to be transmitted by radio. Future Automatic Train Control systems, which PTA has aimed to install as part of the Metronet project, would utilise the digital radio systems.

Since the contract was awarded, the parties have had to grapple with restrictions placed trade between the US and China. Tariffs imposed on Chinese exports would increase the uncertainty around the cost of the project, timelines, and effectiveness of the final solution.

“It is extremely unfortunate that the State Government’s project – which is limited to a radio network for train drivers and transit guards – has been caught up in the ongoing trade dispute between the US and China,” said Saffioti.

The WA government has indicated in a statement that it will continue with the project, although it will be delayed.

“Given the trade dispute, and the current economic and health crisis facing the world, the PTA has recommended a fresh approach for the radio replacement project,” said Saffioti.

“The PTA will continue its plans to deliver a new digital radio system for our expanding public transport system.”

Potential options include the withdrawal of Huawei Australia from the contract, or the termination of the contract as a whole. The PTA will look to preserve current subcontract arrangements.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority has extended the deadline for the PTA to vacate the analogue radio spectrum to beyond 2021.

Steven Marshall appoints SAPTA board members

The South Australian Government will add four new members to the board of the South Australian Public Transport Authority Advisory (SAPTA) board from July 1.

The appointments coincide with the transition of South Australian public transport services from the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure (DPTI) to SAPTA on the same date.

SAPTA will be charged with the delivery of customer-focused reforms for South Australia’s public transport network. Adelaide has some of the lowest rates of public transport use in Australia, with around 84 per cent of workers choosing to commute to work by car according to 2018 figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

The four members set to join are Reece Waldock, Monica Ryu, Fergus Gammie and Chris Vounasis, all of whom bring several years of industry experience to the board. 

Waldock is the former chief executive officer of the Western Australian branch of the PTA, while Gammie is a former chief executive of the New Zealand Transport Agency. Vounasis holds more than 18 years of experience in local government and the private sector while Ryu brings over 20 years of experience in transport innovation

Waldock will act as the board’s presiding member, reporting to SA Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Local Government Stephan Knoll.

“We have assembled an experienced team with great technical expertise that will provide frank and fearless advice to government,” Knoll said.

“Public transport patronage growth has basically stalled over the last decade and we need to provide a better service to encourage more South Australians to catch a bus, train or tram.”