approvals

Inland Rail approvals get fast-tracked in $1.5bn federal infrastructure spend

The approvals for the construction of Inland Rail will be sped up, as part of a $1.5 billion investment in infrastructure.

The Melbourne to Brisbane freight rail link is one of 15 priority projects that Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday, June 15, announced would benefit from expedited approvals. The list of projects also includes rail works in Western Australia.

Morrison said that joint assessment teams will be established between the Commonwealth, state, and territory governments to fast-track approvals.

The new spending on infrastructure follows a meeting of Australia’s transport and infrastructure ministers on Friday June 5, where the role of government to publicly fund infrastructure to spur an economic recovery following coronavirus (COVID-19) was prioritised.

Transport infrastructure was singled out as not only contributing to economic activity in its construction, but ongoing resilience to disasters such as bushfires. Ministers said that they would work to reduce administrative bottlenecks to get existing infrastructure projects underway.

In a communique released after the meeting, ministers said they would aim to have infrastructure lead the nation’s recovery from COVID-19.

“Ministers further agreed to work together to harmonise and streamline processes to clear the way for an infrastructure-led recovery to Australia’s current economic condition including consideration of infrastructure bodies processes and environmental approvals.”

At the June 5 meeting, ministers also discussed measures to get commuters back onto public transport, while ensuring safety.

Transport investment creates opportunity for skills development, local manufacturing

There is a significant opportunity to grow skills and investment in the Australian public transport sector, a new report has found.

Conducted by the Rail Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (CRC), Victoria University, and the Victorian Department of Transport, the report identifies changes to skills delivery and investment could fuel the sector and its supply chain.

The report made three primary findings, that young people do not know the diversity of roles in the public transport sector, that investment in the public transport supply chain encourages growth in the wider economy through innovation, and that new methods of training will be required to meet the demand for workers in the next 5 to 10 years.

CEO of the Rail Manufacturing CRC, Stuart Thomson said that the report’s finding can be used by the sector to inform future projects.

“The collective knowledge shared by the project participants highlighted some of the groundbreaking initiatives the transport sector is already undertaking to support its current workforce, while also emphasising new opportunities required in rail to attract, train and retain its future workforce,” said Thomson.

“We look forward to the transport sector utilising the results of this project to implement the key findings identified in the final report.”

As the pipeline of investment in public transport continues to grow, the sector will need to recruit to meet the demand for a growing workforce, and overcome stereotypes about the industry. The report found that young people are not aware of pathways in the transport sector outside of roles such as tram or train drivers, and that changing the perception of the workforce would tap into young people’s desire to be involved in public transport.

The study also recommended that investment not only target public transport projects themselves, but the local supply chains which support public transport. Investment in innovation, skills development boost the wider local economy, and can create ongoing jobs in advanced manufacturing.

As projects delivering new rollingstock progress over the next decade, the report noted that a diversity of skills will be required, and not just those that are currently being taught. Skills gaps such as in people-based soft skills will need to be addressed, highlights the report.

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Commuters warned to stay off public transport during peak hour

Commuters are being warned to avoid taking public transport in peak hours to reduce the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).

In a press conference on Friday, May 15, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said that people should not get on buses and trains in the state unless necessary.

“We don’t want any more people at this stage catching public transport in the peak. If you’re not already on the bus or train in the morning do not catch public transport,” she said.

Throughout the lockdown period NSW has run trains to a normal schedule to maintain capacity so that passengers can social distance, however with more workplaces opening up and people returning to work, there are concerns about the number of people on the services. Berejiklian said limiting passenger numbers would help to limit the spread.

“And I stress that strongly because we know overseas public transport was the main reason why the disease spread. At this stage we are maintaining good social distancing but we’re going to be very strict about that.”

Transport Minister Andrew Constance said that current patronage levels were reaching the capacity limits set to ensure physical distancing on public transport.

“Everyone will need to maintain physical distancing during this pandemic,” said Constance.

“That means if you are not already using public transport during the peak times, please do not use public transport during peak periods.”

Transport for NSW and Sydney Trains have put in extra measures to reduce crowding on services, including communication campaigns and managing numbers at stations using Opal gates.

“We will be monitoring patronage and have staff at key locations across the metropolitan area to assist customers,” said Constance.

A ‘no dot, no spot’ campaign will be used on trans to indicate where the safest places to sit and stand are. If a service is full, passengers will be asked to wait. Data will also be used to communicate what services have space via apps, social media and Transport Info.

Commuters in Adelaide were also asked to avoid using public transport. Travellers on the Gawler Line have been experiencing crowding partly due to 50 of the city’s 70 diesel trains being taken out of service due to a mechanical fault. South Australia chief public health officer Nicola Spurrier told local radio that crowded public transport should be avoided.

“I think it would be much safer to avoid getting on any public transport where you can’t do the social distancing,” she said.

Some jurisdictions around Australia have been encouraging commuters to use more active modes of transport such as walking or cycling to counter overcrowding on public transport and roads once work patterns begin to return to pre-COVID-19 norms.

Victorian public transport exceeds March targets

Victorian public transport operators have met all but one of their targets in March.

The only metric to not meet its target was the punctuality of regional trains, operated by V/Line, which fell to 85.4 per cent from 86.8 per cent, missing the 92 per cent total.

However, all other metrics were above the target and exceeded 12-month averages.

Metropolitan tram punctuality leapt the most, with a 5.3 percentage point increase from February figures. In March 86.8 per cent of tram services in Melbourne were on time. 98.7 per cent of tram services were delivered, exceeding the reliability target of 98.5 per cent.

Factors affecting these figures include the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown measures, with non-essential workers told to stay at home and limit travel. However, stage 3 restrictions, which made previous advice enforceable with fines, only came into effect on March 31, meaning that further limits will have a greater effect on April figures.

Metro Trains Melbourne listed a number of other factors which impacted on services in March, including flooding following heavy rainfall on March 5, the theft of signalling cable on March 13, and trespasser incidents, however 60 per cent fewer delays were caused by trespassers than in February.

Additionally, Yarra Trams has also had to content with COVID-19 measures, such as the cancellation of the Formula 1 Grand Prix. Renewal works on Plenty Road also had a significant impact upon the tram network.

Other renewal works were also carried out in March by Metro Trains Melbourne. A 10-day program of work on the Sandringham Line saw upgrades at Gardenvale Station, maintenance to overhead lines, signal upgrades, and level crossing renewal works near Brighton.

In total, 92.7 per cent of Metro Trains Melbourne services achieved the punctuality threshold, and 98.8 per cent were within the reliability window.

V/Line services achieved a 96.3 per cent reliability rate.

International bodies urge continuity in public transport

An international group of transport organisations have issued a statement urging that public transport services must run despite coronavirus (COVID-19) mitigation measures.

The group includes the International Association of Public Transport (UITP), the International Union of Railways (UIC), United Cities and Local Governments, and the International Transport Workers Federation.

In the statement, the group calls for continuity in public transport, particularly so that key workers can keep getting to and from work.

“Ensuring continuity of public transport and local mobility services is essential for society and the economy. This will ensure that the health crisis does not turn into a social one.”

The statement identifies measures that need to be taken to ensure that services continue, including the provision and supply of protective equipment for transport staff and operators. This will ensure the health and safety of staff and passengers.

The statement notes that in some cities, patronage has dropped by 90 per cent, and this can have a devastating impact on operators which rely on passenger revenues.

The authors call upon governments to rapidly adopt measures including financial support which supports the preservation of jobs and the industries which supply the transport networks.

Some best practice measures outlined in the statement include providing accurate and up to date information, conduct regular deep cleaning and disinfection, adapting service levels to passenger demand while ensuring continuity, and providing dedicated services for healthcare personnel. The implementation of these measures is of benefit not only to the networks themselves, write the authors.

“Bearing in mind that passenger transport systems are vital to the regular functioning of the economy, these measures would not just support the sector in question but the whole of society.”

Melbourne tram terminus upgrade complete

A newly upgraded tram terminus has reopened in the north of Melbourne.

The tram terminus at Melville Road, Pascoe Vale South will improve accessibility and services on Route 58.

It has delivered new amenities for drivers and has created an improved transport hub at the end of the line in Pascoe Vale South.

The upgraded stop includes a 33m platform that aligns with low floor trams for level access boarding, dual tracks to allow trams to turn around more efficiently and new signalised crossing.

New customer information displays, shelter, seating, improved lighting, and safety barriers were also included in the upgrade.

Melissa Horne, Minister for Public Transport and Lizzie Blandthorn, member for Pascoe Vale inspected the newly re-opened upgraded tram terminus on Monday.

“Adding a stabling area has made it easier for trams to turn around, which gives passengers on Route 58 more reliable services to and from the city,” Blandthorn said.

Horne said the Andrew’s Labour Government will continue to add services across the network.

“We’re also upgrading tram stops to make them more accessible for all Victorians,” she said.

The state government-funded upgrade also contributes to future running of the new E-Class trams, that are the largest, safest, and most accessible trams on the network.

E-Class trams are being built in Dandenong, Victoria and all 50 trams are expected to be delivered by mid-2020, bringing the total E-Class fleet to 100 trams.

Each E-Class tram can carry 210 passengers and includes audio and visual passenger information, air conditioning, improved safety features, and dedicated spaces for passengers with mobility aids or prams.

In 2017 route 58 replaced route 8 and 55 to meet high demand in the city’s inner west and north-west. 

Route 58 currently runs D, B and Z-Class trams. 

Construction of the new Melville Road terminus took place from 14 to 22 February 2020.

Auckland metro rail seeking new operations contractor following network boom

As Transdev Auckland’s contract to provide metro rail services comes to an end, Auckland Transport (AT) is seeking industry participants to operate the city’s metro rail passenger network from 2021.

Mark Lambert, executive general manager of integrated networks, said AT is now undertaking a tendering process for a future rail franchise agreement, with Expressions of Interest (EOIs) now open.

 “We have the determination to reinvigorate the region’s rail services. With the City Rail Link to be completed in 2024 and the other recent rail upgrades just announced by central government, the future of Auckland rail is very bright,” he said.

AT are moving towards a more integrated operating environment for rail services, this will see the incoming rail operator having greater responsibility and control for service delivery for the next phase of rail public transport growth in Auckland.

Last year public transport patronage totalled 103.2 million passenger boardings.

“We have made great progress in reinvigorating passenger rail in Auckland with the system now carrying 22 million passengers per year, with growth of 5 per cent in the past year,” Lambert said.

An AT Metro train services spokesperson said that figure is the highest rate ever of train patronage.

The first three of Auckland’s new trains have arrived and are currently being tested and certified, allowing larger trains to run during the morning and afternoon peak times.

The remaining 12 new trains will arrive before the end of the year, bringing the fleet to a total of 72.

Peter Lensink, Transdev Auckland’s managing director, said the increasing passenger numbers are also a reflection of the work being put in by the company’s train crew, on behalf of AT.

“Aucklanders want to get to their destination safely, on time, and in the care of highly-trained and friendly staff,” Lensink said.

Mayor Phil Goff says investment in infrastructure and improvements to services are encouraging the strong growth.

“Our record investment in transport infrastructure and services has seen public transport patronage grow at more than five times the rate of population,” he said.

The current rail operating contract for Auckland metro train services has been in place since 2004.

Following the evaluation of EOI responses received, AT will shortlist participants, who will be invited to respond to the RFP process for the Auckland Rail Franchise.

The contract is expected to be awarded in February 2021.

Major works begin on Parramatta light rail

The first sod has been turned at the former Rydalmere train station for major construction on the Parramatta Light Rail project.

Construction has commenced following the closure of the T6 Carlingford Line. 

Acting Minister for Transport and Roads Paul Toole said it was an exciting time for Greater Parramatta as works ramp up for the new high-frequency light rail.

“Today marks a significant step on a project that will transform transport connectivity in a growing part of Sydney,” Toole said.

“We’ve already hit the ground running with the decommissioning works along the closed Carlingford rail line, in preparation for its conversion to light rail,” Toole said.

“The new 12-kilometre light rail project will connect Westmead to Carlingford via the Parramatta CBD and Camellia, and is set to open in 2023.”

This follows the removal of the last level crossing on Parramatta Road last week.

Parramatta Light Rail Program Director Anand Thomas said the level crossing on Parramatta Road at Granville was one of the last remaining in Sydney.

“With the closure of the 132-year-old T6 Carlingford Line on Sunday 5 January to make way for the Parramatta Light Rail, it was time to decommission this level crossing which regularly stopped traffic to make way for train services,” Thomas said.

There are now less than ten active level crossings in Sydney, including seven on the Richmond line, one in Yennora and another in Fairfield.

The rail corridor from Clyde to Rosehill will not be converted to light rail and will be retained as a future public transport corridor.

David Borger, Executive Director of the Western Sydney Business Chamber said that the start of major works on Stage 1 should not be used as a distraction from the need to roll out the full Parramatta Light Rail network that includes the extension through Ermington, Melrose Park, Wentworth Point, and  Sydney Olympic Park.

“The NSW Government has been reluctant to commit to delivering on its promise of building the full Parramatta Light Rail network. It would be a tremendous shame to risk Stage 1 becoming a white elephant by not connecting it to the growing communities springing up along the shores of the Parramatta River,” Borger said.

Borger said Sydney’s leading peak industry bodies and the City of Parramatta along with 70 large organisations in Western Sydney wrote to the NSW Government last year endorsing the need for Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2.

Member for Parramatta Geoff Lee said the project was a major win for the region.

“This Parramatta Light Rail will bring people living in Greater Parramatta together with a safe and efficient public transport network,” Lee said.

“It will improve connections to popular key destinations across the region, while also linking into Sydney’s greater public transport networks.”

The Parramatta Light Rail will be built by a joint venture of Downer and CPB Contractors, and will be operated by the Great River City Light Rail consortium, which includes Transdev and CAF Rail Australia.

Toole said Transport for NSW was working hard to minimise the impacts of construction on businesses and the local community.

“Some disruption is unavoidable, which is why we will continue working with businesses to ensure they have the information and support they need,” Toole said.

He said Transport for NSW will also pause construction from 1 November until 31 January each year to minimise disruption at Parramatta’s Eat Street until the line is complete.

NZ announces new $1.1 billion rail investments

The New Zealand Government has announced a programme of new transport investments in six main growth areas across the country.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford said $6.8 billion is being invested across road, rail, and public transport infrastructure across New Zealand.

$1.1 billion is part of targeted rail investments aiming to get trucks off the road in the six main growth areas of Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Wellington, Canterbury, and Queenstown.

The rail package will include completing the third main rail line will remove a key bottleneck for freight and passenger services, as well as provide additional capacity for the increased services once the City Rail Link is completed.

Two new railway stations in Drury Central and Drury West will be funded, as well as electrifying the railway track between Papakura to Pukekohe to speed up commutes to the CBD.

Twyford said additional Wellington rail upgrades, including in the Wairarapa, will make the lines north of the city more reliable to meet a growing demand for rail services.

“Our decision to fund these projects by taking advantage of historically low long-term interest rates means this programme will free up funding in the National Land Transport Fund and Auckland transport budgets.”

Twyford said this programme brings forward and funds significant projects, allowing them to be built sooner.

“Many of these projects have been talked about for a long time, but we are the first Government to fund them, we have also made important changes,”

The investment announcement follows recent plans to revitalise KiwiRail’s Hillside workshops with demolition of disused and dilapidated buildings on the site currently underway.

Last year the Government announced a $19.97 million investment through the Provincial Growth Fund that has allowed KiwiRail to begin redeveloping the Dunedin site.

Stephanie Campbell KiwiRail group general manager property said Hillside will become a vital part of KiwiRail’s South Island freight and tourism operations.

“Demolishing some of the existing buildings is the first step in doing this, and contractors have begun work on the site, taking down two vacant workshops. 

“The next step is to upgrade the main rail workshops on the site, including overhauling the aging heavy-lift crane and traverser.

 “The planned improvements for the site will allow us to maintain more locomotives and wagons, as well as undertaking new types of work, such as heavy maintenance and upgrades.”

AusRAIL: Digitalisation centre stage for Thales

Rail technology provider Thales talks rail digitalisation, and its plans to showcase its digital rail solutions portfolio at AusRAIL PLUS 2019 in Sydney.

 


Rail experts like Mark Smalley all around the region are excited about what’s going on in the Australasian rail sector, and even more excited about what’s to come. Smalley, business development manager for Ground Transportation Systems at Thales, says the range of major capital works underway and the shift towards transforming existing operational systems as part of the “digital rail revolution” are key areas for the business.

“Thales is excited by the unprecedented levels of investment, particularly in NSW, with such a significant backlog of transport infrastructure programs and the ambitious Future Transport 2056 strategy,” Smalley tells Rail Express. “With a strong local presence in Sydney, a credible portfolio of references and a pool of global expertise, we are well positioned to support this vision and are committed to ensuring our customers realise maximum return from this once in a generation investment program.”

One of the key success factors to achieving this vision, he says, is internationally proven, next generation digital technologies.

“This is key to modernising the underlying operational infrastructure to deliver much needed capacity improvements, and significant operational performance, cost and safety benefits for passengers, operators and freight services. These benefits are realised by everyone: commuters, transport operators, businesses; the whole economy. New technologies mean adopting and adapting to new ways of working, however.

“It’s important not to forget the people and process elements of technology programs,” Smalley says. “Understanding how the end user will interact with the new system is essential to ensuring long-term success and acceptance of the technology. Recognising this, we aim to ensure these Human Factors elements are captured and addressed throughout the design, development and implementation phases.”

Digitalisation at AusRAIL

Thales presence at AusRAIL PLUS 2019 in Sydney will focus on the theme of rail digitalisation. Attendees will include key members of the Sydney-based Ground Transportation Systems business, with technical specialists on-hand to support demonstrations and showcase Thales’ urban and mainline digital rail solutions.

These include Thales’ SelTrac Communications Based Train Control (CBTC) solution, which helps move over three billion people annually across 40 major cities, including London, New York, Singapore and Hong Kong. Thales launched the future-focused seventh generation of SelTrac, SelTrac G7, at Innotrans 2018, and will demonstrate it again at AusRAIL. “This is something I’m particularly looking forward to,” Smalley explains. “Having worked in London for several years on CBTC projects on the Underground network, I’m excited to apply this knowledge and experience here.”

Thales’ internationally proven rail Traffic Management System, ARAMIS, in operation in 18 different countries including Germany, Austria, Portugal, Denmark and the UK, will also be on display along with its complementary digital services platform solutions, TIRIS and Naia. “Our innovative Digital Services platform supports applications which specifically respond to the needs of rail operators today,” Smalley says.

“Naia uses big data analytics to understand passenger behaviour and journey patterns to improve passenger experience and boost operator revenues. TIRIS provides predictive maintenance capability for the assets deployed on the physical rail network, reducing maintenance costs and improving asset reliability.”

Finally, Thales will show off its innovative smart sensing solution, Lite4ce, which Smalley says will “fundamentally transform the way we obtain, gather and analyse data from the trackside to the operational control room”. “Lite4ce is a passive fibre optic axle counter device, meaning no need for outdoor electronics, power supply or copper cable,” he explains. “It is a balance between a disruptive technology with its new capabilities and staying compatible with signalling and operational rules applied by our customers today. It also meets our primary need for reliable train detection with low life-cycle costs. We are really excited to bring these technologies to the Australian market”.

Four-pillar transport strategy

Thales has prioritised four target sectors for rail in the region: Metro, Light Rail, Mainline Signalling and Control Systems, and Through Life Support Services. In Australia, Smalley and director of strategy, marketing and communications Sita Brown explain, the company aims to serve each with a good balance of local and global expertise, drawing upon a pool of 3,600 people in Australia, 8,200 global rail specialists, and a workforce of 80,000 worldwide.

“Within Metro, we’re delivering the mission-critical Communications and Central Control System for Sydney Metro, one of the most high-profi le transport infrastructure programs I think in the world, but certainly in the Southern Hemisphere and one which will fundamentally improve mobility options for millions of Sydneysiders,” Smalley says.

“Then there’s Parramatta Light Rail, where we’re working with our customer CAF to deliver the integrated rail systems package. This is Thales’ first foray into the light rail space within Australia, which is a huge and exciting opportunity for us.

“In terms of Mainline Signalling and Control Systems, Thales is also targeting Transport for NSW’s Digital Systems program, which will bring ETCS Level 2, Automatic Train Operation, and a modern Traffic Management System to the Sydney Trains network. Along with Sydney Metro, this is the most exciting rail systems program to land in Australia and is something that we’re very much hopeful we can play a part in.”

The fourth pillar of Thales’ rail business in Australia is the most recently added – Through Life Support Services. Smalley explains: “One of our global strengths is that we prefer to form long-term collaborative partnerships with our customers, where we not only deliver the technology to meet a specific project outcome, but where we also support and enhance the systems over time in line with our customer’s evolving operational needs. From our perspective this is the best way to do business.”

Local skills investment key

A substantial skills and capacity challenge stands as a major obstacle to the success for all this transport investment, and Smalley believes a focus on developing local skills and competency is an absolute necessity, not just for Thales in the Australasian market, but for the industry as a whole.

“This is a fundamental issue for the successful delivery and long-term return on investment for these programs and for sustainability of skills, capacity and capability in the region,” he says.

Recognising the need for a sustainable answer, Thales established a transport competence centre in Sydney. Including a dedicated transport graduate program to develop the next generation of rail specialists, the centre supports skills and workforce development in the region. Complete with a digital rail integration and test lab as well as technology and system demonstrators, Smalley says it is allowing Thales to address some of the key challenges associated with deploying technologies from overseas into the local ecosystem.

Emphasis has also been placed to ensure work at the competence centre engages local rail specialists, as well as Thales’ global network of experts to leverage best practices and lessons learned.

Smalley is keen to see Thales’ customers and partners embrace skills development in a similar way.

“For example, the proposed Rail Technology Campus in Sydney is a concept we’ve been particularly supportive of,” he says. “Both in terms of establishing facilities for off-site testing and integration, and a dedicated training centre to support ongoing skills development and competency management. This approach provides access to new technologies whilst also supporting both training and familiarisation without disturbing rail operations.”

An invaluable component of Thales’ skills-building strategy has also been its successful integration with its major project portfolio. “Across the business, we’ve been able to benefit from that on each of our major projects that we’re undertaking, we now have a pool of talented and ambitious graduates coming through with fresh ideas and new ways of working, which in turn is helping to challenge the status quo and drive innovation in what we’re doing. As a result, we’ve seen a lot of positive outcomes,” Smalley says. “Furthermore, it’s been really impressive and rewarding to see how the next generation of talent and graduates have risen to the challenge and embraced the opportunities presented within the rail sector.”

 

Visit Thales at AusRAIL PLUS at Stand 107.