Accessible transport council to guide Queensland projects

The Queensland state government has established a new Accessible Transport Advisory Council to give input on accessibility for transport projects around the state.

The Council would advocate on behalf of those with vision, hearing, physical, or cognitive impairments, as well as older people, parents, and youth justice groups. The Council will directly advise the Minister, the director-general of Transport and Main Roads, and the CEO of Queensland Rail.

Queensland Transport Minister Mark Bailey said the Council would assist the government in avoiding accessibility issues, such as the bungled design of the New Generation Rollingstock (NGR), which required the trains to be retrofitted to comply with disability legislation.

“The existing approach to accessibility on road and transport upgrades has been piecemeal, and this new independent body will provide frank and expert advice on how we can make our record $23 billion pipeline of road and transport projects accessible for all Queenslanders,” said Bailey.

“The establishment of the Queensland Accessible Transport Advisory Council (QATAC) will provide disability-sector representatives with an unprecedented opportunity for early and authentic consultation on all major transport projects.

In addition to the Council, the Queensland government is investing $500 million in accessibility upgrades for train stations in the state’s south east.

“As part of Queensland’s economic recovery plan, the Palaszczuk Government is investing an additional $136 million for accessibility upgrades at Bundamba, Burpengary, Banyo and Wooloowin train stations which will include full platform raising, setting a new standard for all future station upgrades to be delivered by Queensland Rail,” said Bailey.

Chairing the Council is former District Court judge Michael Forde, who was a commissioner on the NGR inquiry. An expression of interest process for membership has now begun and will run until mid-November.

“This will be a template for all transport infrastructure, requiring the council be formally consulted before the finalisations of any plans. This will apply to all forms of transport,” said Forde.

Varsity Lakes

New carpark for Varsity Lakes station

The Queensland government has confirmed funding for a new commuter carpark at the Varsity Lakes train station.

The $5.2 million project will construct a 350-space carpark in the northern Gold Coast suburb.

Queensland Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey said the carpark was part of a wider shift to public transport in the Gold Coast.

“The way Gold Coasters travelled 10, 20 years ago is totally different to today. We’ve seen that with 50 million trips on light rail and record patronage on public transport before COVID-19 hit,” Bailey said.

“That’s why we’re transforming the city’s transport network. We’re building new park n rides across the coast, including at Varsity Lakes, as well as light rail to Burleigh, three new train stations on the northern Gold Coast and $2.3 billion in M1 upgrades.”

A tender is expected to be released in the coming weeks.

The construction of the new station carpark follows the completion of the Ormeau station where 125 new spaces were created.

“It means diggers, machinery and workers will move from Ormeau straight into the Varsity Lakes upgrade, supporting the economy and easing those parking pressures at Varsity Lakes as people head back onto the train network,” said Bailey.

The carpark formalises temporary carparking near the station that was created to get more people to the Gold Coast via public transport for the Commonwealth Games.

“During the Commonwealth Games temporary car parks were opened at Varsity Lakes station to accommodate travelling visitors and staff, and those parks will now become permanent fixtures together with 185 brand new spaces,” said Bailey.

Aurizon coal wagons. Photo: Aurizon

Aurizon prevails in Wiggins Island appeal case

The Queensland Court of Appeal has dismissed an appeal by a group of miners over charges imposed by Aurizon for upgrades of the Wiggins Island Coal Export Terminal at the Port of Gladstone.

The decision is the latest in a court battle that has been running since March 2016, when Aurizon challenged the validity of notices by the miners who sought to reduce how much they would have to pay for the upgrades.

In a statement to the ASX, Aurizon welcomed the court’s decision.

“Today’s decision by the Queensland Court of Appeal means that the customers’ notices are invalid and Wiggins Island Rail Project (WIRP) Fees are payable to Aurizon.”

The company said that no revenue has been accrued for the above regulatory fees since the project was completed in 2015 and the decision does not impact Aurizon’s regulated return for the project.

In a separate Expert Determination process, it was stated that the WIRP fee should be reduced, and Aurizon indicated it is looking at options for appealing that outcome.

Aurizon, which manages the central Queensland coal network in addition to its above rail operations, invested roughly $800 million in the WIRP. However, since completing the WIRP in 2015, coal prices have dropped significantly, leading to the miners seeking to reduce their costs.

With some of the original owners of the Wiggins Island export terminal going into administration, the cost for the remainder to access the port had increased.

Sunshine Coast

Sunshine Coast Council pushing for mass transit solution

The Sunshine Coast Council has called on the Queensland state government to back its vision for a public transport system.

The council is currently in the process of evaluating options for a mass transit corridor that would form the spine of the region’s public transport network.

One option under consideration is the construction of a light rail line from Maroochydore to Caloundra, with stage one connecting Maroochydore to the Sunshine Coast University hospital.

Sunshine Coast Council mayor Mark Jamieson said that the rapidly growing region needed to shift from a transport system focused on private vehicles.

“All that this will do is increase congestion and pollution, create bitumen eye-sores on our landscape and inhibit our current and future residents in being able to reach the places they need to get to or love to visit, like the beach, shopping centres, health facilities or where they work,” he said.

“Is this really the future that our residents want to see on our Sunshine Coast? I don’t think so.”

Planning for a mass transit system has been underway since 2012, with consultants preparing a preliminary business case. A final business case is expected to be completed by 2021 jointly funded with the Queensland state government.

In an interim report, the option for a light rail network was ranked highest, above improvements to the bus network or the creation of a bus rapid transit corridor.

The report found that “only the LRT option [is] considered to have significant benefits”. Buses were not found to be able to achieve the urban renewal benefits that the project sought.

The population of the Sunshine Coast is expected to rise to over half a million by 2041. The Queensland government is currently upgrading the heavy rail line from Beerburrum to Nambour and investigations are currently underway for a spur line to Maroochydore.

Queensland Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey said in May 2019 that governments would look to an integrated transport solution.

“Now is the time for us to work together to map out what is needed and when, so that these major infrastructure projects have the best chance possible of securing the funding that will be needed to build them.”

Jamison said that it was essential the community came together to support the mass transit plan.

“Our council needs to keep working on the development of the business case for a mass transit solution – because if we don’t, our Sunshine Coast will get nothing from the other tiers of government and our residents’ lifestyles will be forever compromised.”

Mount Isa, Queensland. Photo: Creative Commons

Study to assess double-stacked freight on Mount Isa line

The Queensland government will complete a business case into the potential to run double-stacked freight trains from Mount Isa to Stuart and the Port of Townsville.

Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey announced the business case, which will be completed by the end of 2020, along with flood resilience upgrade works.

To improve the line, which was washed out in heavy flooding in 2019, ageing rail equipment such as sleepers and ballast will be renewed. Queensland Rail will conduct geotechnical and survey work this month, which will enable new bridges to be installed and culverts to be replaced with spans and new piers.

“Those works will significantly increase capacity on waterway openings and provide protection to embankments to better withstand flood events,” said Member for Townsville Scott Stewart.

These upgrades are in addition to the $6 million works to improve the line’s resilience between Cloncurry and Hughenden.

Port of Townsville CEO Ranee Crosby said enabling double-stacked freight trains to run on the line would mean more freight coming into the port on rail.

“Townsville Port is Australia’s largest exporter of zinc, copper, lead and fertiliser, with significant growth opportunities from the North West Minerals Province, one of the world’s richest mineral-producing regions,” she said.

“These investments into the Mount Isa to Townsville Rail Line, such as enabling double-stacking of containers on rail, will offer customers greater flexibility in transporting freight to the Port, improving efficiency and helping drive down supply chain costs.”

Queensland Rail, which owns and manages the Mount Isa line, will carry out the business case, and CEO Nick Easy said improving the rail line will unlock further investment.

“The Mount Isa line is a critical connector for communities in North West Queensland and one of the state’s key freight paths, and Queensland Rail is committed to ensuring it meets the needs of communities and freight operators,” he said.

“These investments will help existing mining operators export their resources and encourage new investment in the state’s north west.

Toowoomba

Toowoomba now home to project office for Inland Rail

The Toowoomba home of the Inland Rail project was officially opened today, July 30.

The new Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) project office increases the footprint of Inland Rail in the regional Queensland city and will provide an ongoing base as construction begins.

Local member John McVeigh opened the office, which can accommodate up to 40 people.

“The office will serve as a hub for ARTC’s community engagement for a number of sections of the project and will provide a basecamp for technical staff when in the field,” he said.

McVeigh said the office is one example of how Inland Rail will benefit local communities along the alignment, with the building constructed by a local company.

“More than 60 per cent of the Inland Rail investment will be made in Queensland and much of this will be in Toowoomba. As we fast become a northern freight and logistics hub – it’s fitting that ARTC increase their presence in town as they work to refine the design of Inland Rail.”

Inland Rail will pass by Toowoomba on the western and northern outskirts of the town, connecting the region to Brisbane at Acacia Ridge, and NSW and Victoria as well as the wider interstate freight network.

Discussions for an intermodal terminal between Pacific National and Wagner Corporation are underway  for the route at Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport, to enable freight to be transferred from the Inland Rail network to airborne freight and the local region.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said that the project would enable such connections between local and international markets.

“Regional Australia is a significant contributor to our economy and Inland Rail will facilitate our regions connecting to markets at home and abroad, providing a sustainable and long term benefit to these communities and Australia more broadly.”

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said that the location would provide an interface between the local community and project staff.

“No one understands regional towns better than the people who live and work there. Local knowledge and a connection to community improves the delivery of Government services and programs, such as Inland Rail.”

Mount Isa, Queensland. Photo: Creative Commons

Mount Isa Line upgrades begin as more resources moved via rail

Work has begun on an upgrade of the Mount Isa rail line, which was significantly damaged in flooding caused by monsoons in 2019.

The $6 million upgrade will improve 320km of the line, beginning near Hughenden and finishing near Cloncurry. Works include bridge abutment and scour repairs in nearby drains and creek, stonework to improve embankments, and drainage and cleaning work as required.

The works to improve the line’s resilience are in addition to repairs that were undertaken in 2019 to get the line working again after heavy rains.

The Mount Isa rail line is used by the resource industry to export minerals from northern Queensland to ports along the coast. The Queensland government has been incentivising the use of freight to transport these commodities through an $80m incentive scheme, of which $20 million has been accessed so far, said Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey.

“Since we introduced the scheme, more than four billion gross tonne kilometres of eligible freight has moved along line to the Port of Townsville,” he said.

“This is an increase of more than one million in tonnage from the year prior to the scheme being introduced.”

Resources figures including Glencore’s Queensland Metals COO Matt O’Neill welcomed the scheme.

“The distance to transport products in North Queensland is significant and transportation makes up a large portion of the cost of delivery to our customers, both in the domestic and export markets,” he said.

“We are pleased to see this scheme encouraging a shift towards rail as a real alternative to road transport along the Mount Isa rail corridor.”

A focus of the project will be ensuring that the benefits of the upgrade are felt locally, said Member for Townsville Scott Stewart.

“About two thirds of the workers will stay in Julia Creek, while the rest will be accommodated in Richmond, and all the materials for the project will be sourced locally – providing a much needed injection for the community.”

Beerburrum

Tender details for stage one of Beerburrum to Nambour works released

The tender for the first stage of the Beerburrum to Nambour Rail upgrade will be released next month.

The move is a step forward for the long-awaited Sunshine Coast rail project with a call for tenders on early works released in June.

While the early works tender focused on improvements to roads and surrounding infrastructure, the Stage 1 tender includes line duplication, station upgrades, parking facilities and rail passing loops.

Specifically the works include: the duplication of the track north of Beerburrum to Glass House Maintains on an improved alignment and duplication between Glass House Maintains and Beerwah within the existing corridor; road over rail bridges at Beerburrum Road, Barrs Road, and Burgess Street; parking at Beerburrum, Landsborough, and Nambour; a bus interchange at Landsborough; and the relocation of utilities.

Early works will begin in 2021 with major construction to commence from 2022.

The upgrade is jointly funded by the Queensland and federal governments, with each contributing $390 million and $160.8m respectively.

Queensland Minister for Transport and Main Roads Mark Bailey said the project would create 333 jobs in stage one.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said the upgrade would entice more commuters to travel by train.

“Reduced travel times, greater service reliability and increased parking at stations will attract more travellers to rail, between the Sunshine Coast region and Brisbane in particular,” he said.

The Beerburrum to Nambour upgrade was listed by Infrastructure Australia as a priority project in June 2018, and detailed planning followed in 2019.

Federal member for Fisher Andrew Wallace said that early industry briefings hoped to garner involvement from local businesses.

“The industry briefing was a good opportunity to give local businesses some indication on what kind of work was coming down the line and allow the project team to get early feedback that will help as they develop the final scope for the upgrade,” he said.

Rail Back on Track administrator Robert Dow welcomed the commitment from both governments to get the project underway, however noted that further works could be included in the package.

“The planned commencement of Beerburrum to Nambour is very welcome but we would have like to have the track duplication through to Landsborough.”

Further duplication would improve train frequency for passenger as well as freight on the heavily-used North Coast Line.

SEQ

Services increase on SEQ network, but group calls for more infrastructure

105 train services will be added to the South East Queensland (SEQ) public transport network on weekdays from August 10, to support safe travel.

The train services are in addition to almost 1,000 extra bus services as the state welcomes commuters back to public transport.

“We have no community transmission here and active cases are in single digits, so our buses, trains, trams and ferries are safe,” said Queensland Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey.

Patronage is down on the network by about 50 per cent compared to the same time last year, however the state is expecting an increase with universities reopening and office workers returning to the CBD. Currently about 330,000 trips are made a day on the public transport network.

“We don’t expect those numbers to immediately climb back to where they were before COVID-19 arrived but we still want to spread passengers out as much as we can, and these extra services will help do that,” said Bailey.

“This boost to morning and afternoon peak services will add almost 58,000 extra seats on buses and trains.”

While the increase in bus services are a trial, the extra train services will be permanent across seven lines. Services will run every 15 minutes in the morning and afternoon on the Beenleigh, Caboolture, Cleveland, Ipswich, Redcliffe Peninsula, Shorncliffe, and Springfrield lines.

Queensland is still encouraging passengers to spread their commute where possible outside of the peaks and as part of its COVID-19 Safe Public Transport Plan is installing hand sanitiser stations at all train stations.

The Queensland government has been encouraging passengers to use active transport and public transport as part of the “Reboot your commute” campaign, however Robert Dow from RAIL Back on Track said that active and public transport in South East Queensland remained low by international standards.

“RAIL Back On Track calls on the major political parties and the RACQ to stop proposing ‘congestion busting’ urban freeway projects in the upcoming Queensland election and instead announce major significant public transport and supporting active transport investment,” said Dow.

Dow listed 16 initiatives across SEQ, including some such as the Beerburrum to Nambour and Salisbury to Beaudesert commuter rail upgrades which have been languishing for 10 years or more.

Beerburrum

Call for tenders for early works on Beerburrum to Nambour upgrade

A request for tender has been released for early works on the Beerburrum to Nambour rail upgrade project.

The tender comprises civil works to prepare roads and surrounding infrastructure for future rail upgrades. This includes the construction of two carparks and the realignment of Steve Irwin Way.

The Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads will hold an online industry briefing for the project on June 17. The briefing will provide industry with an understanding of the project, the procurement process, and the timing of the works.

The request for tender is the first stage of construction for the long-awaited project, which involves duplicating of 20km of rail between Beerburrum and Landsborough, the extension of existing passing loops between Landsborough and Nambour, as well as route realignments, level crossing removals, station improvements, and supporting works.

Infrastructure Australia identified the $550.8 million project as a priority project in June 2018, and the state and federal governments have committing $160.8m and $390m respectively.

The works will ultimately benefit both freight and passenger services which share the line, with the Sunshine Coast’s population expected to grow by two thirds between 2016 and 2041 with a 3 per cent growth in passenger demand until 2036.

Disputes about funding between the federal and state governments in the past has led the project to be delivered in stages. According to the Department of Transport and Main Roads, the first stage will focus on improving passenger benefits via increase capacity and patronage while freight benefits will be realised in later stages.