Sunbury Line

Level crossing removal added to Sunbury Line upgrade

The Gap Road level crossing removal will be completed as part of works to upgrade the Sunbury Line, bringing forward the road-under-rail project by two years.

The Gap Road level crossing is the fourth crossing to be removed on the Sunbury Line, and completion is scheduled for 2022. Final works will be completed in 2023.

The road-under-rail design will allow 19,000 vehicles to pass underneath the rail line unimpeded each day while retaining the heritage character of Sunbury Station.

“This notorious level crossing has been leaving Sunbury residents stranded in traffic for far too long – these works will deliver better journeys across the local community,” said Victorian Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan.

Member for Sunbury Josh Bull said combining the level crossing removal with upgrades along the line would be a better outcome for all.

“We’re delivering both of these important transport projects together to reduce disruption to our community and community and get better outcomes for rail passengers, road users and residents faster.”

The $2.1 billion upgrade to the Sunbury line will allow for greater passenger growth with increased urban development along the corridor. In addition, the line will form part of the Melbourne Metro Tunnel and enabling works such as platform extensions, train stabling, and power upgrades, will pave the way for more frequent, higher capacity trains.

Accessibility upgrades are also part of the project, along with new shared paths for pedestrians and cyclists. At Sunbury, the number of car parks will increase.

Allan said the Sunbury Line upgrades were one of a number of projects that would contribute to growing Victoria’s economy.

“Our Big Build program is vital to Victoria’s rebuild – supporting thousands of jobs and building the projects we need.”

Reframing the megaproject in the age of COVID-19

Infrastructure leaders are calling for a rethink in the way that megaprojects are planned and delivered in a post COVID-19 world.

Speaking at the National Infrastructure Summit, those in the public and private sector said that going forward, new approaches will have to be taken to the construction of major infrastructure projects.

With less of a demand for trips to the CBDs of cities during the morning peak, and more distributed travel patterns, inter-urban, suburban and regional connectivity will be a greater focus, said Marco Assorati, executive director of Webuild (formerly Salini Impregilo).

“We need to ensure connectivity and good living in bigger cities, but the circumstances of COVID have driven attention somewhere else, to the need to develop regional hubs. We need to connect regional hubs with rail, roads, with technology,” he said.

Similarly, Andrew Head, CEO of Westconnex, said that in future, megaprojects will not just funnel people into and out of CBD, but improve connectivity in polycentric cities.

Linda Cantan, package director, tunnels & station PPP Metro Tunnel at Rail Projects Victoria, said that even in these visions for the future, current requirements will still need to be met, and that cities such as Melbourne were already at capacity in terms of the load on existing infrastructure. In addition, project such as the Metro Tunnel in Melbourne are being designed to free up capacity on the metropolitan network so that connections from regional cities can flow through the city more efficiently.

Another way that projects may change is through the shape of the delivery contracts. Speaking from experience, Bede Noonan, managing director of Acciona Australia said that governments and contractors needed to ensure that more work was being done in the early stages to avoid acrimonious disputes, such as the fall out from the Sydney CBD and South East light rail project, where “massive” amounts of money were spent that didn’t need to be spent.

“If you’re in that space it’s a bad space, the challenge is how to avoid that coming about,” he said.

Other panellists echoed these remarks, with Cantan noting that while there was pressure currently for projects to get into the construction phase to stimulate economic recovery, proper planning and investigation still needed to be done at the outset.

“A, make sure it’s the right project but, B, make sure that we’re setting out the feasibility appropriately, and then taking it out to market as a well-developed project.”

Warrnambool Line upgrades

Warrnambool line track and signalling upgrades commence

Signalling and track infrastructure upgrades on the Warrnambool Line have begun.

The jointly funded, state and federal project aims to enable more services to run between Warrnambool and Geelong, said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack.

“It’s pleasing to see this vital project get underway, with signalling upgrades and a crossing loop at Boorcan to play a key part in boosting reliability of the line and allowing more services to be introduced,” McCormack said.

“The addition of the crossing loop will boost the number of services to the line, benefiting a growing number of regional travellers.”

The first works underway involve the installation of underground cabling to enable signalling upgrades along the line.

The construction of a 2.2km passing loop between Boorcan Road and Oswell Road in Boorcan will begin in the coming weeks.

Victorian Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan said the entire program would be finished in late 2021.

“Thanks to these upgrades, passengers on the Warrnambool Line will benefit from a much-needed fifth weekday return service, providing extra travel options for people in Victoria’s South West,” Allan said.

Rail Projects Victoria awarded Downer the contract to carry out the works, in addition to its work on the Geelong line.

Other upgrades along the Warrnambool line have just completed, with the renovation of 12 level crossings now complete. Crossings had new boom gates, bells, lights, and better train detection technology fitted.

Federal Member for Wannon Dan Tehan said the work was completed while minimising the threat of any spread of COVID-19.

“More than 170 workers have been involved in the level crossing upgrades since works began in January, with V/Line crews working around 28,500 hours under modified conditions to reduce the spread of coronavirus.”

Patronage on the line has grown steadily over the past years, with patronage on the adjoining Geelong line growing significantly, by 131.5 per cent from 2014-15 to 2018-19.

State Member for Western Victoria Gayle Tierney said the improvements would benefit the region.

“With work on signalling and the crossing loop now underway residents can soon expect more frequent services and better reliability,” she said.

“This project is also providing jobs for people in the region, which is especially important during the coronavirus pandemic.”

Rail Systems Alliance delivering high capacity signalling for Melbourne’s rail future

Dealing with rapid population growth has led to Melbourne upgrading the signalling system on two of its most congested lines. Rail Systems Alliance is ensuring the benefits are felt for years to come.

Over the past 10 years, the story of Australia’s cities has been rewritten. While Sydney had been dominant for the previous century, no account of the urbanisation of Australia in the second decade of the 21st century could ignore the rapid growth of Melbourne.

The relative growth of Melbourne is most clearly illustrated by the fact that Melbourne adds a Darwin-worth of population each year, overtaking Sydney in population size by 2026. Much of this growth has been concentrated in two areas, the west and the south-east of Melbourne and the rail lines that serve these expanding areas are reaching capacity. This has necessitated Victoria’s Big Build, the largest infrastructure building programme in the state’s history, of which rail plays a major part, highlights David Ness, package director, Rail Systems, Rail Projects Victoria.

“There’s a number of initiatives underway to help alleviate that population growth, one is the introduction of larger trains that can carry more passengers, and then the second part is the provision of High Capacity Signalling (HCS) on the corridor that lets us run more trains, more often.

“What ties all of that together is the Metro Tunnel project that connects those two corridors, Dandenong in the south-east and Sunshine/Sunbury in the west, and allows us to untangle the existing rail network. It’s a combination of things but HCS is the centre point, allowing you to operate more efficiently on the corridor.”

The HCS project, now in its testing phase, is being delivered by Rail Systems Alliance, a partnership between Bombardier Transportation, CPB Contractors, and Metro Trains Melbourne. The project will introduce Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC) technology, the BOMBARDIER CITYFLO 650 rail control solution, on both the Sunbury and Cranbourne/Pakenham lines as well as in the newly built Metro Tunnel, creating a new end- to-end rail line from Sunbury to Cranbourne and Pakenham. The two existing lines are some of the most complex in the Melbourne network, not only serving commuter trains, but regional passenger lines and freight services, requiring a mixed-mode solution, said Tim Hunter, alliance manager, Rail Systems Alliance, Metro Tunnel Project.

“What is unique about Melbourne is the fact that we’re upgrading existing lines, on brownfield sites, as well as the greenfield site in the tunnel. That means that we can continue running the existing trains on the existing lines at the same time as we do the upgrades. As the vehicles become fitted with the CBTC technology then they can run either in the conventional signalling or CBTC mode. The beauty of it is that it’s a mixed mode solution for the existing lines.”

The introduction of moving block rather than fixed block signalling will enable a step change in capacity, even under mixed conditions.

“We’re expecting to open with around 18 trains per hour when we will still have a mixture of CBTC trains and regional and freight trains,” said Ness. “But, as time progresses, the system itself has a capacity of 24 trains per hour. That means it actually has a higher capacity to recover from disruptions that may occur, and the Metro Tunnel will be capable of 24 trains per hour.”

ENSURING EFFECTIVE IMPLEMENTATION
Getting to this targeted level of capacity on the first introduction of CBTC technology on an existing rail line in Australia has required a collaborative approach, facilitated by the nature of the Rail Systems Alliance.

“We went through a pretty extensive, year-long competitive alliance tender process,” said Ness. During the process, Rail Projects Victoria looked at the system’s capabilities, the ability to minimise disruption during integration, and did site visits to other HCS projects internationally.

“On a balanced score card of value for money, being able to address our technical requirements, being able to address mixed mode, being able to work within an alliance framework – which is intrinsic to the way we’re approaching the job – Bombardier Transportation, CPB Contractors and Metro Trains Melbourne were
the successful tenderers,” said Ness.

Taking an alliance approach to project delivery allowed for the project to effectively interact with the many other stakeholders involved. While the technology promises to increase capacity and relieve the strain on Melbourne’s rail network, its success depends upon all elements of the wider project working together.

“We have the technology challenge, in that what we’re introducing into the system is new, but that change is not just operational, it affects the entire way in which the network is run,” said Ness.

The introduction of HCS in Melbourne requires the project to interact with a variety of stakeholders, including the rest of the Melbourne rail network, the other consortiums on the Metro Tunnel Project, and the procurement of larger trains, which is being delivered in parallel.

“The alliancing model provides the most flexibility to adapt and move while maintaining your focus on that end game,” said Ness.“It’s very difficult to do a project like this with just a fixed scope, fixed dates, fixed price, fixed everything. Having a target price that you can adapt and working together with the client has been proven to be the best model.”

In practice, this has enabled a regime of extensive testing for the technology on the rail line. On the Mernda Line wayside equipment has been installed and two existing X’Trapolis trains have been fitted with the Bombardier CBTC equipment. Dynamic testing is now underway. The project has also involved the operator, Metro Trains Melbourne, to prepare the end user – the drivers and operators of Melbourne’s trains, as Hunter outlines.

“We’re setting up additional labs so we can test the train management system for the new trains alongside HCS. We are also taking the equipment and systems that have been implemented inside the tunnel and then testing that with our systems in the lab, so that when we go to implement on site we will have done as much testing as we can offsite. This will make implementation testing and fault finding a lot smoother.”

The hands-on approach to testing enables the end users (for example, train drivers) to become “super users” as the design develops and the new technology is introduced as part of the project.

“We have user working groups within Metro Trains Melbourne to facilitate operational and maintenance input,” said Hunter. “We’ve done a lot of on-site training, we’ve taken them to Bombardier’s CBTC facilities in Bangkok, Madrid and Pittsburgh and shown them what has been done on other projects, and how the technology works. This collaboration is critical to successfully implement HCS on this project.”

Hunter explains that each piece of equipment that drivers or operators use goes through an extensive human-centred design process, with safety front of mind.

“It’s a tremendous amount of work but I’ve learnt from other projects that it’s essential because in the end we want the people who will be using the technology to really feel as though they own it.”

One example where this has occurred is in the design and purchasing of the desks that will be used at operations centres in Sunshine and Dandenong.

“We’ve got the actual desk that we’re proposing to use in the control centres in our office in Bourke Street and we invite people from Metro Trains Melbourne to come and look at, sit at, use, and test it.”

PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE OF HCS
While signalling upgrades on two of Melbourne’s busiest lines will have an immediate benefit for commuters, Rail Systems Alliance has also been aware of the need to ensure that investment in the project benefits the wider rail industry. While experiencing unprecedented investment, the rail industry is looking at a looming skills crisis. As one of the first rollouts of CBTC technology, the HCS project aims to train the next generation of signalling engineers.

“We’ve got roughly 35 cadets coming through the project,” said Hunter. “We’re working closely with the Victorian government and the Local Jobs First – Major Project Skills Guarantee but it’s important that we’re building a base for future projects.”

While signalling projects such as HCS have needed to hire talent internationally, Hunter hopes that this won’t continue to be the case.

“We’ve had to bring a lot of people in from overseas – including myself – who have done these kinds of projects around the world but that’s not a sustainable model. What you actually want is a strong, capable, local team, so that’s what we’re setting out to do. We’ve got cadets working on signalling design, onboard equipment, the control systems, the communications systems, the radio systems, systems engineering, and systems safety assurance.”

Having such a major project occurring in Melbourne has a drawcard for attracting the next generation of engineers to rail.

“As soon as they join, I sit down with them and talk about the project and how exciting engineering is on these kinds of projects.”

“University is a good starting place for technical knowledge, but to have the opportunity to work on a project of this size and this complexity on their doorstep is too good to miss,” said Hunter.

While there’s no concrete plan to roll out HCS beyond the existing project scope at this stage, efficiencies of already implementing the technology mean that any future upgrades would be even smoother.

With a competent and experienced local workforce, and upgrades in place on two of Melbourne’s most complex lines, Melbourne would be well-placed to extend HCS over the rest of the existing rail network said Ness.

“Our focus right now is to successfully deliver HCS on the Sunbury and Cranbourne/ Pakenham corridor. However, if you look at Melbourne’s growth, and some of the pressures on the rail network, HCS may be one future option to get the most out of the existing infrastructure,” said Ness.

Additional $2 billion investment to put Melbourne’s airport rail on track

A private consortium involving Melbourne Airport and Metro trains are offering to invest an extra $2 billion to build a dedicated track from the CBD to Melbourne’s West as part of the airport rail project.

IFM Investors, a fund manager owned by 27 superannuation funds, as part of the AirRail consortium are proposing to build a 6km tunnel between Melbourne and Sunshine, 12km west of Melbourne’s CBD.

IFM Investors have written to the Victorian and federal government on Thursday last week to offer a further $2 billion investment on top of the $5bn initially proposed in 2018.

IFM are proposing a market-led solution to the new track, calling for a new rail tunnel in a letter sent to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

“A project option that includes a tunnel between the CBD and Sunshine delivers the best airport rail solution particularly when compared with a MARL that utilises the Melbourne Metro Project,” wrote IFM.

The Age reported that federal and Victorian government plans for an airport rail line will involve a route via the Metro Tunnel to Sunshine, with a new track to be built between Tullamarine and Sunshine.

In 2016 a Metro Tunnel business case rejected a 2012 Public Transport Victoria plan to run airport trains through the $11bn metro tunnel, currently under construction until 2025.

The federal and Victorian state governments had previously agreed to a $10bn joint commitment to the Melbourne airport rail link.

A Victorian government spokesperson said in May last year that part of the budget also includes additional tracks between Sunshine and the CBD that would be part of Melbourne Airport Rail Link.

Every airport rail option being assessed would include a stop at Sunshine to connect to Geelong, Ballarat, and Bendigo services, according to a Victorian government spokeswoman.

The AirRail consortium, that also includes Metro Trains, Southern Cross Station, and Melbourne Airport will request that the State Government is charged a toll every time a Metro or V/LIne train runs through the new rail tunnel for operating and maintenance purposes.

IFM says it wants to operate the tunnel over a 40-year concession period.

According to the letter, the access payment from regional trains that use the tunnel would recoup an appropriate share of the significant capital cost of building the tunnel.

IFM have stated they do not wish to constrain regional or metro services due to frequent airport trains and decisions on service, pricing, and timetabling would remain wholly with the Victorian government.

AirRail Melbourne has been ready to commence construction on the infrastructure project since 2019 and IFM is waiting for the green light to start the build. Australian rail suppliers have also contacted IFM to propose their interest as potential contractors for the project.

In June 2019 the Victorian government announced that Rail Projects Victoria (RPV) will be developing a detailed business case for Melbourne Airport Rail.

The Victorian state Government said the business case will be delivered by 2020 and will assess station and procurement options, value capture and creation opportunities, and economic analysis of the recommended solution.

AirRail Melbourne proposed in a 2018 blueprint that 20-minute travel times will be expected to the city, using dedicated rollingstock.

“Our ambition is to have a train journey to the airport from the city that is fast, affordable and meets the needs of travellers,” a spokesperson for federal Minister for Urban Infrastructure Alan Tudge was quoted by The Age last year.

Flinders Street to partially close for Metro Tunnel works

The eastbound lanes of Flinders Street, Melbourne will be closed to traffic between Elizabeth Street and Swanston Street for up to three years while works on the Metro Tunnel project are carried out. 

The closure will begin from September 2, and the Victorian Government has warned of significant disruption to traffic. Trams will continue to run through the area in both directions in an attempt to ease the ensuing congestion however, with the exception of October 27.

The closure will cut truck movements on Swanston Street in half to around 100 trucks a day during peak construction in late 2020, with the full footpath on Flinders Street scheduled to re-open to pedestrians in late 2020

“This is a significant closure, but we need to do it – it’s the only way to build this vital underground connection between Flinders Street and the Metro Tunnel station,” said Victorian Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan.

“We know how disruptive this major construction will be so we’re doing everything we can to minimise disruptions and impacts on local residents, businesses and people visiting the city.”

Access for pedestrians and vehicles will be kept for residents and local businesses, with loading bays in place to the east of Elizabeth Street for drop-offs and deliveries. A new footpath will be constructed for pedestrians to the west of Degraves Street so that pedestrians can cross to the south side of Flinders Street, maintaining access to the tram stop.

The $5 billion Metro Tunnel project reached a drilling milestone last week as roadheaders broke through to the site of the State Library Station 30 metres below the Swanston Street surface. It is one of five new underground stations that will be built for the nine-kilometre project by 2025.

Pakenham line level crossing to be replaced with road bridge

The Victorian Government is fast-tracking the removal of the Cardinia Road level crossing on the Pakenham line as part of its Level Crossing Removal Project.

The Cardinia Road crossing — one of 17 to be removed from the Pakenham line and 75 in Melbourne overall — impacts over 23,000 vehicles a day according to the state government.

The government has fast tracked the construction of a road bridge to pass over the train line starting later this year, with the removal of the boom gates to follow in 2021. The Cardinia Road level crossing’s boom gates are down for up to 30 per cent of the morning peak, according to a release from the Victorian Government.

The announcement follows the news that eight level crossings from the Upfield and Merda lines in Melbourne’s north would also be dealt with by elevating the lines, creating new open spaces and connections for cyclists and pedestrians.

The Level Crossing Removal Project joined other government bodies such as the West Gate Tunnel, North East Link Project, Rail Projects Victoria and Major Road Projects Victoria as part of the Major Transport Infrastructure Authority established as an office of the Department of Transport in January.

The removals represent Victoria’s largest rail infrastructure project to date. The project is also intended to create over 27 new or upgraded stations by its completion in 2025.