Regional rail service passes first milestone

The second Bathurst Bullet is celebrating its one year anniversary.

A year ago, a second daily service from Bathurst to Sydney was launched to enable better connections from the Central Tablelands.

The service had been received well, said Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole.

“Pre-COVID-19 and last summer’s bushfires, we noticed an increase of up to 70 per cent more customers catching Bullet services.”

The second Bathurst Bullet, which stops at Rydal and Tarana, built on the success of the first Bathurst Bullet, launched in 2012.

Toole said the rail service was vital for those in regional communities.

“These changes have provided more opportunities for our customers living in regional areas to use public transport including for specialist medical appointments in Sydney,” he said.

Patronage has grown on the NSW intercity network, which links regional towns and cities with Sydney. Data from Transport for NSW shows that patronage reached a peak of over 900,000 journeys on the Blue Mountains Line in May 2019. Since a drop in April due to COVID-19, patronage has been returning, with July 2020 recording 376,000 trips.

Feeder bus services from Orange and Oberon have been introduced to support patronage on the train service.

The Bathurst Bullet runs on Endeavour Railcar rolingstock, which will be replaced by the $1.2 billion new regional rail fleet that will operate in bi-mode, running on electricity on electrified sections of track, and diesel further out. The fleet will be maintained in Dubbo and the first trains are expected to run in 2023.

The Bathurst Bullet was temporarily out of service earlier in 2020 due to damage to the Blue Mountains line due to bushfires, services resumed in April 2020.

“While the last year has presented many challenges with bushfires, landslides and COVID-19, we are committed to providing improved and more integrated connections as well as promoting growth in regional NSW,” said Toole.

Dubbo

Contractor announced for Dubbo maintenance facility

The NSW government has awarded the first major contract for work on the Regional Rail Maintenance Facility, in Dubbo to local business MAAS Civil.

MAAS Civil will be responsible for bulk earthworks to prepare the site for construction when it begins later in 2020.

The maintenance facility is being delivered by CPB Contractors as part of the Momentum Trains consortium, which was awarded the control to deliver the Regional Rail Project, including the rollingstock and ongoing maintenance.

The project aims to support local economies in Dubbo, said local MP Dugald Saunders.

“The Regional Rail Maintenance Facility will be a real boost for the Dubbo economy and I look forward to other local businesses getting involved.”

Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole highlighted the breadth of opportunities from the project.

“The $2.8 billion Regional Rail Project will create new opportunities for regional NSW businesses and suppliers such as MAAS Civil,’ he said.

“The maintenance facility is expected to generate around 200 jobs during the construction phase and approximately 50 ongoing jobs when it opens, including apprenticeships and traineeships.”

Saunders also announced the release of a Business Support Catalogue, which provides information about programs that can enable SMEs to build capability, capacity, and develop their employees’ skills.

“We want to ensure regional businesses become long term beneficiaries,” said Saunders.

Once complete, the maintenance facility will support the new regional rail fleet, which includes 29 new trains, made up of 10 regional intercity, 9 short regional, and 10 long regional trains. The first trains are expected to run from 2023.

The trains are the first in Australia to use bi-mode technology, where they will use electric power when the track is electrified and diesel outside of that. Spanish manufacturer CAF will build and supply the trains, while UGL will provide maintenance.

$328m for transport upgrades around Victoria

300km of regional rail track and 15 train stations will be upgraded as part of a $2.7 billion spending plan to help Victoria recover after the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The spending will be spread across the economy, including education, social housing, and tourism upgrades, however $328 million is targeted at the transport sector.

Part of the funding will go towards upgrades of trains and trams and is in addition to the $107bn Big Build program.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said that the funding will go to projects that will begin immediately.

“We’re getting to work on hundreds of new projects across the state, meaning shovels in the ground – and boots in the mud – within a matter of weeks and months,” he said.

“From upgrading our roads and rail, to critical maintenance for social housing and new projects for our tourist destinations, this package will create jobs for our local tradies and so many others – and support local businesses all over Victoria.”

$90m will be invested in upgrading and replacing sleepers, structures, and signalling across the regional rail network. This funding will cover the renewal of 300km of sleepers and ballast across the regional network.

$62.6m will go towards the maintenance and restoration of trams and regional trains. Over half of this funding will go towards improving the reliability of V/Line trains.

$23m will be spent on improving stations and stops, including better seating, passenger information, toilets, and accessibility upgrades.

$5.6m will be spent on removing rubbish and graffiti as well as managing vegetation along transport corridors.

Chief executive of Infrastructure Partnerships Australia Adrian Dwyer said that the funding was well structured.

“The phase one package provides the right blend of projects and programs that will support job creation and stimulate economic activity,” he said.

“The focus on new and existing projects across schools, social housing, and road and rail maintenance means that the benefits of this stimulus will be broad-based.”

Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas said that the funding will help the wider economy.

“We’ve always said Victoria is the engine room of the nation – with this package, we’re cranking the engine and kickstarting our economy.”

The entire funding package is expected to create 3,700 direct jobs with many thousands more in the supply chain. For companies which need to hire extra employees, the Victorian government has mandated that new hires are to be found through the Working for Victoria scheme.

In a press conference on May 18, Andrews said that this announcement would be followed by other announcements which will target particular sectors. Andrews would not confirm whether the Melbourne Airport Rail Link would be announced, however he suggested that a decision would be made soon.

NIF being tested under its own power on NSW network

NSW’s New Intercity Fleet (NIF) is undergoing testing under its own power, in a significant step forward for the regional rail fleet.

Minister for Transport Andrew ConstanceNIF inspected the new trains.

“When the trains first arrived, on-track testing involved using a locomotive to haul the carriages. What we’re seeing today is a really exciting milestone because they’re now travelling around the network under their own power,” said Constance.

Further testing on the Sydney Trains network will calibrate the systems for local operation.

“Over the next few months you’ll see more of these trains on the network as we progressively test all train systems including Automatic Train Protection, passenger door systems, passenger information, CCTV, ride comfort as well as the maximum speed of 160kph,” said Constance. “We’ll also be using this time to familiarise the train crew with the new operating systems and technology on board.”

The trains have been previously criticised by the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) for a feature which locks the train if the doors are open.

The fleet will serve regional centres in the Central Coast, Newcastle, South Coast, and Blue Mountains and upgrades to infrastructure and stations along the track are part of the delivery of the new fleet, said Minister for Regional Transport Paul Toole.

“These are modern trains featuring the latest technology, so we need to ensure we upgrade the infrastructure on the network to accommodate them.

“Work is also continuing on sections of the Blue Mountains Line, which will enable customers living between Springwood and Lithgow to experience a new train for the first time since the last of the V-Sets were introduced in 1989.”

The purpose-built maintenance facility for the trains at Kangy Angy on the NSW central coast is also progressing, said Toole.

“This work, along with the construction of the new maintenance facility at Kangy Angy, has helped to create around 1600 local jobs.”

Council defers decision on rail trail between Armidale and Glen Innes

Armidale Regional and Glen Innes Severn councils in New England, NSW, have split on the decision to support turning a rail corridor into a bike trail.

On March 26, the Glen Innes Severn Council resolved to support an Act in the NSW parliament to turn the Main North rail line from Armidale to Wallangarra on the Queensland border into a trail for bicycles.

On April 22, Armidale Regional Council deferred a decision to rescind the council’s previous support of the rail trail. 

In the resolution supported unanimously by Glen Innes Severn councillors, Armidale Regional Council, Glen Innes Severn Council and the New England Rail Trail committee will make up the governing body, and the regional councils are seeking funding streams from state and federal governments for the development.

The Glen Innes Severn council endorses further work to be done to establish the governance structure of commencing the design and project planning of the rail trail.

The Glen Innes Severn council mayoral minute stated that the governing body would commission a detailed business case, including the whole of life costs of maintaining the track and give advice to the Councils on it, as well as the potential economic value-added from the development of the rail trail.

Some community groups hope to see the rail lines maintained, and rail services return to the line north of Armidale to Wallangarra via Guyra and Glen Innes. Save the Great Northern Rail Group president Rob Lenehan said that the Armidale Regional Council should reconsider its support of the rail trail proposal.

“The previous motion of rail trail support was arguably improperly passed at Council’s meeting on 26 February 2020, without due consideration of prudent information. The Regional Development Australia Northern Inland rail trail report prepared for New England Rail Trail was not available to councillors and is still not available.”

A petition with 1,000 signatures was published in 2014.

“The rail trail proposal is controversial and largely unwanted within New England. Armidale Regional Council should completely withdraw from this unnecessary distraction. The future for the railway lies in reopening it for trains, not ripping it up for a bike track,” said Lenehan.

In February 2020 the Armidale Council had agreed to allocate funds for design and look at a management structure and now the Glenn Innes council has allocated funding to proceed the project. 

All seven Glen Innes Severn councillors agreed to allocate an amount of $25,000 in the 2020/2021 Operational Plan for the determination of the construction cost of the Ben Lomond to Glen Innes section of the proposed rail trail.

A rail trail feasibility study was endorsed by Armidale Regional Council at its October 2018 meeting and the New England Rail Trail Plan was finalised in October 2019 for the Armidale to Glenn Innes section.

While the Save the Great Northern Rail Group is not opposed to a re-opened rail corridor also incorporating a bike trail, it has argued against permanently ending the Main North line at Armidale.

“To date, Armidale Regional Council’s prosecution of the unwanted rail trail proposal has been completely out of step with the will of the community,” said Lenehan.

The rail corridor between Armidale and Glen Innes has been closed to trains for over 30 years. The Rail Trail Plan outlined the technical feasibility and costs of converting the 103km Armidale to Glen Innes section into a rail trail to boost economic activity in the region.

On April 3 the first rail trail in NSW, a 22-kilometre stretch from Tumbarumba to Rosewood, had its official virtual opening.

The entire New England Rail Trail between Armidale and Wallangarra is approximately 210km long. The Main North line starts from Sydney and extends north passing through Armidale to the Queensland border, at the town of Wallangarra.

Old railway stations on the line have been preserved and refurbished by local community groups.

NZ Greens propose electrification, fast regional rail

The New Zealand Greens have put forward the construction of fast inter-city rail links as a way to stimulate New Zealand’s economy.

Currently under stage 4 restrictions, economic activity in New Zealand has almost been shut down, but the country is looking to come out of its self-imposed hibernation by the end of April.

To get the economy back up and running the NZ Greens are looking at electrification and improvements to regional rail.

Although the fourth largest party in the New Zealand parliament, the Greens have supported the leading Labour Party with confidence and supply. Green Party Transport Spokesperson Julie Anne Genter is Associate minister of Health and Transport in the current government.

The proposal of works includes connecting Auckland with Hamilton, Tauranga, and Whangearei, Wellington with Masterton, Palmerston North and Whanganui, and Christchurch with Rangiora, Ashburton and Timaru.

Currently, train services between Auckland and Wellington are partially electrified, while rail services out of Christchurch are hauled by diesel locomotives. Green Party Co-leader and Climate Change spokesperson James Shaw said the project would tackle the twin issues of economic growth and cutting emissions.

“The large intercity rail project proposed will provide meaningful work whilst driving us towards a sustainable, green, zero carbon future.

“Building rail creates more jobs than building motorways and helps us tackle climate change at the same time.”

The party has broken up the proposal into two stages. The first stage would involve electrification and improvements to existing track to allow for speeds of up to 110km/h. The second stage would include building new higher-speed track for tilt trains capable of travelling up to 160km/h and bypasses to create more direct routes. The party estimates that the cost of the program would be NZ$9 billion ($8.6bn) over 10 years.

Genter said that the investment would tie together metropolitan centres and the regions.

“We’re proposing a nation-wide intercity rapid rail programme that would bring our provincial centres and biggest cities closer together through fast, electric passenger rail. This will create real alternatives to driving or flying for people who want to travel around the country for work, to see their family and friends, or for domestic tourism.”

$1.4 million upgrade of regional stations in WA now complete

The new North Dandalup and Cookernup stations are now open for passengers on Transwa’s Australind route.

The North Dandalup and Cookernup train stations shared in upgrades worth $1.28 million as part of the McGowan Government’s election commitment to improve transport in south-west WA.

The $750,000 upgrade of the North Dandalup station and $650,000 upgrade of the Cookernup station began last year.

Both train stations’ existing low-level platforms are now raised platforms to be fully compliant with Disability Discrimination ACT standards.

The opening of the towns’ new train stations are ahead of the six new diesel railcars to replace the existing Australind service between Perth and Bunbury currently being built and commissioned in Bellevue.

Two car bays and one disability parking bay, line marking and bollards, new kerbing, and bitumen surfaces have also been installed at both stations, as well as better lighting, signage, fencing, and pedestrian paths. 

A number of other regional station upgrades including Yarloop and Carrabin have also been completed in the past 18 months.

WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said the Australind service is a local icon which has operated for more than 70 years.

“These small local stations provide a vital transport link for people in more isolated parts of the South-West – but due to their age, the infrastructure hasn’t kept pace with standards of accessibility,” Saffioti said.

WA Premier Mark McGowan said “The South-West is an important part of our State and it’s vital we provide public transport infrastructure for local residents, which is why we have upgraded four local train stations over the past 18 months.”

NZ reveals long-term rail plan

A draft plan would facilitate a long-term planning and funding model for rail in New Zealand, with the aim of boosting passenger figures and freight share on rail to help achieve the government’s zero-emissions goal by 2050.

The draft New Zealand Rail Plan, released by the Ministry of Transport on December 13, outlines the government’s long-term vision and priorities for New Zealand’s national rail network.

It stems from the recommendations of the Future of Rail review, a cross-agency project led by the Ministry of Transport working alongside KiwiRail, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, and the Treasury.

The plan aims to put in place a sustainable approach to rail funding over the longer-term.

Key to this is the Land Transport (Rail) Legislation Bill, presented to Parliament on December 12.

The Bill proposes the implementation of a new planning and funding framework for the heavy rail network owned by KiwiRail. It also proposes funding for the rail network from the National Land Transport Fund, and giving rail ministers decision-making rights on funding rail network investments.

The Bill would make amendments to the Land Transport Management Act 2003 and the Land Transport Act 1998, to implement the new framework.

It also introduces track user charges.

“After years of rail being run into the ground by the previous government, our government is getting rail back on track,” deputy prime minister Winston Peters said.

“We need our rail network to be able to cope with New Zealand’s growing freight needs. Freight is expected to increase by 55 per cent by 2042. Freight carried by rail not only reduces wear and tear on our roads, it reduces carbon emissions by 66 per cent.”

This year’s federal budget included $1 billion in funding for the national freight rail network, $741 million of which for the first phase of works to restore a reliable, resilient and safe freight and tourism network.

“Passenger rail is also the key to unlocking gridlock in our largest cities and boosting productivity,” transport minister Phil Twyford said. “The more people take the train, the more our roads are freed up for those who have to drive.

“Building alternative transport options for people and freight is a vital part of achieving the government’s goal of net zero emissions by 2050. It also helps make our roads safer by reducing the number of cars and trucks on our roads.”

The draft plan will become final when the next Government Policy Statement of Land Transport is finalised in the second half of 2020.

Until then the government is inviting feedback from industry and community groups.

Vital maintenance complete on Victorian regional tracks

Vital maintenance is now complete on regional tracks in Victoria, Minister for Public Transport Melissa Horne announced yesterday.

More than 60 staff worked on the $3.4 million project, replacing old track and point machines with more reliable infrastructure.

“The track that was replaced at Southern Cross Station is one of the most used and most complex pieces of track on the regional network – which is why this maintenance work is so important,” said Horne.

Passenger trains began using the replaced two critical sections of track near Southern Cross Station on the morning of Friday 25 October, after extensive testing of the new infrastructure had been completed.

The tracks funnel regional trains to and from Southern Cross Station, forming a crucial part of the network.

“Replacing the aging track with new modern infrastructure will improve performance and reduce the risk of delays or disruptions due to track faults in the area.”

The new tracks were laid with the help of installing machines and safety systems, which control the movement of the tracks to direct trains to and from different platforms.

During the work, trains were not running on the Albury line so that staff could perform major maintenance on standard gauge trains. The Australian Rail Track Corporation also used the opportunity to expedite the removal of several temporary speed restrictions between Seymour and Albury.

Trains from all regional lines will now benefit, according to the government, as disruptions at Southern Cross Station often have flow on impacts to the entire network.