Optimism in infrastructure sector on post-COVID future

There is broad optimism in the infrastructure sector that the pipeline of work will continue and the shocks felt during COVID will not be long lasting.

Speakers at the National Infrastructure Summit highlighted that while there were some short term impacts during the height of COVID-19, the sector has largely been able to continue and is looking towards future projects.

CEO of Infrastructure Australia, Romilly Madew, summarised that the sector’s response to COVID-19 by setting up COVIDsafe worksites, cutting off access to overseas and interstate staff, and some supply chain issues meant a drop of 50 per cent in productivity during the peak COVID-19.

However, unprecedented collaboration between senior officials in the public and private sector meant that sites remained open in Australia, unlike in other jurisdictions, which ensured optimism and that there was flexibility around meeting contractual obligations that prevented projects from grinding to a halt.

This focus on ensuring business continuity and optimism was echoed by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who said that during the pandemic the state government’s focus was ensuring works could continue.

“Not only are we a COVID safe environment to operate but one of the few places where business continuity is assured,” Berejiklian said. “I think we can feel optimistic about the future of the infrastructure pipeline in NSW.”

What shape the infrastructure pipeline will be was a point of discussion, particularly following the federal budget. Federal Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure Alan Tudge said the government’s focus was on projects that could begin in the next 12-18 months, and that was why there were no new mega projects in this year’s budget.

Despite this, Marion Terrill, transport and cities program director at the Grattan Institute, noted that the size of the infrastructure pipeline is still growing, with the amount of work underway in the public sector having doubled over the past five years, and the average size of projects is twice the value of projects over the previous five years.

The shift to smaller projects and upgrading existing assets such as roads and rail lines also reflected an uncertainty about what travel patterns will look like once Australia emerges from COVID-19, said CEO of Infrastructure Victoria, Michel Masson. Masson said the large transport projects which were popular up to COVID-19 may not be the right projects if demand changes.

Amid these larger trends, infrastructure builders and operators were dealing with their own challenges. CEO of Pacific National Dean Dalla Valle noted that state government regulatory changes to allow high performance vehicles through city centres to access ports was undermining the goals of these governments to shift more freight onto rail. Resetting the imbalance in fees and charges between road and rail freight would ensure that infrastructure assets are more efficiently used, with benefits for the wider community.

infrastructure

National Infrastructure Summit speakers and agenda announced

As Australia looks to invest in infrastructure as a way to build the country’s economy out of the COVID-19 crisis, the National Infrastructure Summit has arrayed some of the most significant leaders in this space to discuss the opportunities ahead.

Opening the virtual conference on day one, October 14, will be NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who is looking at an expanding rail infrastructure pipeline in the state, with new Sydney Metro lines recently funded and moving ahead in the contract process.

For a federal view, day two will be opened by Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack. With the conference taking place days after the delivery of what the federal budget, which is widely expecte to include more infrastructure spending, McCormack will highlight these commitments as well as other projects such as Inland Rail that are always underway.

The program also includes discussions between Romilly Madew, CEO of Infrastructure Australia, Marion Terrill, Transport and Cities Program Director, Grattan Institute, and Cathal O’Rouke, who will pick over what impact COVID-19 has had on the infrastructure sector.

With logistics impacted by new trends during COVID and the acceleration of others, Dean Dalla Valle, CEO of Pacific National, and Maurice James, managing director of Qube will be joined by Marika Calfas, CEO of NSW Ports and Brendan Bourke, CEO of the Port of Melbourne to analyses these changes.

Alan Tudge Minister for Cities, Urban Infrastructure and Population and NSW Minister for Water, Property and Housing Melinda Pavey will give ministerial addresses, followed by a Q&A.

Other panels include a focus on infrastructure funding and post-pandemic transport.

This year, the conference will be delivered virtually via online events platform Brella. The platform will provide an opportunity for networking and viewing speaker and sponsor information.

For more information, click here: https://www.nationalpolicyseries.com.au/afr-national-infrastructure-summit/.

Port Botany

Update to IA Priority List identifies rail projects as key for growth

In a mid-year update to the 2020 Infrastructure Priority List, Infrastructure Australia has added four rail projects to the list of nationally significant infrastructure.

The mid-year update provides governments with a snapshot of the projects that will drive Australia’s economy, said Infrastructure Australia CEO Romilly Madew.

“Australia is planning its recovery from a rolling series of crises: drought, flood, the bushfires and now COVID-19. As we look forward, the focus is on delivery and as the nation’s infrastructure advisory body, we are continuing to improve our ability to move quickly to identify investments that will improve productivity – this is about expanding the pipeline, keeping the economy growing, helping to create jobs and attract investment.”

The total infrastructure pipeline is now worth more than $64 billion, and Madew said it was key that infrastructure investment was wisely spent.

“This is the first time we have formally released the Priority List mid-year, by doing so, we want to highlight the most recent priority proposals at a time when our infrastructure investment needs to progress quickly, without jeopardising the quality of those investments,” she said.

Rail will continue to play a key role in stimulating the Australian economy and lifting its productivity as the country recovers.

Rail projects added to the list include Stage 2 of the More Trains, More Services project in NSW, the Port Botany Rail Line Duplication & Cabramatta Passing Loop, and two Metronet projects, the Morley–Ellenbrook Line project and the high capacity signalling project. All were deemed “priority projects”.

Rail line and station improvements on the Gold Coast line from Kuraby to Beenleigh has also been updated to reflect the latest information on infrastructure constraints on the Gold Coast line.

The addition of these projects highlights that well-planned rail infrastructure will be key to Australia’s post-COVID-19 recovery.

Infrastructure Australia is now seeking submissions for its 2021 report, to be released in February.

Perth signalling upgrade added to Infrastructure Priority List

Infrastructure Australia has listed the High Capacity Signalling Project, part of the Metronet program, as a priority project.

Now added to Infrastructure Australia’s Infrastructure Priority List, the move acknowledges the benefits which could come from upgrading signalling on the Perth network.

In addition to extensions to lines and new stations, Metronet is proposing to replace the existing signalling and train control system with new infrastructure. This would lead to improvements across the network, said Romilly Madew, chief executive of Infrastructure Australia.

“Modern Automatic Train Control systems can facilitate a range of service improvements, such as schedule and headway optimisation, turn-up-and-go service frequencies, real-time passenger information, faster recovery from operational disruptions, and better regulation of train traffic at network pinch points.”

The system will use a Communications Based Train Control System (CBTC), and the project’s wider scope covers implementing automation train operation, supervision, and regulation, as well as the construction of a Rail Operations Centre, a back-up signalling equipment room, and upgrades to the current Alternate Train Control facility. Current signalling and control systems are reaching the end of their operational life.

“The High Capacity Signalling project will make better, more efficient use of the existing rail network. The existing signalling and control systems are nearing the end of their asset lives. Upgrading them to an integrated high-capacity signalling system will give Perth’s rail network the capacity to grow while also creating more reliable, safe and punctual train operations. Coupling this project with Metronet new lines and stations will create a more attractive public transport network for Perth residents,” said PTA spokesman, David Hynes.

Madew said the project aligns with the priorities of Infrastructure Australia.

“It’s important to note that the High Capacity Signalling Project strongly aligns with Infrastructure Australia’s own recommendations to improve the performance of urban rail networks in our capital cities by making better use of existing networks and technology.”

Implementing the signalling project would enable capacity increases of up to 150 per cent on the rail network and the business case submitted by the WA Public Transport Authority found a cost benefit ratio of 2.6.

The business case stated that a single contractor will design, build, and maintain the Automatic Train Control system, and that the first roll out would be either on the North-South line group by 2026 or the South-East line group also by 2026.

Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure Alan Tudge said that the signalling upgrades will fit alongside other improvements to the network also designated significant by Infrastructure Australia.

“For people in the north of Perth the Morley-Ellenbrook Line will be 21 kms of rail line improving connectivity and productivity for locals,” said Tudge.

“At the same time the Capacity Signalling System project will improve the performance of the current rail network by allowing trains to run more often, reliably and safely.

“Metronet will get cars off the road, bust congestion, connect communities to jobs and services and unlock opportunities for business growth in the region.”

Port Botany freight network upgrades added to IA Priority List

Infrastructure Australia will add the Port Botany Rail Line Duplication and Cabramatta Passing Loop project to the body’s Infrastructure Priority List.

The recognition signals the project as a significant one for not just the rail freight network, but wider, national supply chains. Chief Executive of Infrastructure Romilly Madew highlighted how the project is critical.

“Port Botany handles 99 per cent of NSW’s container demand, making it a critical international gateway for Australia and a backbone asset for economic product within Sydney and New South Wales,” she said.

“With demand only increasing, it is vital that Port Botany maintains throughput capacity to meet container growth over the long term.”

The dual projects provide for an increase in the capacity of rail to deliver containers to Port Botany. The project involves duplicating 2.9km of the line and constructing a passing loop at Cabramatta on the Southern Sydney Freight Line.

Moving more containers by rail will also benefit surrounding suburbs and road networks, said Madew.

“Currently more than 80 per cent of containers to and from Port Botany are transported by road.

“This worsens congestion on the Sydney road network, particularly in and around the already constrained Port Botany precinct, which includes Sydney Airport and the M5 Motorway.”

The project would further improve supply chains by increasing capacity on the Southern Sydney Freight Line and the Port Botany rail line, which are forecast to exceed capacity by 2023 and 2026, respectively.

A number of intermodal terminals are also planned for the Sydney basin, including at St Marys and a future site near Western Sydney Airport, and demand for greater rail capacity is also being generated by the Moorebank Intermodal Terminal and the Enfield Intermodal Terminal.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack welcomed Infrastructure Australia’s determination on the $400 million project.

“It’s great to see job-creating infrastructure and freight initiatives such as these recognised as priority projects by Infrastructure Australia, particularly at a time when getting goods to consumers is so essential.”

An upgrade of the existing line to Port Botany was also recently completed.

John Fullerton, CEO of the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), which is overseeing the project, highlighted that efficient supply chains are more important than ever.

“We have all seen how critical our transport and freight sector is during the current COVID-19 crisis.

“These two projects are essential to helping Sydney, and New South Wales, in meeting its future freight demands. Containers are expected to grow from 2.3 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) to 8.4m TEUs by 2045. Rail can and needs to carry more of the freight task, not only through Port Botany – but across the country.”

CEO of NSW Ports, Marika Calfas, said that work should begin as soon as possible on the duplication and passing loop.

“Having been under development for many years, this project is ‘shovel ready’ and should be progressed as a priority to deliver long term port supply chain productivity benefits and provide needed economic stimulus for NSW.”

Calfas highlighted that Port Botany is hoping to significantly increase the number of containers moved by rail.

“Port Botany is the only container port in Australia with on-dock rail at all three of its container terminals and, together with the stevedores, we are making significant investments to increase port-side rail capacity to meet this goal. The first stage of investment of $190 million commenced in 2019 and will be complete by 2023.  This will double existing rail capacity at Port Botany.”

CEO of the Australian Logistics Council (ALC), Kirk Coningham, said that the organisation is ready to progress the project.

“ALC hopes governments will now work with industry to expedite the delivery of this priority project, to strengthen the efficiency of our supply chains and help provide economic stimulus in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In January this year, ARTC announced that it had shortlisted three contractors for the Botany Rail Duplication project, and that John Holland has been shortlisted for the Cabramatta Loop project.