Concern over toxic soil to be dumped at a V/Line rail yard

$172.9 million V/Line stabling yard development could potentially be used as a temporary holding site for contaminated soil with possible carcinogens PFAS and asbestos.

The Wyndham Vale rail yard is set to be occupied by V/Line as a maintenance and storage space to replace the Footscray train stabling site which is being removed as part of the West Gate Tunnel works.

The $6.7 billion project requires 2.3 million tonnes of soil to be relocated offsite. The 82-hectare government-owned site in Melbourne’s west is being considered by officials following a meeting with Wyndham Council this week.

The Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) are raising concerns for the health and safety of rail workers if the soil was dumped next to the V/Line rail yard.

Luba Grigorovitch, Victorian Secretary of RTBU wrote in a letter to state Government officials on Monday that she is “deeply concerned” the toxic soil would pose a huge risk to workers and residents.

Grigorovitch told Rail Express that she is demanding confirmation from the government whether soil would contaminate the air conditioning systems of the Geelong-Melbourne trains, which run directly alongside the site.

The state secretary for the union said they’ve been inundated with calls from concerned V/line workers. 

“Our members don’t want to be operating alongside contaminated soil,” she said.

“This government seems to be infamous for passing the buck. We’ll be  undergoing full safety audits and testing before giving the ok for our members to be working at the site.”

The new facility is designed to meet interpeak stabling needs for V/Line trains operating on the regional rail network, while also ensuring there is capacity to house additional trains in the future.

The project will involve construction of a stabling yard, driver facilities and a bypass track connected to the Geelong line, which will allow trains to access the facility without delaying passenger services.

38 new VLocity carriages are arriving to the V/Line network early this year and there are concerns that there isn’t enough facilities for the growing network.

V/Line stated in 2018 that stabling capacity would be exceeded by March 2019.

The Age obtained an internal V/Line document under freedom of information laws, reporting that “the rail yard was needed to run a greater number of services on the network and to operate new trains reliably”.

According to the internal document, the lack of maintenance infrastructure will continue to impact on performance and shortages will impact V/Line’s reliability.

A government spokeswoman told the Hearld Sun that if Wyndham Vale was a temporary site it would not disrupt rail operations.

“Transurban and its builder are working with project parties to find a long-term solution to manage the rock and soil from tunnelling – no decision has been made,” she said.

Department of Transport spokeswoman said operations of the stabling facility will not be compromised.

“While a decision on where to temporarily hold soil from tunnelling for the West Gate Tunnel is yet to be made, the land in question is outside the Wyndham Vale stabling facility so if the site was ever used it would not impact the timing or operations of the new stabling facility,” she said to The Age.

The Wyndham Vale rail yard is metres away from proposed housing estates and four planned schools.

Treasurer Tim Pallas and member for Werribee said on air during a 3AW interview that it won’t be a long-term containment.

“Any suggestion that there is going to be long-term containment or toxic facility is just nonsense,” Mr Pallas told 3AW.

“What is proposed at Wyndham Vale is essentially a short-term place where it is isolated from the environment and if it is ever used – it may well not ever be used – it’s only if you can’t get access to the long-term facility.”

The stabling project is funded by the state government and is still under construction and set to open in the coming months.

RTBU refuses to staff NIF

Unless modifications are made to the New Intercity Fleet (NIF), currently being tested in NSW, Rail, Tram, and Bus Union (RTBU) members will refuse to work on the trains.

“Railway workers will simply refuse to put themselves, their workmates, and passengers at risk by allowing these flawed trains on the tracks,” said Alex Claassens, secretary of the Rail, Tram and Bus Union NSW.

Transport for NSW (TfNSW) denies that any fault exists with the fleet, and that instead, traction interlocking on doors is a design safety feature.

The feature will prevent the train from moving while the doors are open, including the guard’s door. Guards and drivers will be able to monitor the platform via CCTV, said a Transport for NSW spokesperson.

“These cameras allow drivers and guards to easily monitor the entire length of the train, even on curved platforms and in bad weather where visibility may be compromised. This provides a more contemporary method for monitoring train platforms which is used around the world.”

Claassens disputes that this new method will be safer and the RTBU would prefer the guard door to stay open after the passenger doors have closed.

“Currently, guards can hear people yelling and keep their eyes on the platform and doors until the train pulls away – they won’t under the new model,” he said.

Dynamic testing of the new fleet of 554 carriages, built in South Korea, is underway on the rail network, with static testing at the Eveleigh Maintenance Facility having been completed.

Concurrently, the RTBU and NSW TrainLink, the operator of the NIF, have been conducting working groups on the introduction of the New Intercity Fleet with health and safety representatives (HSR). Provisional improvement notices issued as part of this dialogue have been responded to, with others subject to review by SafeWork NSW.

In December, Metcalfe Rail Safety issued a review of the NIF operating model, commissioned by TfNSW. The review found that risks identified were eliminated or significantly reduced by the train’s design and the procedures required of the model.

“The people on the ground – the train guards, drivers and station staff – know these train aren’t safe. No piece of paper stating otherwise will convince people who know train safety inside and out that this New InterCity Fleet is anything but a danger on wheels,” said Claassens.

“Real experts who work on our trains every single day have seen these trains first-hand. They know that the current design flaw puts commuters at risk because it doesn’t allow train guards to properly monitor people in the moments before the train departs.”

Improvements on rail infrastructure on the Blue Mountains Line from Springwood to Lithgow is currently being carried out to widen the Ten Tunnels Deviation to allow the new fleet to pass through.

Stabling yards at Eveleigh, Gosford, Hamilton/Broadmeadow, Lithgow, Port Kembla, and Wollongong have been completed, and enabling work continues at over 100 stations. A new maintenance facility at Kangy Angy on the NSW Central Coast is also under construction and is scheduled to open later in 2020.

Tram drivers to go on strike during Australian Open

Yarra Trams services will be disrupted during off peak hours on Tuesday, January 28, and Thursday, January 30.

The Victorian Branch of the Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) announced the strikes in response to negotiations over part-time work caps.

Yarra Trams has proposed to increase the cap on part-time work from 4 per cent to 15 per cent, however the RTBU argued that an increase in the cap would allow for more part-time workers doing shorter shifts, reducing the terms and conditions of the current workforce.

“Essentially, Yarra Trams is asking its workers to accept their take home pay being slashed. It’s no wonder that employees are overwhelming against these proposals. Yarra Trams has twice put its part-time proposal out to a vote of employees and both times it was rejected – by 97 per cent and 94 per cent respectively,” said branch secretary, Luba Grigorovitch.

A spokesperson for Yarra Trams countered that the company has offered significant pay rises.

“We’ve already offered 12 per cent wage increases and many other improvements to working conditions, as well as seeking to offer people part-time work.”

The strikes will coincide with the Australian Open, and Yarra Trams is proposing to run bus services as an alternative.

“We are working with the Department of Transport and the Australian Open to reduce the impact as best we can and will keep passengers informed,” said the Yarra Trams spokesperson.

“The RTBU regrets that these two stoppages will coincide with the Australian Open. However, we have no other option but to exercise the only effective industrial rights workers have,” said Grigorovitch.

The RTBU called on the Victorian government to take action.

“It is well past time that the State Government and Transport Minister, Melissa Horne, stop sitting on their hands and do something,” said Grigorovitch.

The Yarra Trams spokesperson noted that negotiations would continue.

“We are committed to continuing negotiations to find a mutually beneficial outcome.”

Shorten promises $20m for TAFE-focused rail technology campus

The Labor Party has proposed that it will invest $20 million into a Rail Technology Campus (RTC) at the Chullora rail precinct in New South Wales if it wins the federal election on Saturday.

Labor said that as a federal government it would partner with the rail industry and unions, as well as the NSW Government to establish a TAFE-focused campus complete with digital learning labs, VR simulators, mechanical plant and workshops, welding facilities and more.

Labor stated that the initiative would be co-funded by the NSW Government, with the RTC operating as a partnership between TAFE NSW, NSW rail agencies, Sydney Trains, and rail vendors, contractors and unions

The investment is part of $1 billion of proposed TAFE funding set out in Labor’s Fair Go Budget Plan.

Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) National Secretary Bob Nanva said that Labor’s plans would “fill a critical gap in the rail sector’s skills development framework”

Nanva added that rail training systems and institutions needed to keep pace with the development of the industry, which he said was rapidly changing. He also criticised the Coalition Government’s approach to public policy

“The jobs of tomorrow on the railways will bear little resemblance to the jobs of yesterday,” Nanva said.

“But there will always be a need for skilled workers who understand the technicalities of rail, and the complexities of modern transport networks.”