Contracts announced for More Trains, More Services infrastructure upgrades

The NSW government has announced the two successful tenderers as part of the next stage of construction on the $4.3 billion More Trains, More Services upgrades.

The Next Rail partnership of John Holland and Jacobs will fulfil the contract between Central and Hurstville, and Transport for Tomorrow – made up of Laing O’Rouke and KBR – will work from Mortdale to Kiama. Each contract is worth about $300 million.

The program of works includes upgrades to rail infrastructure such as stabling yards, signalling, track, station platforms, and power supply on the South Coast, Illawarra and T8 Airport Lines.

Transport Minister Andrew Constance said that the works would enable better services on each line.

“The work will support the introduction of new suburban and intercity trains and allow us to deliver more frequent train services, with less wait times and a more comfortable journey for customers on the T4 Illawarra, T8 Airport and South Coast lines,” he said.

“We’re prioritising these lines because they are among the busiest on the network, catering for 440,000 trips in a typical day, which is around one third of daily rail customers.”

Construction will begin in the middle of 2020 and be completed ahead of the service improvements, which are scheduled for late 2022.

Passengers will see a 20 per cent increase in peak services on the T4 Illawarra Line, with space for up to 3,600 more travellers, equivalent to an extra three services an hour in the peak from interchanges such as Hurstville and Sutherland. There will be a 60 per cent increase on the T8 Airport line at the International, Domestic, Mascot, and Green Square stations with the capacity for an extra 2,400 passengers.

On the South Coast Line station platforms will be lengthened to accommodate the 10 car trains of the New Intercity Fleet trains as well as an extra off peak service each hour between Wollongong and the Sydney CBD, bringing frequency to a train every 30 minutes.

Constance said that the work will allow for an employment boost across a number of professions, including engineers, trades workers, and apprentices.

“Today’s announcement means we are keeping people in work and creating about 350 direct new jobs and around 200 indirect jobs located either in Sydney or on the South Coast.”

Rail in the Illawarra about to hit congestion deadline

NSW Shadow Minister for Natural Resources and Wollongong MP Paul Scully has called upon the NSW government to get to work on improving freight and passenger rail to Port Kembla.

Scully’s comments come after Infrastructure Australia (IA) identified freight rail access to Port Kembla as a priority initiative, with an immediate time frame of 0-5 years.

IA noted that freight services can be held up for up to 11 hours due to priority being given to passenger services on the Illawarra Line. The report signals a need to improve the Illawarra and/or the Moss Vale-Unanderra Line, or find an alternative rail alignment to the port.

Once the Outer Harbour development at Port Kembla is complete, the need for connections to Western Sydney intermodal terminals will also increase, with the NSW government requiring no more than 10 per cent of the future terminal’s capacity to be shipped by road.

Scully noted that with increased demand for passenger services on the Illawarra line, the NSW government needs to work urgently on increasing capacity.

“We are rapidly heading towards when the deadline is going to hit when passenger and freight services will have to compete for rapidly declining slots because of the congestion on the South Coast Line.”

A Transport for NSW spokesperson said that as part of the More Trains, More Services program, short term changes will increase passenger services.

“Future service improvements for South Coast customers will include an extra peak hour service between Wollongong and the Sydney CBD, providing a 15 minute frequency for express services at Wollongong, North Wollongong, Thirroul and Helensburgh in the peaks, and an extra off peak service each hour between Wollongong and the Sydney CBD, meaning a train every 30 minutes.”

According to the spokesperson, extra services and timetable changes will not impact freight operators, who will have access to the same path capacity as they do currently.

Adam Zarth, executive director of the Illawarra Business Chamber, also expressed concern that rail lines would shortly reach capacity.

“The South Coast Line will reach freight capacity around 2030, which is why the South West Illawarra Rail Link presents as the only viable solution, which would additionally enable residents in the Illawarra and Wollondilly to access employment in Greater Sydney.”

One alternative is to recommence construction of the Maldon to Dombarton Railway, a single-track freight line between the Southern Highlands and Port Kembla. Although first commenced in 1983, construction was suspended in 1988. In 2014 Transport for NSW opened a Registration of Interest for private companies to build, operate, and maintain the line however, was not satisfied with either proponent.

The Transport for NSW website states that the rail link would require ongoing state government funding and that existing infrastructure is sufficient to manage short to medium-term rail capacity in the Illawarra. However, Transport for NSW acknowledges that in the longer term greater capacity will be required.

“Today’s Infrastructure Australia report keeps telling us the same thing we have heard for years: the NSW Government needs to flesh out how and how much funding it will commit to delivering on progressing the completion of the Maldon-Dombarton link,” said Scully.

“There is widespread support for both of these infrastructure projects in the Illawarra. The only support lacking is from the Federal and NSW Governments.”