Fast rail vision for South East Queensland

Mayors from South East Queensland are renewing calls for a fast rail network linking major cities in the region.

The collection of mayors, which covers 10 local government areas from the Sunshine Coast to the Gold Coast and out to Toowoomba, is advocating for a fast rail network that would operate at speeds in excess of 160km/h.

This would contribute to the collective’s vision of a 45-minute region, where city to city trips could be completed in 45 minutes.

The Mayors argue that reducing travel times between the nodes of the region would boost economic growth and reduce reliance on private vehicles. A compromise 60-minute region could also generate similar benefits, but with a cheaper price tag.

The Council of Mayors estimate that a 60-minute region would allow for connections between the Brisbane city centre to hubs such as Loganlea within 22 minutes, Ipswich in 24 minutes, and Caboolture in 35 minutes.

The plan also targets rising congestion, and notes that in doing nothing, congestion will cost the region’s economy $6 billion by 2031.

Fast rail would also tie together the region’s four international airports in Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and Toowoomba, enabling increases in visitation and spending. With the region bidding for the Olympic Games in 2032, a fast rail network is seen as needed to move spectators during the event.

The Council of Mayors note that the current Citytrain network is no longer able to service the region’s needs with an average running speed on the latest fleet, the New Generation Rollingstock of 60km/h.

“At these speeds, Citytrain is too slow to offer commuters in the outer rings of South East Queensland a reason to leave their cars behind and use public transport,” write the Mayors.

Rail advocacy group Rail Back on Track welcomed the group’s proposal, noting that current infrastructure was not up to scratch.

“The SEQ Citytrain network is over tasked and cannot provide fast rail services as is,” said Robert Dow, administration for Rail Back on Track.

The Council of Mayor said that now was the time to act. ‘

“The Queensland Government has the option to kickstart the exploration of Fast Rail now and use it as a smart investment for the state’s economic recovery – or miss this opportunity and know that the Queensland economy will pay a hefty price for it in years to come.”

Sunshine Coast

Sunshine Coast Council pushing for mass transit solution

The Sunshine Coast Council has called on the Queensland state government to back its vision for a public transport system.

The council is currently in the process of evaluating options for a mass transit corridor that would form the spine of the region’s public transport network.

One option under consideration is the construction of a light rail line from Maroochydore to Caloundra, with stage one connecting Maroochydore to the Sunshine Coast University hospital.

Sunshine Coast Council mayor Mark Jamieson said that the rapidly growing region needed to shift from a transport system focused on private vehicles.

“All that this will do is increase congestion and pollution, create bitumen eye-sores on our landscape and inhibit our current and future residents in being able to reach the places they need to get to or love to visit, like the beach, shopping centres, health facilities or where they work,” he said.

“Is this really the future that our residents want to see on our Sunshine Coast? I don’t think so.”

Planning for a mass transit system has been underway since 2012, with consultants preparing a preliminary business case. A final business case is expected to be completed by 2021 jointly funded with the Queensland state government.

In an interim report, the option for a light rail network was ranked highest, above improvements to the bus network or the creation of a bus rapid transit corridor.

The report found that “only the LRT option [is] considered to have significant benefits”. Buses were not found to be able to achieve the urban renewal benefits that the project sought.

The population of the Sunshine Coast is expected to rise to over half a million by 2041. The Queensland government is currently upgrading the heavy rail line from Beerburrum to Nambour and investigations are currently underway for a spur line to Maroochydore.

Queensland Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey said in May 2019 that governments would look to an integrated transport solution.

“Now is the time for us to work together to map out what is needed and when, so that these major infrastructure projects have the best chance possible of securing the funding that will be needed to build them.”

Jamison said that it was essential the community came together to support the mass transit plan.

“Our council needs to keep working on the development of the business case for a mass transit solution – because if we don’t, our Sunshine Coast will get nothing from the other tiers of government and our residents’ lifestyles will be forever compromised.”

Beerburrum

Tender details for stage one of Beerburrum to Nambour works released

The tender for the first stage of the Beerburrum to Nambour Rail upgrade will be released next month.

The move is a step forward for the long-awaited Sunshine Coast rail project with a call for tenders on early works released in June.

While the early works tender focused on improvements to roads and surrounding infrastructure, the Stage 1 tender includes line duplication, station upgrades, parking facilities and rail passing loops.

Specifically the works include: the duplication of the track north of Beerburrum to Glass House Maintains on an improved alignment and duplication between Glass House Maintains and Beerwah within the existing corridor; road over rail bridges at Beerburrum Road, Barrs Road, and Burgess Street; parking at Beerburrum, Landsborough, and Nambour; a bus interchange at Landsborough; and the relocation of utilities.

Early works will begin in 2021 with major construction to commence from 2022.

The upgrade is jointly funded by the Queensland and federal governments, with each contributing $390 million and $160.8m respectively.

Queensland Minister for Transport and Main Roads Mark Bailey said the project would create 333 jobs in stage one.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said the upgrade would entice more commuters to travel by train.

“Reduced travel times, greater service reliability and increased parking at stations will attract more travellers to rail, between the Sunshine Coast region and Brisbane in particular,” he said.

The Beerburrum to Nambour upgrade was listed by Infrastructure Australia as a priority project in June 2018, and detailed planning followed in 2019.

Federal member for Fisher Andrew Wallace said that early industry briefings hoped to garner involvement from local businesses.

“The industry briefing was a good opportunity to give local businesses some indication on what kind of work was coming down the line and allow the project team to get early feedback that will help as they develop the final scope for the upgrade,” he said.

Rail Back on Track administrator Robert Dow welcomed the commitment from both governments to get the project underway, however noted that further works could be included in the package.

“The planned commencement of Beerburrum to Nambour is very welcome but we would have like to have the track duplication through to Landsborough.”

Further duplication would improve train frequency for passenger as well as freight on the heavily-used North Coast Line.

Beerburrum

Call for tenders for early works on Beerburrum to Nambour upgrade

A request for tender has been released for early works on the Beerburrum to Nambour rail upgrade project.

The tender comprises civil works to prepare roads and surrounding infrastructure for future rail upgrades. This includes the construction of two carparks and the realignment of Steve Irwin Way.

The Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads will hold an online industry briefing for the project on June 17. The briefing will provide industry with an understanding of the project, the procurement process, and the timing of the works.

The request for tender is the first stage of construction for the long-awaited project, which involves duplicating of 20km of rail between Beerburrum and Landsborough, the extension of existing passing loops between Landsborough and Nambour, as well as route realignments, level crossing removals, station improvements, and supporting works.

Infrastructure Australia identified the $550.8 million project as a priority project in June 2018, and the state and federal governments have committing $160.8m and $390m respectively.

The works will ultimately benefit both freight and passenger services which share the line, with the Sunshine Coast’s population expected to grow by two thirds between 2016 and 2041 with a 3 per cent growth in passenger demand until 2036.

Disputes about funding between the federal and state governments in the past has led the project to be delivered in stages. According to the Department of Transport and Main Roads, the first stage will focus on improving passenger benefits via increase capacity and patronage while freight benefits will be realised in later stages.

Queensland’s newest train fleet deployed to the Sunshine Coast line

On Monday, March 2, Queensland’s newest trains, the New Generation Rollingstock (NGR) fleet, were deployed to the Sunshine Coast line for the first time.

The NGR fleet has been deployed to Nambour on the Sunshine Coast to replace older train models to operate more than 40 existing weekly Sunshine Coast line services, Monday to Friday.

The final NGR train entered service for the Queensland Government in late January this year.

Manufactured by Bombardier, the NGR trains have travelled over eight million in service kilometres, and 150,000 passenger journeys, since December 2017.

Maintenance of the fleet is being carried out by Bombardier at Wulkuraka, near Ipswich, for 32 years, where testing and commissioning has been occurring.

The NGR trains are 147m long and weigh 260 tonnes and have a total passenger capacity of approximately 964 people, including 454 seated and 510 standing (depending on conditions).

Queensland Rail has also added an extra 32 weekly services to its South East Queensland (SEQ) timetable each week from March 2.

In addition, five services will extend on the SEQ timetable including extending an existing Caboolture service to start from Nambour at 5.38am weekdays, providing an additional morning peak train for customers between Nambour and Elimbah stations.

Queensland Rail said in a statement that the company has reviewed its operations across SEQ and have identified an opportunity to deliver these service improvements, within existing resources that are available.

“These changes will also reduce empty train running across the region by 1,460 kilometres per week, delivering extra services for our customers instead,” Queensland Rail said in a statement. 

“These improvements will deliver the largest number of weekly train services ever offered across SEQ and follows the introduction of 462 extra weekly services and 200,000 extra seats to our timetable in 2019.”

NGR to run on North Coast line for first time

Queensland’s New Generation Rollingstock (NGR) will be introduced to the Sunshine Coast line for the first time on March 2.

The change comes as Queensland Rail introduces 32 new weekly services across the south east Queensland network.

The services will join an extended inbound Caboolture service to Nambour, and come after 462 weekly services were introduced to the region last year. This increase responds to growing customer demand for rail in Queensland, said Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey.

“Close to 190 million trips were taken on public transport in 2018-19, and after two record years, we’re on-track for another record 12 months when it comes to patronage.”

The new services will be introduced along with other major improvements to rail services in south east Queensland.

“We’re backing commuters with more trains, a $371 million statewide smart ticketing system, more than $357 million in train station accessibility upgrades and the largest public transport project in Queensland’s history: the $5.4 billion Cross River Rail,” said Bailey.

In order to deliver the new services, Queensland Rail found efficiencies in the network, better utilising its existing resources, said CEO of the government owned operator, Nick Easy.

“These changes will reduce empty train running across the region by 1,460 kilometres per week – delivering extra services for our customers instead,” he said.

The introducing of the NGR will be enabled with dedicated support facilities.

“The trains will operate 45 weekly services on the line, replacing older train models, and their deployment will be supported by a new NGR stabling facility coming online at Woombye,” said Easy.

Last month, the final NGR entered service. Alterations to the current rollingstock fleet are underway to comply with disability requirements.

Light rail proposed for Sunshine Coast Airport development

Sunshine Coast Airport has delivered a draft master plan for the development of the Queensland-based airport to 2040 that includes details for the creation of a light rail station.

The draft of the Sunshine Coast Airport Master Plan 2040 document was developed by Sunshine Coast Airport with key stakeholders and includes Sunshine Coast Council’s infrastructure plans under the Sunshine Coast Airport Expansion Project (SCAEP).

The airport’s document includes plans related to the provision of a possible direct rail corridor from the city to the airport. Sunshine Coast Council and the Queensland Government are investigating “numerous options for rail access” to help minimise a reliance on motor vehicle access to the airport, according to the draft master plan.

The ongoing development of the new Maroochydore central business district, a 53-hectare greenfield site development expected to cost $430 million, is also hoped to bolster the attractiveness of the region for locals, businesses and visitors, with the airport serving as a “gateway” for this development.

“[Sunshine Coast Airport] is a strong supporter of the introduction of light rail to the airport providing a fast, clean and efficient link to Maroochydore and on to broader destinations within the region,” the draft plan read.

“Both heavy and light rail infrastructure is planned for the transformation of the region, and a connection to Sunshine Coast Airport is a critical link in the effective public transportation visions for the region.”

The report went on to stat that a prospective light rail service would provide direct flights to domestic and international destinations by offering seamless connections between Maroochydore CBD and the airport.