Further measures to reduce crowding across Sydney Trains

Sydney Trains will be taking extra steps to ensure crowding on the network does not return once patronage increases following the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown.

In responding to a report from the Auditor-General for NSW which found that platform crowding was a key strategic risk, a Sydney Trains spokesperson said that a raft of measures are being introduced.

“Sydney Trains is currently implementing a number of initiatives to help customers make informed decisions about physical distancing in accordance with NSW government advice,” said the spokesperson.

“These include increased visibility through signs and announcements on trains and at stations explaining physical distancing. Additional measures include a communication campaign targeting school children, managing Opal gates to space customers entering and leaving stations, new guidelines for passenger numbers on lifts, regular customer information announcements and social media messaging, and staff education to help guide customers safely around the network.”

In its report, the Auditor-General recommended that Sydney Trains and Transport for NSW (TfNSW) should address key data gaps in the operator’s understanding of where crowding was occurring.

“Sydney Trains do not have sufficient oversight to know if crowding is being effectively managed,” said the Auditor-General.

Although customer management plans exist for high-patronage stations, a lack of policy supporting the plans limited their effectiveness, the auditor-General found, and a centralised collection of data on crowding interventions did not exist, nor did Sydney Trains have a routine process for identifying whether crowding contributed to minor safety incidents.

Sydney Trains and TfNSW accepted the Auditor-General’s recommendations and have been instituting responses to limit crowding.

“In March last year, we saw the introduction of the $296 million world class Rail Operations Centre, with an integrated network of 11,000 digital cameras monitoring stations and concourses in real-time to help support crowd management and safety,” said a Sydney Trains spokesperson.

The Auditor-General also cited larger programs such as the More Trains More Services initiative as well as the building of Sydney Metro will alleviate network pressure in the longer term.

Research and technology programs are also looking at how to smoothen operations and changes customer behaviour. The Auditor-General found that some of these initiatives, such as reduced fare prices outside of the peak travel periods and improved wayfinding, needed to be evaluated to assess their value.

The effectiveness of measures to reduce crowding will be one way to encourage commuters to return to public transport. In the preliminary findings of a University of Sydney survey, public transport was found to be seen as significantly less comfortable than private cars, which could limit the use of trains and buses after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, said associate professor Matthew Beck from the Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies.

“To avoid levels of congestion that exceed those experienced prior to COVID-19, governments need to encourage work from home as much as possible. Businesses also need to be flexible with remote working and think about how they might stagger the hours of the day staff travel to and from work.”

According to Sydney Trains, continuing normal services levels has allowed customers to physically distance on trains and platforms.

“We have also continued to run a full timetable with only minor adjustments, despite substantially reduced patronage across the network. This has created the best options for customers to physically distance within train carriages and at stations.”

NSW Transport Minister announced run in Eden-Monaro by-election, then pulls out

NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance has said he would make the move from state to federal politics, and only 24 hours later withdrawn the bid.

Constance was to contest the seat of Eden-Monaro, on the NSW South Coast, which covers his state electorate of Bega. The Labor candidate is Kristy McBain, who is the current Bega Valley Mayor. The resignation of Labor MP Mike Kelly triggered the by-election. Kelly stepped down for health reasons.

Constance had already told the public that his time in state politics was limited. Following the NSW bushfires in early 2020, Constance took an extended period of leave after his home in Malua Bay was almost destroyed by fire. At the time, Constance had said that once the recovery was complete he would resign from politics.

In a statement on May 6, Constance said he had “unfinished business” in the transport portfolio.

“I want to deliver crucial life-saving reforms in road safety and a safer, cleaner future in public transport.”

Constance was appointed to the position of Transport Minister in 2015, following the NSW state election that year. Constance was previously Treasurer for the year prior.

Since becoming Transport Minister, Constance oversaw the roll-out of the Sydney Metro project. The delivery of the project kicked off in 2015 shorty after Constance became Transport Minister and the proceeds of the power privatisation scheme could be used to fund the new rail line, although construction had begun in 2013. The line became operational in May 2019.

Other projects that have been progressed during Constance’s time as Transport Minister include the More Trains More Services signalling and timetable upgrades, and the associated Digital Systems Program.

While Constance has drawn praise for the Metro Northwest line, a controversial project during his time as Transport Minister has been the Sydney CBD and Southeast Light Rail. Construction had commenced in 2015 and while major construction was initially expected to be completed in 2018, the line did not open until late 2019. The fall-out between the NSW government and the Altrac consortium also led to legal disputes costing hundreds of millions of dollars. In April 2020, the final branch of the line to Kingsford was opened.

EIS for Sydney Metro West released, Rydalmere station dropped

The NSW government has released the first environmental impact statement (EIS) for Sydney Metro West, scrapping a proposed station at Rydalmere.

The EIS provides more detail on the route which will connect the Parramatta and Sydney CBDs. The EIS covers the section from Westmead to the Bays Precinct.

A separate EIS will be released for the section from the Bays Precinct to the Sydney CBD, with the location of a station in the CBD still to be confirmed. A station in Pyrmont is still listed as “optional”.

With the removal of the optional station at Rydalmere, the distance between consecutive stations Parramatta and Sydney Olympic Park would be between eight and nine kilometres, depending on the alignment. Most metro systems globally have an average distance between stops of between 1.2 and 1.3km.

The EIS outlines where the main works will be undertaken for civil construction works, including tunnelling, and excavation for stations. Major work sites will be established at Westmead, Parramatta between Macquarie Street and George Street, Clyde – where a stabling facility will be built, Burwood North, and the Bays Precinct. Two tunnel boring machines will each begin at The Bays and Westmead, with all four being extracted at the site in Sydney Olympic Park.

Releasing the EIS, NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance said that Metro West is a “once in a century” project.

“It’s been almost 100 years since the Harbour Bridge transformed Sydney. Now this underground Metro is going to be the modern day game changer for our city, serving us for decades to come.”

The EIS proposes to ease the pressure on the existing heavy rail system from population growth in Western Sydney, which is forecast to grow to 3.2 million people by 2036, by diverting commuters from the T1 Western Line, T9 Northern Line and the T2 Inner West and Leppington Line.

The EIS estimates a drop in customer numbers at some of Sydney’s busiest stations. It finds that there will be a 32 per cent fall in customer numbers on the T1 Western Line at Parramatta by 2036, a 36 per cent reduction at Strathfield, and a 35 per cent reduction at Redfern. This will cut crowing by roughly 30 per cent at North Strathfield, Strathfield, Redfern, and Burwood stations.

In addition, Sydney Metro West proposes faster travel times between Parramatta and the Sydney CBD, with services targeted to take 20 minutes. The line will also increase the number of services, from 56 trains an hour to 116, increasing capacity from 65,440 customers an hour to 157,600 customers.

The NSW government has released an expression of interest for contractors to deliver the twin tunnels between Westmead and The Bays.

Work progressing deeper underground for Metro at Central Station

While Central Station is left largely without commuters as Sydneysiders work from home or self-isolate, work has been progressing on the new underground station beneath Central in preparation for the Sydney Metro CBD and Southwest.

Work on the 27 metre deep metro station box is currently 10 metres below the surface, with 6,000 tonnes of crushed rock is being excavated each week.

To remove the rock from construction of the metro station as well as the new Central Walk an 80m long, six-metre-wide construction tunnel has been built under Central Station.

Central Walk will connect the two underground metro platforms with to light rail, suburban and inter-city trains, as well as buses.

Transport Minister Andrew Constance said that the state is lucky that work is continuing on this project despite the coronavirus (COVID-19).

“We are very fortunate that major transport infrastructure projects like this continue to be delivered.”

While extra work is underway to take advantage of the drop in people passing through Central, Sydney’s busiest station, the extra tunnel parallel to Central Walk has been built to minimise disruptions to train services.

“This six metre wide construction tunnel runs parallel to Central Walk and allows excavated crushed rock to be removed without impacting trains and customers,” said Constance.

Construction has also entered two ‘ghost platforms’, platforms 26 and 27, that were constructed for the Eastern Suburbs Railway line to Bondi and the Illawarra but were never used. 17 rooms will utilise the platforms to provide communications and power to Sydney Metro.

Central Walk is scheduled to be open to the public in 2022 and the new metro line in 2024.

The current workforce of 5,000 is completing the project out of a total workforce of 50,000.

“The upcoming Sydney Metro West project will support 10,000 direct and 70,000 indirect jobs while construction of the Metro North West Line created more than 20,000 jobs,” said Constance.

Rail maintenance, upgrades getting ahead of schedule

Major rail projects are completing extra works while Australia and New Zealand are under lockdown measures.

In Sydney, a number of projects are taking advantage of lower commuter numbers and relaxed regulations around work hours to progress ahead of schedule.

In Parramatta, work on the light rail project is running seven days a week after the NSW government introduced changes to legislation to expand standard construction hours on weekends and public holidays. Works are being conducted from 7am to 7pm Monday to Friday, 7am to 6pm on Church St, and from 7am to 6pm on Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays.

According to a Transport for NSW (TfNSW) spokesperson, all works are being done to minimise the impact on the local community.

“All reasonable measures to reduce noise impacts will continue to be implemented, including using the quietest equipment possible, placing machinery and vehicles as far away from properties as possible, conducting high noise generating activities during weekdays where possible, and implementing respite periods as required.”

In Parramatta, disruption is being minimised by scheduling utility works in non-peak periods, using sound blankets, directing lighting towers, and turning off equipment when not in use.

With the Sydney CBD experiencing extremely low traffic volumes during the lockdown period, work on the Sydney Metro City & Southwest has been able to increase. Lane closures previously only possible on weekends have been implemented on weekdays and extended work hours are in place at Central Station.

In Chullora, the construction of the new Digital Systems facility has extended hours over one weekend and will use extra hours where necessary.

Elsewhere in NSW work hours on the New Intercity Fleet maintenance facility have been extended to 7am to 6pm, seven days a week. Extended working hours are also being looked at for station accessibility upgrades at Fairy Meadow, Mittagong, Hawkesbury River, Wyee, and Waratah.

“All community members and stakeholders are thanked for their patience as work continues on important transport infrastructure across NSW,” said the TfNSW spokesperson.

Across the Tasman, KiwiRail has been conducting a significant maintenance program on the Auckland network. Lower commuter numbers during lockdown have allowed KiwiRail to lay over four kilometres of new rail on the Eastern line, said KiwiRail chief operating officer, Todd Moyle.

“We are able to use this time to carry out a great deal of work in a short timeframe. Normally this work would need to be completed during weekends across several months.”

Works will continue until Monday, April 27 and include replacement of worn rail between Glen Innes and Sylvia Park. The Eastern line not only serves commuters but freight rail services from the Port of Auckland.

“We’ve worked closely with Auckland Transport to arrange for this work to be done now so there will be a more reliable network for commuters once COVID-19 levels fall and businesses reopen,” said Moyle.

The slowdown in traffic on the commuter network allows a rare opportunity for continuous track work that would normally be done at weekends or overnight to minimise disruption.

“We’re doing this work now, while we have the opportunity, to avoid future disruptions to commuters and to ensure they get a great service once they return to work,” said Moyle.

Physical distancing measures are in place at all work sites.

Daytime freight services are being rerouted via Newmarket while commuter services are replaced by buses.

Inquiry into Sydenham to Bankstown conversion released

The New South Wales upper house Transport and Customer Service Committee has delivered its report into the conversion of the Sydenham to Bankstown line from heavy rail to metro.

The conversion is part of the Sydney Metro CBD and South West project and will involve heavy rail services terminating at Bankstown and driverless metro services running from the city to Bankstown, via Sydenham.

The inquiry has found that the conversion should not proceed, and that the Sydney Metro CBD and South West project should not proceed beyond at Sydenham, where new tunnels meet the existing rail network.

Abigail Boyd, chair of the Committee and NSW Greens Spokesperson for Transport & Infrastructure said that the full business case should be released.

“The case for the South West Metro project has not been made out. If the government was confident that the project would stand up to scrutiny, they would have released the full business case long ago.”

The NSW government has only released a summary business case for the project and the Committee found that the government and its partners had not been able to make the case for the project.

A spokesperson for Sydney Metro said that the project is well underway and consultation has been ongoing since 2011.

“Following feedback, significant changes have been made to the Bankstown Line metro upgrade, including reduced closures during construction and retaining the heritage character of stations.”

Boyd recommended that other rail projects be funded instead of the conversion, including digital signalling upgrades.

“The South West Metro must terminate at Sydenham, with the billions saved being redirected into funding new rail links to communities in Sydney that currently have none,” said Boyd.

In a dissenting statement the Liberal and National party members of the committee stated that the NSW government would deliver the South West component of the metro project as well as upgrade trains and infrastructure on the Sydney Trains network.

Sydney Metro are seeking local artists to assist station upgrades

New South Wales artists are being encouraged to make their mark on Sydney’s newest train line.

Sydney Metro is inviting local artists to design new public artworks that will be showcased at the 10 upgraded stations on the T3 Bankstown Line from Marrickville to Bankstown.

The T3 Bankstown Line is being upgraded and converted to metro standards between Sydenham and Bankstown as part of Sydney Metro City & Southwest.

Sydney Metro will partner with Create NSW to select 10 artists (or artist groups) for 10 separate paid commissions of up to $25,000 each that will be realised as semi transparent artworks, embedded in glass panels across the upgraded stations.

Don Harwin, former minister for the Arts and Aboriginal Affairs said the initiative is an opportunity to reflect and celebrate the diverse communities along the Bankstown Line, including a focus on First Nations artists for Canterbury and Punchbowl stations.

“Given the current circumstances, this is an opportune time for artists to be involved with paid commissions that will breathe creative and cultural life into stations with works that will be experienced by so many on a daily basis,” he said.

“This is an opportunity for artists to leave a lasting legacy on Sydney with a welcoming and impressive presence that will enrich the lives of both local communities and visitors along the way.”

The metro network will be fully segregated from the existing Sydney Trains network between Sydenham and Bankstown, improving the reliability of services on the line.

Current upgrade works will allow an interchange between Sydney Metro and Sydney Trains at Sydenham and Bankstown, with improvements to station way-finding and signage.

Artworks will range in size from 10 to 50sqm and will be digitally printed on to transparent interlayer film and laminated between glass panels.

Expressions of interest will close on Tuesday May 5 at 5pm.

EoIs released for Sydney Metro West

NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance has announced that the Sydney Metro West is progressing to the next stage.

“Sydney Metro is now in a position to progress procurement with the release of the expressions of interest,” said a Transport for NSW (TfNSW) spokesperson.

The announcement covers tunnelling work for the Metro West line, which would connect the Sydney CBD and Parramatta in 20 minutes, via the Bays Precinct, and Sydney Olympic Park, and then terminate at Westmead. The contract covers two twin tunnels of almost 50 kilometres, first announced to industry in October.

“Industry was asked to register their interest in October 2019 and 21 national and international participants worked with Sydney Metro to refine the tunnelling procurement strategy and scope of works,” said the spokesperson.

The two tunnelling contracts will comprise twin tunnels from Westmead to Sydney Olympic Park, and from Sydney Olympic Park to the Bays.

Companies listed as responding to the initial register of interest on the NSW government eTendering site include Boygues Construction, CPB Contractors, FCC Construcción, McConnell Dowell, and Obayashi Corporation.

“The process also allows new parties to request access to the EOI documentation,” said the spokesperson.

Tunnel boring machines are expected to begin in 2022 and construction will lead to a number of jobs across Sydney, said Constance.

“Now more than ever, infrastructure projects like Sydney Metro West support jobs, communities and the economy – Sydney Metro West will create more than 10,000 direct new jobs and 70,000 indirect jobs, with thousands of these jobs being generated by these new tunnelling contracts,” said Constance.

The Western Sydney Business Chamber welcomed the announcement for its potential to stimulate the city’s economy.

“I have no doubt that Sydney Metro West will be our ‘Hoover Dam’ project – a massive construction project over many years that put thousands of people to work and will stimulate economic activity across the route,” said David Borger, executive director of the Western Sydney Business Chamber.

Borger encouraged the NSW government to proceed with other rail projects, such as Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2.

“Western Sydney’s infrastructure deficit is going to be a key way that we build our economic recovery and get our people back to work. The best thing the NSW Government can do is push forward with its transport plans and get building as soon as possible.”

The construction of Sydney Metro West is to support the forecast the 40 per cent more train trips required in the next 15 years. In addition to stations at Westmead, Parramatta, Sydney Olympic Park, the Bays Precinct, and a yet to be finalised location in the Sydney CBD, there are confirmed stations at North Strathfield, Burwood North and Five Dock, with optional stations at Rydalmere and Pyrmont. A stabling and maintenance facility will be built at Clyde.

“We need to be going full steam ahead on this project so that we are ready to get digging as soon as possible. I encourage the NSW Government to resolve the issues of the outstanding station locations at Rydalmere and Pyrmont as soon as possible,” said Borger.

Going in deep

Utilising its extensive in-house expertise, Manco Rail was able to provide a unique solution to a challenging project.

Meeting the challenge of increasing rail services in cities where space is at a premium has led to more projects extending the capabilities of what is possible in major rail construction projects.

In Sydney, this has led to projects going underground, with the massive Sydney Metro project, Australia’s largest public transport infrastructure project, being built largely below the city.

According to Bryan Black, managing director of Manco Rail, this presents an opportunity for businesses such as his.

“With the degree of rail infrastructure projects occurring throughout the Southern Hemisphere, there is a real opportunity for rail equipment engineering companies to make a considerable investment in both time and capital with innovative, efficiency enhancing plant, that enables contractors to improve productivity and performance by changing from traditional rail construction methodologies.”

While construction-related headlines have been dominated by the movements of the five tunnel boring machines above and below Sydney harbour, constructing a metro line largely underground has required suppliers and subcontractors to transform the delivery of systems to the project.

For Manco Rail, a project such as this fits into the company’s DNA as an OEM with the ability to innovate. Based in New Zealand, the company has been providing custom-built plant and equipment for over 40 years.

In the case of Sydney Metro City and Southwest, it was these qualities that led the line-wide contractor, Systems Connect to select Manco. A joint venture between CPB Contractors and UGL, Systems Connect will deliver the laying of track, power, communications, and signalling equipment to the project between Chatswood and Bankstown. The project involves delivering rail and track on twin 15.5km tunnels between Chatswood, under Sydney Harbour, below the Sydney CBD, and on to Sydenham. It is here that Manco’s equipment comes into its own.

“Over the years, our equipment has ended up operating in rail tunnels by the very nature that most tunnels interface with a tunnel network of some sorts, whether it be due to terrain or underground stations to accommodate CBD or high density areas,” said Black.

Compounding the standard complexities of installing new track, the project is constrained by having only three major access points for equipment and materials along 31km of tunnels. In addition, gradients in the tunnels are steep, at 4.5 per cent, said Paul Ryan, senior project manager at Systems Connect.

“Construction within this tunnel environment is inherently complex. Access is limited, spaces are confined and grades are steeper. We worked with Manco Rail to custom design equipment that overcomes these challenges,” he said.

The particular equipment that Manco has provided for the Sydney Metro CBD and South West project are rail transfer equipment and sleeper-laying trailers.

The rail transfer equipment consists of two specially converted wheeled excavators equipped with material handling booms, automatic rail threading units, and rail carrying dollies.

The sleeper-laying trailers are equipped with a sleeper grab straddle, rail threader trailer, tug units, sonar detection systems, and a track guidance system fitted to the equipment.

Developed over 14 months, the custom- designed equipment lays the rail, spreads it out, places the sleepers, and then pulls the rail back over the top. The process of developing this one-of-a-kind equipment took a blank slate approach, said Black.

“The design and interface of each plant item has involved hundreds and hundreds of design hours. Utilising a highly competent team of young mechanical engineers tasked with starting with a ‘clean piece of paper, and fresh ideas’, brain storming meetings were held on a regular basis, where even the most radical concepts where discussed,” said Black.

“Ultimately, rational thinking prevailed, which – however – incorporated some of the vast array of available technologies, in electronics, motive power, hydraulics, fabrication materials and ergonomics.”

The entire process is radio remote controlled, crucially limiting the number of people in high-risk areas.

The Manco equipment will be used in two stages. First, it will lay the track components. Then the track form will be concreted, and mechanical and electrical systems and signalling equipment will be installed.

Afterwards, the Manco track-laying equipment will return, including wheel excavators, trailers, and tugs, to assist with concreting activities, and electrical and mechanical installations.

The confined nature of the working environment demands a sequential process, and Manco’s familiarity with working in railway tunnels led to the company being selected by Systems Connect for the complex project. Past work not only in Australia, but New Zealand, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Malaysia, enabled Manco to be selected as the subcontractor.

What was key in the relationship between Manco and Systems Connect was the New Zealand company’s ability to modify and custom design equipment for the particular project. The team collaborated to automate processes wherever possible and combine innovation with safety.

“Ensuring safety and optimising project delivery are priorities for Systems Connect,” said Ryan.

Manco’s extensive experience in rail construction was also important as Systems Connect required rail network certification. A higher level of testing and compliance requirements were applied to the project, particularly due to the steel gradients in the tunnels. Manco’s previously experience in rail certification across Australia, as well as their ability to supply fully certified equipment prior to construction, led to the company being selected by Systems Connect. Manco’s knowledge of the rail sector enabled this requirement to be met.

“All equipment manufactured is designed around specific and well known standards. Some standards are unique to rail and some to elevating personnel, suspended loads, and general operational safety,” said Black.

“Manco Rail has dedicated compliance officers that are specialists in their particular fields, be it, engineering quality, through to safety and the working environment approved emissions.”

A combination of innovation, safety, and proven capacity has seen Manco rail deliver on this major infrastructure project.

Tunnelling complete for Sydney Metro

The Sydney Metro has reached a major milestone, with all tunnelling now finished on the Sydney metro City & Southwest project.

The final boring machine, named Kathleen after Kathleen Butler, the technical advisor to Sydney Harbour Bridge builder John Bradfield, finished the tunnelling part of the project when she arrived at the northern terminus of the second tunnel from Barangaroo to Blue Point.

Each tunnel was 885 metres in length; however, the second tunnel was built a month faster than the first, due to the incorporation of lessons from the first tunnel.

These changes included modifying the cutter head and changing tunnelling processes to better dig through the clay material below Sydney harbour.

Kathleen churned through 175,000 tonnes of sandstone, clay, and marine sediment to complete the dual harbour tunnels. At their deepest, the tunnels are 40 metres below sea level.

All in all, the five tunnel boring machines have dug through 31 kilometres of tunnels during the last 17 months.

Earlier this week the last concrete segments which line the walls of the tunnel were installed.