New date for AusRAIL PLUS

AusRAIL PLUS, the largest rail rail industry event in Australia and New Zealand, will now take place from Monday, 28 February – Wednesday, 2 March, 2022, at the International Convention Centre in Sydney. 

Hosted by the Australasian Railway Association, the annual conference brings together all facets of the rail industry under the one roof over three days, incorporating an expansive conference program combined with an extensive trade exhibition. 

Current Queensland border restrictions, and the ongoing uncertainty about when they will be lifted, has resulted in the need to seek new arrangements for the event, originally scheduled for December this year. 

With NSW’s roadmap out of lockdown confirming the state will be open for business in the new year, organisers are optimistic about a successful AusRAIL PLUS at the new venue, giving attendees the chance to network, share information and take advantage of an outstanding program. 

 

Updated program for AusRAIL PLUS

The latest program for Australasia’s largest rail industry conference, AusRAIL PLUS, is now available, featuring new international keynotes, presentations from senior industry leaders and unparalleled networking opportunities. Read more

Peak fares cut by 50 per cent in NSW

To encourage commuters to travel outside of peak periods, Transport for NSW is lowering fares across the Sydney network.

Outside of the peaks, which run from 6.30am to 10am, and 3pm to 7pm in Sydney and 6am to 10am on Intercity Trains, fares will be discounted by 50 per cent.

This is the first time that bus and light rail passengers will benefit from discounted, off-peak fares.

Transport Minister Andrew Constance said that most passengers would benefit.

“The vast majority of commuters will benefit from these changes with either cheaper travel or no change to their fares. A third of commuters will save an average of $3.60 a week based on current travel patterns,” he said.

TFNSW will also waive the CPI increase and have not acted upon recommendations from the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) to increase fares by 20 per cent over four years.

The 50 per cent discount will run for three months, and then fares will shift back to 30 per cent for off peak travel, and bus and light rail passengers will be able to access the 30 per cent benefit.

“We want everyone to remember they have a role to play in making the public transport network as safe as possible. Our frontline transport staff have been doing an amazing job during this unprecedented time and we urge customers to keep showing them their respect and understanding,” said Constance.

A new all-day travel cap on Saturday and Sunday will also be set at $8.05 to help spread weekend public transport loads and encourage commuters to use public transport on the weekends.

Fares will increase on short bus and light rail journeys under three kilometres in the peak, to encourage active transport such as walking or cycling, as well as to try to shift commuters out of the peak periods.

Plan for new River Rail link to connect Sydney’s south and west

The Georges River Council is making the case for a new rail line linking Kogarah with Parramatta, via Bexley North and Bankstown.

The line, dubbed “River Rail” would provide a link between the T4 Illawarra Line, the T8 South Line, the T3 Liverpool Line, and the T1 Western line, all of which are currently only linked via the City Circle.

In a report released by the council, which stretches from Kogarah to Hurstville and Riverwood in Sydney’s south, the construction of a new corridor linking the area’s radial train lines would enable greater access to employment and education. Currently, the area has the lowest levels of public transport accessibility, with only 24 per cent of dwellings located within 30 minutes of a metropolitan centre via public transport.

The proposal, estimated to cost $10.5 billion, has an indicative alignment from Kogarah to Bexley North, with a new stop near Roselands before a connection at Bankstown, Chester Hill and Granville, via South Granville, and then terminating in Parramatta.

According to Mayor of Georges River Council Kevin Green, the new rail line would enable a true 30-minute city.

“The River Rail connection between Kogarah and Parramatta is a critical project which will transform the future of Sydney and the only way that the NSW State Government’s 30-minute city goal can be achieved for the South District,” said Greene.

“This vision, which strives to create a city where most residents live within 30 minutes of their jobs, education and health facilities, services and great places, requires investment in direct public transport links like the River Rail.”

The report highlights that without the link, there is little connection to the growing central river city, centred on Parramatta, for Sydney’s southern suburbs. The link would also enable further connections to the future parklands city and Aerotropolis.

Committee for Sydney CEO Gabriel Metcalf said that the proposed line would move Sydney’s network away from a radial network with the Sydney CBD as the main interchange.

“There has been much focus on the development and improvement of other areas of Sydney in recent years, such as the Aerotropolis in Western Sydney, and it is now time acknowledge and invest in the role of Sydney’s South District in our future city.”

Transport for NSW’s Future Transport 2056 Strategy indicates the connection between Hurstville and Parramatta as a “city-shaping corridor” but does not specify whether rail would be the preferred transport mode. In the Greater Sydney Commission’s Metropolis of Three Cities plan, the connection is identified as a train link investigation/visionary.

Final stage of Sydney’s CBD light rail opens

The 12-kilometre Sydney CBD and South East Light Rail network is now complete and operational.

Passenger services are now running on the new L3 Kingsford Line between Circular Quay and Kingsford.

The first passenger tram departed Juniors Kingsford at 5am Friday, April 3 and services on the line will run until 1am on Saturday morning.

This is the second part of the $2.9 billion CBD and South East Light Rail project, which began operating between Circular Quay and Randwick four months ago.

Sydney Light Rail stated that operations will be fine-tuned over a period of time as the L3 Kingsford Line is integrated with the L2 Randwick Line and while services are bedded down.

“With light rail running down Anzac Parade through Kensington and Kingsford, it is vital all road users follow traffic signals and for pedestrians in particular to be aware that there are two-stage crossings to connect to the light rail stops,” Sydney Light Rail said in a statement.

NSW Minister for Transport Andrew Constance didn’t attend the opening due to travel restrictions and opened the line remotely via video message.

“Opening the Kingsford leg is an important completion of the project,” Constance said in his virtual message.

“It’s not a time to get on the light rail for fun.”

Transport for NSW stated that the opening of the new line is focused on benefiting passengers who need to undertake essential travel, giving them another option.

The opening of the new line provides public transport for workers and the community in the south east as it services the important health precinct and the city.

From 4 April 2020, trams on both the L2 Randwick Line and L3 Kingsford Line will operate between 5am and 1am, with weekday services between 7am and 7pm running every 4-8 minutes in the CBD and every 8-12 minutes in the South East.

In Parramatta, work is continuing on the construction of the light rail line there. As construction of public transport is deemed an essential service, the project is progressing as planned.

Light rail has ‘returned to the fabric’ of Australian cities

Danny Broad examines the state of Light Rail in Australasia, and reflects on his time as ARA CEO.

The ARA 2020 Light Rail Conference, held in Canberra on 4-5 March, heralds our inaugural industry rail conference for the decade. The conference was also Caroline Wilkie’s first event as ARA CEO.

As we commence a new decade, new ARA leadership and converge on our Nation’s capital for our annual light rail conference, I feel it timely to celebrate the renaissance of light rail in our regional cities, the nation’s capital, and recent rebirth in Australia’s largest city, Sydney, 50 years after its last tram lines were ripped up.

With light rail now in multiple major and regional cities around Australia, on the agenda in others, and Melbourne home to the world’s largest tram network, we can well and truly lay claim that light rail has returned to the fabric of Australasian cities, and regions.

Late last year saw the much-anticipated return of light rail operations to George Street in Sydney. The 12km route featuring 19 stops, extending from Circular Quay along George Street to Central Station, all the way to Randwick, significantly expands light rail in Sydney and was no small feat to deliver.

It now plays a key role transporting thousands of customers between the city and Sydney’s inner west and south eastern suburbs, building on the existing Dulwich Hill Line in Sydney’s West.

The network will be further expanded with the Kingsford Line which is scheduled to open in March this year. Like many light rail projects before it, I’m sure the pain felt during construction will soon be forgotten and the benefits of light rail travel through Sydney embraced.

Elsewhere in Sydney, construction has commenced this year for Parramatta light rail. Expected to open in 2023, it will be built in two stages to keep pace with the thousands of new houses and jobs being created in Western Sydney. Stage 1 will connect Westmead to Carlingford via the Parramatta CBD and Camellia with a two-way track spanning 12 kilometres. The currently preferred route for Stage 2 will connect Stage 1 and the Parramatta CBD to Sydney Olympic Park along a nine-kilometre route.

A key component in the strategy to renew the Newcastle CBD, Newcastle Light Rail commenced operations in 2017, with a six station 2.7km service running from the Central Business District to Newcastle Beach Park. The first fully integrated public transport network in Australia, the system was designed to turn around declining public transport in the city and has been a resounding success.

Operation of the 12km initial stage of the Canberra light rail, including 13 stops, commenced in April 2019 connecting the northern town centre of Gungahlin through Dickson to the Canberra city centre. More than one million passenger journeys were completed in the first three months, cementing the success of Canberra light rail. Following the success of this route, the ACT government is now progressing with the development of the second stage to connect the city centre to Woden. With the business case for Stage 2A endorsed, work has commenced on extending light rail from the city centre to Commonwealth Park. Like many light rail projects before it, Canberra’s light rail has spurred significant commercial and residential property development along its route. It will no doubt provide an interesting case study on light rail and its ability to rejuvenate and densify cities.

It could be argued that the Gold Coast led the resurgence of light rail in Australia. The initial stage of Gold Coast Light Rail that commenced operation in July 2014 runs from the Gold Coast University Hospital to Broadbeach South. Fast, frequent trams connect 16 light rail stations along a 13-kilometre route. The Stage 2 extension opened in December 2017 ahead of schedule and under budget, in time for the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, establishing a vital connection from the existing northern light rail terminus to the regional passenger rail network. With federal and state government funding now secured for the long-awaited Gold Coast Light Rail Stage 3A from Broadbeach South to Burleigh Heads, following a competitive tender process, a contract for the design and construction of Stage 3A is expected to be awarded in late 2020.

Like Sydney and many other cities around the world, Adelaide phased out its tram network in favour of buses and cars in the 1950’s. Last year, the South Australian Government went to tender to privatise the operations of its heavy rail passenger network and is also contracting out the 16.5km tram operations, as part of an integrated bus-tram tender. Contracts are expected mid-2020.

As in many other cities around the globe, light rail has been on and off the agenda in Perth. As Perth’s population grows, its Metronet program will deliver up to 72 kilometres of new passenger rail and up to 18 new stations. During 2019 the Western Australian Department of Transport commenced early planning for an inner city light rail project.

Across the ditch, investment in transport infrastructure is also booming. The Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) has committed to providing light rail between the City Centre and Māngere to Auckland’s northwest within the next 10 years. The New Zealand government has requested the New Zealand Transport Agency and Infrastructure New Zealand prepare refined proposals for this light rail rapid transit corridor and future network integration, for government consideration. When the government’s assessment process for the City Centre to Māngere Light Rail line is complete early next year, there will be a better understanding of the next steps for the City Centre to North West corridor.

Without a doubt the jewel in the crown of Light Rail in Australia is the Melbourne tram network, which dwarfs all others. It is indeed the world’s largest, with over 250km of double track, completing over 200 million trips annually, by 493 trams with over 1,760 stops. The network is being continually upgraded with a rolling program of new and consolidated tram stops, new substations, track upgrades, as well as maintenance and repairs on existing infrastructure. It is ubiquitous to Melbourne, Australia’s fastest growing city, and is successfully woven into the city’s fabric. It is one that we should all be truly proud of.

This is my last editorial for Rail Express as the ARA CEO. The next edition will be authored by our new CEO Caroline Wilkie who commences with the ARA in mid-February.

I’m immensely proud of the ARA team and their achievements over the last four years to support our members and all sectors of the rail industry. The numerous highlights are difficult to summarise, however a number of milestones come to mind including:

  • Publishing the National Rail Industry Plan and the Value of Rail reports to highlight the economic and social benefits that rail provides for our communities,
  • Publishing the BIS Oxford Economics Skills Gap Report that highlighted the skills and resources challenges facing our industry and advocating how government and industry can best address these,
  • Presenting with 12 senior rail executives to all Transport Ministers at the Transport and Infrastructure Council in August 2019 on the rail industry skills and resources challenges and gaining their support to develop an action plan with the National Transport Commission,
  • Progressing the Smart Rail Route Map and technology agendas,
  • Working with industry and governments to improve accessibility for people with disabilities.
  • Lodging countless submissions to parliamentary and government inquiries, advocating for rail, engaging with governments and industry to advance the Inland Rail project as well as the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy,
  • Supporting Rail Careers and the drive for a younger more diverse workforce through programs such as Future Leaders, Young Rail Professionals, the Women in Rail Pilot Mentoring Program, the formation of the Young Leaders Advisory Board (Y-LAB), and our work with careers advisers at careers fairs,
  • Holding hundreds of functions and events including conferences, training courses, networking dinners, lunches, seminars and forums to provide networking and knowledge sharing opportunities for our industry,
  • Growing the ARA’s membership to more than 150 companies,
  • Developing with the ARA board, Y-LAB and the ARA Team the ARA Strategy Map 2019 to 2024 to set the strategic direction over the next five years. This map details both strategic objectives and strategic outcomes that will provide a platform for Caroline and the ARA team to drive a supportive agenda for all sectors of the rail industry.

I’m very proud of these and other achievements of the ARA team and thank them, our former chairman Bob Herbert AM, the ARA board and all our ARA member companies for their continuing support.

I’d like to express my thanks also to Rail Express for its partnership with the ARA and continuing to produce quality digital and print rail news publications.

Rail has a bright future and I look forward to continuing to support the industry in my new role as ARA Chair.

Australia’s faster rail future

Faster rail forms part of the federal government’s strategy to deal with population growth and congestion. The National Faster Rail Agency’s acting CEO Malcolm Southwell discusses his agency’s work at AusRAIL Plus 2019.

Australia’s major cities are a key driver of the nation’s economic success and support the majority of the population in employment and economic growth. They are also growing, exponentially.

“Our population is expected to reach 33 million people by 2040, and most of those 6.6 new Australians will settle in our major capital cities,” acting CEO of the National Faster Rail Agency (NFRA), Malcolm Southwell, said at the AusRAIL Plus 2019 event held in Sydney.

“Around 64 per cent of us live in cities and we’re one of the most urbanised nations in the world. As such, we have issues with congestion, housing supply and affordability.”

Congestion costs are also expected to rise. According to Infrastructure Australia’s estimates, road and public transport congestion in the major cities will cost almost $40 billion by 2031, more than doubling from around $19bn in 2016.

Over 80 per cent of the estimated $21bn increase will occur in Greater Sydney, Greater Melbourne and south east Queensland.

A faster rail solution will go some way to alleviating population pressure in the cities. In comparison to other countries around the world, Australia has a relatively large land mass but low population density. While Australia has 3.2 persons per square kilometre, the US has 36. The UK has 275 persons per square kilometre, and Japan has 347.

“We’re not just about building fast rail in the hopes that it works, we’re taking an evidence-based approach,” Southwell said.

“Professor Andrew McNaughton of the UK, who is working with the NSW government on their faster rail plans, has publicly noted that reducing transit times to one hour or less is a particular sweet spot for improved access to higher paying jobs in capital city CBDs and increased economic development in regional centres.”

The Faster Rail Plan, which the NFRA is tasked with delivering, intends to better align future population growth by linking major cities and growing regional cities in order to take pressure off the cities and strengthen economic ties with regional areas.

With the December 2019 appointment of Barry Broe as inaugural chief executive officer of the NFRA, the agency is expected to ramp up its operations this year.

Southwell was acting CEO from the agency’s creation in July 2019 until January 2020. He spoke at AusRAIL to update the rail industry on the NFRA’s work to date and what to expect in the future.

So far, eight faster rail corridors have been identified, including: Sydney to Newcastle, Sydney to Wollongong, Sydney to Parkes (via Bathurst and Orange), Melbourne to Greater Shepparton, Melbourne to Albury-Wodonga, Melbourne to Taralgon, Brisbane to the Gold Coast, and Brisbane to the Sunshine Coast.

The NFRA will work in partnership with state and territory governments and private industry to develop the rail infrastructure necessary to accommodate a faster rail solution between major cities and key regional centres. It will develop proposals, examine routes and begin the process of corridor planning, acquisition and protection.

“We’ve started a conversation with states on the east coast about interoperability and standards of faster rail projects to avoid a repeat of issues around passenger services between jurisdictions,” Southwell said.

An expert panel will provide advice to government on faster rail related matters including existing business cases, new potential faster rail corridors, future developments across networks and infrastructure requirements and priorities. The panel will advise on staging and delivery options.

The NSW government has appointed Professor Andrew McNaughton to lead the panel. He has more than 45 years’ experience working on rail infrastructure projects, including the UK’s High Speed project.

The first three of the overall eight faster rail business cases have now been completed, the agency confirmed in January. The business cases for Sydney to Newcastle, Melbourne to Greater Shepparton and Brisbane to the regions of Moreton Bay and the Sunshine Coast are now being reviewed by the agency. NFRA will provide advice to government on the findings and its recommendations for next steps in the coming months.

These corridors and the remaining five, which are “progressing well” according to the agency, were identified based on the intention to support growing population movements.

For example, the agency’s first priority, to deliver faster rail between Geelong and Melbourne, will have major benefits for those living along the corridor, including quicker access to work and services in both locations, as well as greater choice around housing and less congestion.

“Geelong is one of the fastest growing regions, growing at a rate of around 2.7 per annum,” Southwell said.

“Transport connectivity between Melbourne and Geelong is constrained by existing infrastructure and rail investment has not kept up with population growth. These constraints have a range of flow on effects, including hampering regional development and increasing road congestion.

The agency acknowledges, however, that better connectivity could, in some circumstances, result in regional towns becoming dormitory suburbs for larger cities.

“We’re very much aware of these concerns and as part of our work we’ll look for the opportunities where faster rail can actually work for the economy and job markets in these regional towns. We’re actively talking to regional centres about the challenges and opportunities faster rail will bring to their economy.”

Southwell is adamant that faster rail will resolve population pressures if regional centres are made attractive.

“For example, lowering operating costs for enterprises in regional towns will attract businesses to the area. Faster rail will provide these businesses will labour markets in the capital cities and provide opportunities for economic development in regional towns.

“That effect is evidenced here in Australia. In Geelong, rail was instrumental in maintaining the attractiveness of the city following the large and sudden downturn in the manufacturing sector. Research and modelling work have shown that the emergence of strong employment centres has been able to attract service jobs, and that was greatly facilitated by an increase in efficient rail services.”

Faster rail services are capable of reducing travel time in the corridor even further, from an hour to closer to half an hour, and thus enable more commuters to travel along the rail corridor.

Another challenge the agency will need to soon resolve is cost.

“Studies conducted between 2010 and 2013 on a high-speed rail between Melbourne and Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane found that it would have an estimated construction cost of around $114bn in 2012-dollar terms.

“Noting current construction market pressures and inflation impacts, this figure will increase significantly in today’s terms and could be as high as $150 to $200bn.

“Whatever the amount, this is a significant cost, and obviously needs to be considered against all the other projects making up a core share of taxpayer’s funds.”

The Australasian Rail Association says that it supports the utilisation of innovative financing and funding mechanisms such as “value capture” development opportunities along rail corridors to help fund faster rail infrastructure.

“It will be critical that the Agency, under Mr Broe’s leadership, recognises the need to invest in existing and new lines to stretch government dollars and provide a faster rail service offering that meets the needs of the Australian population,” ARA chair Danny Broad said.

“In addition to supporting the establishment of new fast rail lines as a means to decentralise Australia’s population and support regional development, the
ARA highlights that optimising our existing networks cannot be overlooked,” the ARA’s Annual Report 2019 said.

“Faster rail can be achieved through upgrades and modifications to existing rail infrastructure, such as passing loops, new signalling systems and level crossing removals.”

Meanwhile, the NSW government says it will examine a range of funding options and smart staging, as part of the Fast Rail Network Strategy, to ensure the fast rail network provides value for money.

Each funding option considered as part of the strategy will be assessed based on the estimated cost of the project in light of economic and other benefits to the community, and complementary revenue- generating opportunities.

The state government says that international experience shows that fast rail networks can be delivered in stages, with each stage delivering immediate benefits.

NSW’s short- to medium-term focus will be on upgrades and the optimisation of existing rail routes, with dedicated track improvements such as junction rearrangements, curve easing, deviations, passing loops and level crossing removals on existing routes.

Its longer-term focus will be on a dedicated and purpose-built rail line, with new lines and routes, as well as new rolling stock.

According to Southwell, the national agency is cognisant that its work will affect the future of how people live.

“This is no simple task and requires debate and dialogue from all sides of the equation. We’re still very new but through ongoing conversations with our key stakeholders, including those in regional communities, we acknowledge that consideration needs to extend well beyond just building a new rail line and a train station,” Southwell said.

ACT government calls for federal support for rail service between Canberra and Sydney

Infrastructure Australia has put investment in rail infrastructure between Canberra and Sydney on the national priority list this year.

On Thursday, February 26 Infrastructure Australia announced the 2020 Infrastructure Priority List.

Chris Steel, Minister for Transport said the ACT Government has been advocating for an improved rail service between Canberra and Sydney for a number of years.

The ACT and NSW governments will invest $5 million each in the joint priority to improve the Sydney to Canberra rail link.

“Investment in this link will not only make train travel a faster and more appealing option for Canberrans travelling to and from Sydney, but it will also provide better connections with regional towns,” Steel said.

“It’s time for the Federal Government to get on board with faster rail, and take this infrastructure investment proposal seriously.”

Improvements to Canberra’s public transport network is listed as a priority initiative this year, specifically the development of transit corridors connecting Belconnen and Queanbeyan to central Canberra.

Rob Busch, Infrastructure Australia’s senior economist told the Canberra Times that the IA’s assessment found the issue was “nationally significant” due to the congestion, lost productivity, and lost opportunity it caused.

Infrastructure Australia said the travel time could be made quicker by straightening and duplicating the track, electrifying and upgrading signals and investing in new rolling stock.

“The number of people living between Canberra and Sydney is forecast to grow by 1.5 per cent each year to 2036, increasing pressure on the road network and airports,” IA told the Canberra Times.

“Improving rail services in this corridor would provide more transport options for travellers, improve travel-time reliability for rail passengers and reduce pressure on the air corridor.”

Steel noted that such investment would align with other rail projects being carried out in the ACT.

“The continued inclusion of this initiative on the IPL reaffirms the national significance of the ACT Government’s investments in public transport infrastructure,” Steel said. 

“We welcome the 2020 IPL and as a Territory I am confident we are actively prioritising infrastructure initiatives to support Canberrans in the ACT and as they move around our region.

“We look forward to continuing to work with the NSW and Federal Governments to progress these projects.” 

Next phase of construction for the $190m ‘on-dock’ rail project

The $190 million ‘on-dock’ rail project at Patrick Terminals – Sydney AutoStrad at Port Botany is entering its next progression phase of construction.

The on-dock’ rail project, undertaken in conjunction with NSW Ports, is expected to increase rail capacity at Patrick Terminals – Sydney AutoStrad from 250,000 TEU to 1 million TEU.

The company will shortly commence the installation and commissioning of three new  automated rail mounted gantry (ARMG) cranes and changes to rail windows will take effect from next month.

Patrick Terminals stated that current rail volume will be maintained and rail windows will be optimised by consolidating and removing inefficient services from the schedule.

Michael Jovicic, CEO of Patrick Terminals said he is very pleased with the current progress of the project.

“This decision to minimise disruptions to rail services at Patrick Terminals is supported by NSW Ports and the NSW Government who are committed to a long-term plan of sustainable freight modes,” Jovicic said.

Patrick Terminals’ largest international shipping container terminal is based at Port Botany (PBT) on NSW Ports land at Brotherson Dock.

NSW Ports reports the investment in rail infrastructure will reduce the growth in truck movements around the port. 

Patrick Terminals’ stated in a report last year that when fully operational, this investment will reduce truck-kilometres travelled in Sydney by at least 10 million per year.

Patrick’s agreement with NSW Ports will significantly increase the terminal’s rail capacity and enhance efficiency in container movements at the port that will in turn reduce the number of trucks required to visit the terminal.

Customers impacted by the changes to rail windows will be contacted by the dedicated Patrick Terminals rail team.

The first stage of the project, which includes four 300 metre sidings, is due to be completed by the end of the year.