Plan identifies most suitable route for Newcastle light rail extension

The NSW government has released a summary report of the strategic business case for the extension of the Newcastle Light Rail.

The summary concludes that the most suitable route for an extension would be from Newcastle Interchange to the John Hunter Hospital via Broadmeadow, however there is “no urgent need” to extend stage one, following from economic assessments of an extension.

In preparing the strategic business case for the extension of Newcastle Light Rail, Transport for NSW identified 17 corridors, with four priority corridors chosen for further investigation. The four priority corridors all lead from Newcastle Interchange and radiate out to Wallsend, Mayfield, Charlestown, and John Hunter Hospital, via Broadmeadow.

The route to John Hunter Hospital was preferred due to a series of factors: the development of the Broadmeadow Urban Renewal and Entertainment Precinct, as well as the John Hunter Hospital redevelopment; the 1.15 per cent per annum growth in employment, the highest of any of the corridors; the need for public transport connectivity to John Hunter Hospital; the economic potential of the corridor; and the potential to fast track the development of new housing along the corridor.

“The preferred corridor has the potential for better employment growth, more housing and higher public transport usage than other potential routes,” said a Transport for NSW (TfNSW) spokesperson.

“It would also support the future Broadmeadow Urban Renewal and Entertainment Precinct and the redeveloped John Hunter Health and Innovation Precinct; important strategic centres for lifestyle and specialist employment opportunities in Newcastle.”

Despite these advantages, the strategic business case found that due to the pace of transformation in the Newcastle City Centre, dedicated bus corridors could be implemented in the shorter term, and then upgraded to light rail in the future.

“Transport will also investigate the initiatives identified in the 2018 Greater Newcastle Future Transport Plan, such as rapid bus and bus headstart initiatives, to deliver improved transport services in the area,” the spokesperson said.

The summary report identifies a number of reasons to continue to invest in public transport in Newcastle. In particular, Newcastle has a lower share of public transport usage than Sydney and Wollongong, the lack of visible connections between the city and employment clusters such as the John Hunter Hospital, and the need to manage population growth in Newcastle, which is forecasted to increase by 20 per cent in the next 20 years.

When conducting the economic analysis of the options, the report found that the route to John Hunter Hospital had a positive benefit cost ratio, however there were constructibility issues, particularly the steep gradient up Russel Street.

“Further investigations are needed to determine an alignment that is safe and technically feasible, particularly given the steep gradient between New Lambton and the John Hunter Hospital,” said the TfNSW spokesperson.

The existing Newcastle Light Rail has been credited as reshaping the city centre in Newcastle and driving urban renewal along its route.

Operated by Keolis Downer as part of the Newcastle Transport integrated transport provider, since its installation in early 2019, the Newcastle Light Rail has carried over a million passengers and public use across the entire network in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie in 2019 was 23 per cent higher than in 2018.

Work underway on level crossing near Parkes

Work is currently underway on improving a level crossing on the Newell Highway near Parkes.

The ARTC is working in collaboration with the NSW government on improvements, which are carried out as part of the NSW Level Crossing Improvement Program.

The works will continue until 6am, Thursday March 12.

4,000 vehicles, including 1,000 heavy vehicles, use the crossing each day at Tichborne, located between Parkes and Forbes.

Old equipment is now being decommissioned as new predictive track circuitry and safety systems are installed and tested. The existing lights will be upgraded to high intensity LED flashing lights and retro-reflective boom gates will be installed.

The improvement of the Tichborne level crossing is one of 1,400 public road level crossings around NSW, which are having their safety improved in the Level Crossing Improvement Program.

The $990,000 upgrade at Tichborne, funded by Transport for NSW, is being delivered by Wabtec on behalf of the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC).

“Level crossings between trains and vehicles are a major road safety risk, and while these safety upgrades are important, it is also essential that motorists take care around all level crossings,” said ARTC general manager asset management Brian Green.

“We are asking motorists to take care and be patient while the works are taking place this week as the new equipment is being installed and tested,” he said.

Although incidents of train colliding with road vehicles at level crossings in NSW have been trending down to date, in 2018-19 there were five collisions between a vehicle and a train. In addition, while incidents have decreased from the previous year, fatalities increased, with three fatalities in 2018-19 after no fatalities in 2017-18.

Green noted that in most cases, errors by motorists have caused incidents.

“The majority of level crossing accidents are due to errors by motorists, so we ask all drivers to take care and don’t take risks at level crossings,” he said.

“Common risky behaviour can include ignoring warning lights and signs, speeding or being distracted by using mobile phones while driving.”

The next level crossing to be worked on will be the Welcome level crossing, also between Parkes and Forbes, work will be carried out later in March.

Transport agency looks to improve public transport at night for women

Transport for NSW (TfNSW) has joined with the Greater Sydney Commission and Committee for Sydney to address women’s safety concerns when travelling at night.

The agencies launched the Greater Sydney Women’s Safety Charter as well as an Innovation Challenge to improve perceptions and experiences of travelling, said TfNSW deputy secretary greater Sydney, Elizabeth Mildwater.

“We know we can do more to make women feel and be safer when travelling through the city at night, which is why we’ve partnered with the Greater Sydney Commission and Committee for Sydney to co-design the new Women’s Safety Charter,” said Mildwater.

The Charter encourages organisations to look at the whole of their response to the issue of women’s safety, including how incidents are reported, how data is collected and shared, gender equality in design roles, and exhorts organisations to elect leaders to reinforce values around women’s safety.

The Innovation Challenge portion of the announcement hopes to accelerate technologies which can improve women’s safety when travelling at night. Pitched to start ups as well as established companies, the program will be delivered through TfNSW’s Digital Accelerator.

“Over the past few months we have met youth advocates, young women, start-ups, safety experts and our partners to create a defined problem statement to take into the challenge,” said Mildwater.

Launching the charter, chief commissioner of the Greater Sydney Commission, Lucy Turnbull, said that a safe city for women is a safe city for all.

“Although Greater Sydney is one of the safest cities in the world, more needs to be done to ensure everyone feels safe, confident and included so they can fully participate in city life. This brings wider social, cultural and productivity benefits,” she said.

“I’ve long said that a city that works for women, works for everyone. The Women’s Safety Charter is designed to help participants promote, plan for, design and operate places where people of all ages feel safer.”

In the Committee for Sydney’s 2019 Safety After Dark report, the second most likely location for bad incidents or places was public transport, with buses considered safer than trains, and ferries considered the most safe. The report recommended that the varying experiences of different groups of night city users be factored into the planning and design of cities.

Rooty Hill station upgrades increase accessibility

Station upgrades have been completed at Rooty Hill Station, in Western Sydney.

The station, located on the Main Western Line, now has four new lifts to make each platform accessible. Family accessible toilets have also been installed on each platform, said a transport for NSW spokesperson.

“The upgrade also includes a new pedestrian footbridge with new stairs to each platform, larger platform canopies for better weather protection and upgrades to CCTV and lighting to improve customer safety and security,” said the spokesperson.

In addition to the work on the station, a new commuter car park, with 750 car spaces, 16 accessible spaces, 10 motorcycle spaces, and 10 electric vehicle charging spaces, opened in early January.

Power for the vehicle charging ports will be locally sourced.

“The power requirements for these facilities are supplemented by sustainable features built into the car park design, including a rooftop solar system with 1140 solar panels. These also efficiently operate the car park lights and lift,’ said the TfNSW spokesperson.

Included in the upgrades are artworks produced by the local Aboriginal community, and pavers have been installed with the handprints of 450 school children from the local area.

The station’s heritage as the original terminus of the Western line’s extension to Blacktown, and its subsequent role in Sydney and NSW’s rail heritage is acknowledged in the station’s footbridge.

The upgrades to Rooty Hill station are part of TfNSW’s wider Transport Access Program, which is making stations more accessible around the state.

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.