Passengers returning to public transport in WA

Commuters are getting back on trains, buses, and ferries in Western Australia, with patronage back up to almost 80 per cent of pre COVID-19 levels.

With the state COVID-19 free apart from overseas arrivals, life in Western Australia is beginning to return to pre-COVID norms.

WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said that the state had one of the best returns to public transport of any jurisdiction around the world.

“Western Australians’ return to public transport is back to almost 80 per cent of pre-COVID levels – one of the most successful returns to public transport across the world.”

In the latest publicly available figures, there were 3.755 million train boardings on the Transperth system in August. This is five times the number of boardings in April, which saw the lowest number of boardings with 718,519, and almost 70 per cent of 2019 figures. Patronage levels in September and October have been higher.

Driving the strong growth in patronage is the return of school students, with almost 100 per cent of pre-COVID-19 patronage, and pensioners, who had 90 per cent of pre-COVID levels. Tertiary students, however, remained low, at 60 per cent, due to the possibility and uptake of studying online.

The Western Australian government hopes that these numbers can lead to a return to growth in overall patronage numbers. In 2018-2019 the system saw the first growth in total boardings since 2012-2013. With further connections coming online with the completion of Metronet projects, these numbers are likely to increase.

Perth in particular compares well to other state and international capitals. According to the International Association of Public Transport Sydney is only at 50 per cent of pre-COVID levels, while Brisbane is at 60 per cent and Auckland is at 70 per cent. The ongoing lockdown in Melbourne is leading to patronage figures at 5 to 10 per cent of 2019 levels.

WA trains begin to return to normal timetable

Western Australia will begin to bring back public transport services that were reduced because of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Services were scaled back on March 31 as passenger numbers dropped while people stayed at home and self isolated, however with school students returning to face-to-face classes, the WA government has brought forward regular timetabling.

“With students returning to school from April 29, we will see an increase in transport activity across our community,” said WA Transport Minister, Rita Saffioti.

“While initially we prepared a staged and scaled return to normal services, it is now our view to have services running to a normal schedule as soon as possible,” she said.

“In particular, feedback from parents, and from schools directly, has been that we bring the school services back from the first day.”

While it had already been announced that bus services would pick back up when school resumed, the latest announcement confirms that trains will begin to return to regular timetables on Monday, May 4. Until then, trains will follow the current timetabling – a Saturday in place of the Monday to Friday timetable, and no after-midnight train services on Friday and Saturday nights.

“Working with the contractors, unions and the PTA, we are now bringing forward the return of normal public transport services,” said Saffioti.

The WA government has advised passengers to continue following COVID-19 hygiene practices and additional cleaning will continue. WA was one of a few states to reduce train services. In NSW and Victoria, services continued to their regular timetable to allow passenger to practice social distancing, while in Queensland cuts were only made to long-distance and tourist train services.

Operators contend with drops in passenger numbers

As government advice has encouraged people to stay at home during the coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic, passenger transport numbers have plummeted.

This has led to train and tram network operators working closely with governments to ensure that public transport, deemed an essential service, can keep running.

In Melbourne the impact on transport operators is most severe, as Yarra Trams and Metro Trains Melbourne are one of only a handful of private rail transport operators in Australasia that do not operate on a gross cost model. Instead, their net cost agreement with the Victorian government allows them to keep a percentage of the farebox revenue, 40 per cent according to The Age.

Both Yarra Trams and Metro Trains Melbourne have been in discussion with the Department of Transport to enable trams and trains to keep running.

“We are working closely with the Department of Transport to ensure we can continue to offer a safe and reliable service, while protecting the health of our people and those who must travel,” said Julien Dehornoy, CEO of Yarra Trams.

While services continue to run to a standard timetable, the falls in patronage have never been seen before.

“We have seen passenger numbers drop significantly as people heed the call to stay home and avoid all non-essential travel,” said Dehornoy.

While neither operator has cut staff numbers, Metro CEO Raymond O’Flaherty acknowledged that mitigation measures are in place.

“The pandemic is unprecedented, rapidly evolving and is impacting every organisation and business,” he said.

“We’re putting in place sensible measures to support our people and ensure we can keep providing an essential service for Melbourne.”

In a statement to Rail Express, the Victorian Department of Transport reaffirmed that the networks would remain operating. If changes do need to occur, they will be made based on medical advice and communicated ahead of time.

“Public transport is an essential service and continues to run for people who need to travel – but the clear advice is: if you can stay home you must stay home,” said a Department of Transport spokesperson.

“There has been reduction in the number of people traveling on our public transport network in line with people following the advice to stay home.”

In Western Australia, metropolitan train services have been reduced in Perth. From Sunday April 5 until Sunday April 26 Transperth Trains will operate on a Saturday timetable from Monday to Saturday. The Sunday/Public Holiday timetable will remain the same. To ensure that social distancing is maintained, the Public Transport Administration (PTA) will monitor patronage, said WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti.

“COVID-19 has had a big impact on patronage and this temporary adjustment in services is in response to that drop in demand.”

Transperth reduces speed of trains due to extreme heat

The temperature reached a top of 43 degrees in Perth on Tuesday, February 4 and train speeds were reduced to prevent distortion of steel tracks.

Transperth said in a social media post on Tuesday that “due to current temperatures heat restrictions are in place across the network”. 

The Transperth train network put temporary speed restrictions across the network when track-level temperatures reach 37 degrees. 

Trains are reduced by about 20kmh on the Fremantle, Midland, and Armadale line when the temperature hits 37 degrees and on the Mandurah, Joondalup, and Thornlie lines once the temperature reaches 39 degrees.

Train speeds are reduced by a further 10kmh if track temperatures reach 41 degrees, and when temperatures drop back below 37C and 39C respectively, the restrictions are lifted.

Western Australia Public Transport Authority (PTA) said in a statement that heat speed restrictions have been imposed every summer in Perth for more than 30 years.

“The impact was greatly reduced as the Public Transport Authority progressively replaced wooden sleepers with concrete,” WA PTA said.

“Track with concrete sleepers is much less affected by the heat. All the PTA’s mainline urban track has had concrete sleepers for several years.”

The restriction is in line with national and international operating and safety standards, that recognises that extreme weather can affect  steel track.

The WA PTA said heat-related speed restrictions are imposed around the world, while some countries also impose restrictions because of other climatic or environmental factors.

“Parts of Britain have speed restrictions in autumn if tracks are covered with leaves, which can affect traction,” they said.

Contractors wanted for Metronet Morley-Ellenbrook Line build

The Government of Western Australia has begun the search for a company to deliver the main contract for Metronet Morley-Ellenbrook Line on the Transperth network in Perth.

The McGowan Government has released a Request for Proposal (RFP) to the market, calling on companies to design, construct, and commission the new Metronet rail line in Perth’s north-eastern corridor. 

The main works contract is the biggest of four works packages that will cover the Bayswater Station upgrade and Tonkin Gap projects.

The main works contract will include the design, construction and commissioning of rail track, systems, and five stations. This will include bulk earthworks and retaining, structures, grade separations, roads, and drainage.

The two best submissions for the main works will be shortlisted, and contractors will have to provide a detailed bid indicating how they plan to deliver the project.

This RFP process will lead to the main contract being awarded later this year, adding to the construction that will already be underway as part of Bayswater Station and Tonkin Gap.

The Morley-Ellenbrook Line is a 21km long rail line that will run off the Midland Line at Bayswater, down Tonkin Highway, north of Marshall Road. The line will continue along the western side of Drumpellier Drive and finish in Ellenbrook town centre.

Early works for the Morley-Ellenbrook Line started at Bayswater Station in late-2019, while construction of the rail tie-in will be part of the Tonkin Gap project.

Five stations at Ellenbrook, Whiteman, Malaga, Noranda, and Morley will be built as part of the project, with a sixth station at Bennett Springs East in provision for the future. 

Premier Mark McGowan said major Metronet infrastructure projects like the Morley-Ellenbrook Line will create thousands of local opportunities as well as improving public transport across Perth.

“This year alone we will have an unprecedented six Metronet projects underway, creating thousands of local jobs and opportunities for local businesses,” McGowan said.

Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said the RFP  for the Morley-Ellenbrook Line marks another significant milestone for this major Metronet project.

“The McGowan Government started from scratch to get this project funded, planned and ready to approach the market,” Saffioti said.

“I would urge local companies to put their best foot forward and bid for the chance to deliver this key rail line.”