Marshall appoints new SA transport minister

South Australian Premier Steven Marshall has appointed Corey Wingard as Minister for Transport and Infrastructure.

The appointment follows the resignation of Stephan Knoll from the frontbench, due to an expenses scandal. Knoll, who represents the Barossa region electorate of Schubert, had claimed an accommodation allowance for country MPs who need to stay in Adelaide for parliamentary business before expenses were incurred. Knoll has agreed to repay expenses claimed.

In a statement, Knoll said that his resignation would allow the government to get on with responding to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Wingard, who takes on Knoll’s portfolio in addition to his sport, recreation, and racing portfolios, has been a member of the SA House of Assembly since 2014 and was previously the Minister for Police, Emergency Services and Correctional Services.

The new cabinet will be sworn in on Wednesday morning and meet for the first time on Thursday.

South Australian Freight Council executive officer Evan Knapp welcomed the appointment of Wingard.

“SAFC looks forward to working with incoming Minister Corey Wingard MP on transport, logistics and infrastructure-related issues,” Knapp said.

“Critical for the new Minister’s attention will be urgently completing North South Corridor planning works, reducing the State’s road maintenance backlog, and populating Infrastructure Australia’s Infrastructure Project List (IPL) with more long-overdue South Australian projects.”

Rail, Tram and Bus Union SA/NT secretary Darren Phillips called for the new minister to abandon the government’s privatisation of transport services.

“Privatisation will see responsibility for keeping public transport safe during the pandemic outsourced to private contractors,” said Phillips.

“Given the diabolical economic implications of the pandemic crisis, with the state being plunged into recession, it is galling that the Marshall Government wants to put the jobs of South Australian transport workers at risk. The privatisation of the tram system saw the number of tram drivers cut by ten per cent.”

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Minister Andrew Constance has said he would make the move from state to federal politics, and only 24 hours later withdrawn the bid.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

Making way for a new ticketing system for Canberra’s light rail

The current MyWay ticketing system will be replaced by a new and advanced ticketing system for Canberra’s public transport network.

Transport Minister Chris Steel said Transport Canberra had begun a procurement process for the new system.

“With a modern ticketing system, transport users will be able to pay for their bus or light rail fare using their credit card to tap on and off, as well as other flexible payment options including with their phone, smart device, travel cards and other options,” Steel said.

A spokesperson on behalf of Steel said that the ACT government was yet to select a contractor to provide the system.

A new app will include reliable real-time travel information and updates with GPS data allowing travellers to check details of their connecting services.

Steel said the new system’s high tech features will provide more data than through the current MyWay System to support public transport planners and operations.

He said the new system is likely to be rolled out next year or in 2022 after a lengthy development and transition period.

The cost of the new account based system will be released once the procurement process is finalised towards the middle of the year.

“The Territory continues to undertake further investigations as part of the broader procurement process which is confidential until that process is completed,” Steel said.

The new system will include reliable real time travel information and updates with GPS data and will enable passengers on light rail services to discard MyWay cards as they will no longer need to buy and load money on them.

“We’ve heard from public transport users that they want better real time information to inform their travel plans,” Steele said.

“Many Canberrans have been to other cities around the world where it is much easier to use public transport than it is here because of modern ticketing systems.

“A good ticketing system is really important to improve the transit experience.”

NZ announces new $1.1 billion rail investments

The New Zealand Government has announced a programme of new transport investments in six main growth areas across the country.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford said $6.8 billion is being invested across road, rail, and public transport infrastructure across New Zealand.

$1.1 billion is part of targeted rail investments aiming to get trucks off the road in the six main growth areas of Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Wellington, Canterbury, and Queenstown.

The rail package will include completing the third main rail line will remove a key bottleneck for freight and passenger services, as well as provide additional capacity for the increased services once the City Rail Link is completed.

Two new railway stations in Drury Central and Drury West will be funded, as well as electrifying the railway track between Papakura to Pukekohe to speed up commutes to the CBD.

Twyford said additional Wellington rail upgrades, including in the Wairarapa, will make the lines north of the city more reliable to meet a growing demand for rail services.

“Our decision to fund these projects by taking advantage of historically low long-term interest rates means this programme will free up funding in the National Land Transport Fund and Auckland transport budgets.”

Twyford said this programme brings forward and funds significant projects, allowing them to be built sooner.

“Many of these projects have been talked about for a long time, but we are the first Government to fund them, we have also made important changes,”

The investment announcement follows recent plans to revitalise KiwiRail’s Hillside workshops with demolition of disused and dilapidated buildings on the site currently underway.

Last year the Government announced a $19.97 million investment through the Provincial Growth Fund that has allowed KiwiRail to begin redeveloping the Dunedin site.

Stephanie Campbell KiwiRail group general manager property said Hillside will become a vital part of KiwiRail’s South Island freight and tourism operations.

“Demolishing some of the existing buildings is the first step in doing this, and contractors have begun work on the site, taking down two vacant workshops. 

“The next step is to upgrade the main rail workshops on the site, including overhauling the aging heavy-lift crane and traverser.

 “The planned improvements for the site will allow us to maintain more locomotives and wagons, as well as undertaking new types of work, such as heavy maintenance and upgrades.”

Canberra light rail could utilise new bridge route

National Capital Authority (NCA) chief executive Sally Barnes has stated that Canberra’s Commonwealth Avenue Bridge could be replaced to accommodate plans for the Canberra Light Rail Stage 2 project.

Barnes told ABC Radio Canberra on May 22 the bridge was part of an ageing asset portfolio and that the NCA was considering building a replacement bridge as an option.

Barnes has previously expressed her disagreement with territory government proposals to build a light rail route in the gap between Commonwealth Avenue’s twin bridges while reducing the bridges’ traffic lanes to accommodate the stage two route.

“[The Commonwealth Avenue Bridge] was designed in the 50s, built in the 60s, standards have changed for traffic,” Barnes said. “We’ve got a lot more traffic going over there than anyone ever envisaged — we need to keep it functional and operating.”

The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Government and collaborator Canberra Metro completed the first of the project’s two planned stages — a northerly link from Canberra’s city centre (Alinga Street) to Gungahlin — in April at a cost of $675 million. Stage two of the project is expected to cost much more however, with initial estimates pegged at $1.3-1.6 billion.

The stage two route will extend the line from the city centre to Woden in the south, requiring that trams pass over Lake Burley Griffin.

Engineers Australia civil structural committee chair, Greg Taylor concurred with Barnes, telling the Canberra Times that a new bridge would be a good decision and that elements of the existing Commonwealth Avenue bridge were now outdated.

“From an engineering perspective, you would be able to use better materials and extend the life of the bridge and reduce maintenance costs by building a new one,” he said.

Canberran commuters have enjoyed a month of fare-free travel in the city following revisions to Canberra’s public transport network. Normal paid services will resume from May 27.

“We hope people will continue to use public transport after the free period concludes, and we will keep monitoring the system as people settle into travel patterns and get used to our new integrated public transport network,” said Transport Minister Meeghan Fitzharris.