Overland

Overland to resume with 3 year funding confirmed

The Overland train service between Melbourne and Adelaide will run for three more years, with the Victorian government committing funding to the service.

The interstate rail service, operated by Journey Beyond Rail, was thought to have run its last service earlier in 2020 as South Australia withdrew funding and the Victorian government was yet to renew funding beyond June 30, 2020. The service has not been running since March due to coronavirus (COVID-19) border closures.

“We’re proud to be preserving the iconic Overland train – giving certainty to regional jobs, regional tourism and regional Victorians who rely on this important connection,” said Minister for Public Transport Ben Carroll.

Regional communities along the route had been lobbying for funding to be committed to the route to be able to access services in Melbourne and Adelaide. The service stops at Murray Bridge, Bordertown, Nhill, Dimboola, Horsham, Stawell, Ararat and Geelong’s North Shore.

Member for Lowan Emma Kealy said that the decision was a testament to the community’s support of the service.

“This news is testament to the amazing community support for the campaign to get this crucial service funded. It has been a long, hard road to get to this point, and I am so thrilled that the people of our region will continue to have access to this much-needed rail service, as they deserve to,” Kealy said.

“I am proud to stand with the communities who have campaigned so hard to ensure this railway icon, and western Victoria’s only passenger rail service, continues for years to come.”

Journey Beyond Rail COO Luke Walker said that the service would continue to have a future.

“The Overland has been bringing people between Adelaide and Melbourne and the regional towns inbetween for more than 130 years and is a significant part of Australia’s rail history. It brings me great joy to know that it will also play a part in the future of Australian rail.”

A summit was held by supporters of the route on June 19, with support from local government and convened by the National Railway Museum, Port Adelaide.

The Victorian government has provided funding of $3.8 million, per year, for the next three years, for the current service to continue, however is in discussions with Journey Beyond Rail to see whether the service may be expanded.

Melbourne Metro Train. Photo: Creative Commons / Zed Fitzhume

Performance figures in May outstrip April records in Victoria

The performance and punctuality of Victoria’s rail transport network improved again in May.

With April seeing some of the highest figures for on-time running and availability, May’s results were a step further.

Across all metrics except for tram reliability figures were higher in May than in April.

According to Metro Trains Melbourne, these figures were the result of a quieter network in May due to work from home restrictions imposed due to coronavirus (COVID-19). Patronage across the network decreased in May.

“We’re always striving to do better and this focus will support us as trains return to more normal patronage levels,” said a Metro spokesperson.

Train services in May were on time 96.2 per cent of the time, while 94.3 per cent of trams were on time and 92.8 per cent of regional trains were on time.

For reliability, 99.1 per cent of scheduled train services were delivered in May, while 98.6 tram services were delivered and 97.4 per cent of regional trains were delivered.

For V/Line services, the most reliable short distance line was the Seymour line, while the most punctual were services on the Geelong line. On the long distance lines, all Swan Hill & Echuca and Bairnsdale services were delivered, while services on the Warrnambool line were the most punctual.

Delays caused by people getting on and off services dropped due to fewer people on the Melbourne network, while trespassing and vandalism also fell.

With some restrictions in Victoria beginning to ease, transport operators are asking passengers to keep each other safe.

“Our priority is improving performance and delivering a reliable service for those who depend on our trains, so they can get to where they need to go,” said a Metro spokesperson.

Williamstown

Williamstown level crossing to be replaced by rail trench

The Williamstown line will be lowered under Ferguson Street to replace the current level crossing in North Williamstown.

The rail-under-road design was decided upon after community feedback expressed a clear preference for such a design.

As part of the works, North Williamstown Station will also be renewed, with lowered platforms, plaza areas, and landscaping. Community feedback is being sought on the design of the station precinct.

Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan said that it was time for the dangerous level crossing to go.

“This crossing has been the scene tragedy and puts the community at risk every single day – we’re getting rid of it.”

In the past decade there have been five near misses, and the 110 trains that travel through the crossing each weekday cause delays for the 25,000 motorists who wish to cross the rail line.

“Our big build is removing traffic bottlenecks and building a better rail network across the west and right around Melbourne – and it’s creating vital jobs as we rebuild from coronavirus,” said Allan.

The Ferguson Street level crossing removal is one of six level crossing removals in Melbourne’s west on the Werribee and Williamstown lines. In Werribee, crews are preparing the area by relocating underground services and moving traffic lights to enable the construction of a new rail bridge.

Construction in Williamstown will begin in early 2021 and the crossing will be removed by 2022.

Rail delivered to Coburg
New railway track has been hauled to Coburg as part of the Bell to Moreland level crossing removal project.

Made in Whyalla, South Australia, the 10 kilometres of rail strings were transported in 27 metre lengths to a depot in Spotswood, Victoria. There, the strings were welded together into 165-metre lengths, before being hauled by rail to the work site on a 210-metre long train pulled by a diesel locomotive.

The rail will be stored on site before they are placed on the 2.5km elevated rail bridge. The bridge will replace level crossings at Bell, Munro, and Reynard streets in Coburg, and Moreland Road in Brunswick.

trams

Melbourne trams get extra cleaning through Victorian government scheme

Yarra Trams is utilising the Victorian government’s Working for Victoria scheme to clean trams, depots, and high-volume stops.

The $500 million initiative aims to get Victorian jobseekers into work as the state recovers from coronavirus (COVID-19) mandated lockdowns.

300 jobseekers have been deployed around the Melbourne tram network to boost cleaning and allow commuters and passengers to travel safely, said Minister for Public Transport Melissa Horne.

“Our trams are seeing more cleaning than ever before, and passengers should be assured that we are doing everything we can to keep the network clean.”

Workers are cleaning the network between 7am and 6pm and high patronage stops such as Federation Square and Melbourne University and getting an extra deep clean. On busy corridors such as St Kilda Road, teams will be jumping on and off trams to increase cleaning frequency.

Minister for Jobs, Innovation and Trade Martin Pakula said the scheme benefited both the workers and the community.

“This is creating opportunities for people who have lost their job through no fault of their own and providing a crucial community service into the bargain.”

The extra cleaning is in addition to standard cleaning that occurs at the beginning and end of each service. High touch areas such as handrails and grab straps are cleaned at the beginning of each run.

Minister Horne acknowledged the important role that the extra cleaning was doing.

“I want to thank our hard-working team who are working around the clock cleaning, providing advice to passengers and keeping our transport network moving.”

Worker transfer deal maintains train manufacturing jobs in Ballarat

The Victorian government has brokered a deal to transfer manufacturing staff from Alstom’s manufacturing site in Ballarat to Bombardier’s maintenance depot in the same regional town.

The deal was agreed to by the Victorian government, the two major manufacturers, and unions, and will see 27 of Alstom’s permanent manufacturing staff redeployed to work on the VLocity train maintenance program, which will be carried out at Bombardier’s Ballarat workshop.

Alstom workers who have not been redeployed will continue working on other rollingstock projects, said Minister for Public Transport, Melissa Horne.

“We’re helping keep these highly skilled manufacturing jobs in Ballarat – giving certainty to workers and their families.”

The deal comes after speculation over the future of Alstom’s Ballarat workforce once the final X’Trapolis trains in the current order are completed. While the Victorian government has committed to an order of X’Trapolis 2.0 trains, designs are still being completed, leaving the workforce in limbo. Victorian secretary of the Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) Luba Grigorovitch said that the jobs could have disappeared altogether.

“There was the potential for these regional jobs to be lost, and I’m really pleased that the state government applied the pressure that was necessary to ensure that the redeployment of the employees has been facilitated.”

The Victorian government has committed $12 million to Alstom to continue designing the X’Trapolis 2.0 trainsets.

Grigorovitch welcomed the investment but said that a confirmed order was needed.

“The investment in the design phase is only the first step and the workers and their families will only truly be secure once they see an order of much needed X’Trapolis 2.0s.”

By redeploying the workers onto the VLocity fleet, maintenance schedules will be sped up, said Horne.

“Alstom workers will gain new experience and skills carrying out vital maintenance on our VLocity fleet – helping to keep services moving across regional Victoria.”

infrastructure

Warrnambool line sleeper replacement works brought forward

Upgrades on the Warrnambool line have been brought forward, with works to begin on June 9.

The works involve the replacement of 27,000 timber sleepers with concrete sleepers at a cost of $8.1 million.

V/Line staff and contractors will work through the night in 10-day blocks to renew the line. The work will be focussed on the section of the line between Colac and Waurn Ponds after other upgrade works were done in late 2018 and early 2019 on the section between Warrnambool and Colac.

Although the works will be conducted at night, trains will run slower than normal after the works are complete to allow the sleepers to bed down. Some trains will be replaced by buses. Freight services will operate as normal.

Once works are complete, Minister for Public Transport Melissa Horne said that passengers would enjoy a smoother ride.

“These works help to ensure V/Line can continue to offer a safe, reliable and comfortable experience for passengers who rely on the service.”

The sleepers are being produced by Austrack at their Avalon facility.

“This project is not only going to benefit south-western Victorian public transport users but is supporting local business to get the job done,” said Member for Western Victoria Gayle Tierney.

The Victorian government has been carrying out sleeper replacement works on other regional lines, including a $16.1m program on the Bendigo line that used 48,000 concrete sleepers.

New study to guide investment in Victorian containerised freight rail flows

A new study will look at ways to move freight more efficiently and reduce the number of trucks going into the Port of Melbourne.

Funded by the Victorian government, the Port of Melbourne Container Logistics Chain Study will be the first in a decade and carried out by the Port of Melbourne operator.

The study will look into the flow of containers into the port, trends, and changes since 2009.

With forecast growth of 900 million tonnes in freight in Victoria by 2051, the study will examine the impact and nature of growth in container volumes.

“With Victoria growing rapidly so it’s more vital than ever that we have the detailed information we need to plan for the future,” said Minister for Ports and Freight Melissa Horne.

The study’s findings will inform investment and policy decisions that will enable efficient freight movements via rail.

“The knowledge gained from this study will help us get more freight onto trains and off local roads,” said Horne.

After the previous study was conducted, investments were made in the intermodal freight precinct at Truganina, as well as the West Gate Tunnel.

The announcement of the study follows the extension of the Mode Shift Incentive Scheme (MSIS) and a $125 million commitment to on dock rail at the Port of Melbourne.

CEO of the Port of Melbourne Brendan Bourke said that the research would improve freight supply chains.

“We all need reliable information to support our organisations’ future directions, as well as our collective efforts to ensure our industry continues to underpin the state’s economy and competitive edge.

“We know from stakeholder feedback that the 2009 study has greatly assisted government and industry during the past decade in its business planning and investment decisions,” Bourke said.

Port of Melbourne scheme

Rail freight competitiveness scheme gets a $4m extension

The Victorian government has boosted a scheme that helps to shift freight from road to rail with a $4 million injection.

The funding will extend the Mode Shift Incentive Scheme (MSIS) to 30 June 2021, and takes the total investment in the scheme to $24m over six years.

According to the Victorian government, the MSIS has already taken the equivalent of 28,000 truck trips off Victorian roads and onto rail.

“We’re moving more freight more efficiently and keeping our state connected by reducing rail costs and making it easier to get Victorian products to our ports,” said Minister for Ports and Freight Melissa Horne.

The MSIS provides incentives to freight operators to move more freight via rail. Current recipients of the scheme are Linx Portlink on the Shepparton corridor, Wimmera Container Line on the Horsham corridor, Westvic Container Export on the Warrnambool corridor, and Seaway Intermodal on the Mildura corridor.

Horne said the scheme improves the cost competitiveness of freight.

“This scheme benefits the community by getting trucks off roads which locals use every day and supporting industry through cost-effective movement of freight.”

Chair of the Freight on Rail Group, Dean Dalla Valle welcomed the Victorian government’s decision.

“A big thank you to Minister Horne for listening to industry and giving the scheme a critical lifeline during these unprecedented and uncertain times,” Dalla Valle said.

“The benefits of the scheme stretch well beyond regional freight businesses; the scheme helps to take trucks off local and regional roads, driving better road safety outcomes for the community, and is an investment in the future of regional rail freight jobs.”

Dalla Valle said the extension of the MSIS would benefit regional Victorian businesses.

“Australian regional exporters operate in highly competitive international markets and ending this scheme would have driven up freight costs and severely impacted many regional businesses,” he said.

“By continuing the scheme, the Andrews Government is helping to protect many regional jobs across the freight supply chain and putting the state’s economy on the right track towards recovery.”

The MSIS is one of a number of initiatives to ensure that Victoria’s growing freight task is handled by rail. By 2051, freight volumes in the state are expected to triple, and the government is also investing in improving access to the Port of Melbourne, building new intermodal terminals as Truganina and Beveridge, and funding the Port Rail Shuttle.

Sleepers replaced ahead of schedule on Bendigo line

Sleeper replacement works have been completed ahead of schedule on the Bendigo line.

50 workers worked around the clock to replace 48,000 timber sleepers with concrete sleepers, to improve reliability and comfort on the regional Victorian line that connects Bendigo, Echuca, and Swan Hill.

The concrete sleepers were locally made in Avalon, and work began in January.

The $16.1 million project is part of a wider $103m investment in maintenance across the V/Line regional network to be rolled out during this financial year.

Minister for Public Transport Melissa Horne said that the project benefits the whole of the state.

“We’re getting on with upgrading vital regional rail infrastructure right across the state – improving services and creating jobs,” she said.

Member for Bendigo East and Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan said that locals will be able to rely on improved services.

“This massive project will mean Bendigo locals who rely on V/Line services get the service they deserve.”

Regional maintenance works on Victoria’s train lines have been given an extra $90.5m boost as part of the $2.7 billion building blitz, announced on May 18, which includes sleeper replacement elsewhere on the network. Safety precautions are being taken across the state on all infrastructure projects to minimise the chance of transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Travellers on the Bendigo line are now back to the regular timetable, however some rail milling works continue until Friday, June 5.

“This massive $16.1 million upgrade has been completed months ahead of schedule, meaning locals will have access to smoother rides sooner,” said Bendigo West MP, Maree Edwards.

Grain

Bumper winter grain harvest sparks calls for rail upgrades

A forecast record grain crop is leading to calls for improvements to the regional freight network in Victoria.

Advocacy group Rail Futures Institute has identified the Sea Lake and Manangatang lines, the Korong Vale group, as ripe for improvement to shift a bumper winter crop.

“We are urging a fast allocation of funding so that these labour-intensive works can be actioned between July and October of this year so that this important freight link can again be made available to handle the forecast bumper grain harvest from November 2020,” Rail Futures Institute president John Hearsch said.

According to the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics and Sciences, this year’s winter crop is forecast to reach 7.4 million tonnes, 16 per cent above the ten year average to 2018-2019 and double last year’s crop.

With a limited capacity on freight lines between Dunolly and Ballarat, extra grain may have to be hauled by truck, costing growers.

“In offering a second option for Korong Vale Group grain trains to go south, the number of broad gauge trains proceeding via Dunolly and Maryborough can be reduced, releasing more train paths for standard gauge trains from the Mildura and Murrayville lines, which can only reach Geelong, Portland, or Melbourne via Ararat and so must travel through Maryborough,” said Hearsch.

Rail Futures Institute points out that the 41km of track in need of an update involves replacement of sleepers, repairs to areas damaged by floods in 2007 and 2011 and reactivation of the rail junctions at Inglewood and Eaglehawk. The relatively minor improvements could also be completed using locally sourced materials, said Hearsch.

Other benefits would include the potential extension of regional passenger services from Bendigo to Marong and a connection between Bendigo rollingstock manufacturing and repair workshops and the rail network in north-western Victoria.

The Victorian government is currently finalising an updated businesses case for the stalled Murray Basin Rail Project, which intended to upgrade the Korong Vale group lines. Once complete, the business case will be presented to the federal government for consideration for funding further stages.