Transport investment creates opportunity for skills development, local manufacturing

There is a significant opportunity to grow skills and investment in the Australian public transport sector, a new report has found.

Conducted by the Rail Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (CRC), Victoria University, and the Victorian Department of Transport, the report identifies changes to skills delivery and investment could fuel the sector and its supply chain.

The report made three primary findings, that young people do not know the diversity of roles in the public transport sector, that investment in the public transport supply chain encourages growth in the wider economy through innovation, and that new methods of training will be required to meet the demand for workers in the next 5 to 10 years.

CEO of the Rail Manufacturing CRC, Stuart Thomson said that the report’s finding can be used by the sector to inform future projects.

“The collective knowledge shared by the project participants highlighted some of the groundbreaking initiatives the transport sector is already undertaking to support its current workforce, while also emphasising new opportunities required in rail to attract, train and retain its future workforce,” said Thomson.

“We look forward to the transport sector utilising the results of this project to implement the key findings identified in the final report.”

As the pipeline of investment in public transport continues to grow, the sector will need to recruit to meet the demand for a growing workforce, and overcome stereotypes about the industry. The report found that young people are not aware of pathways in the transport sector outside of roles such as tram or train drivers, and that changing the perception of the workforce would tap into young people’s desire to be involved in public transport.

The study also recommended that investment not only target public transport projects themselves, but the local supply chains which support public transport. Investment in innovation, skills development boost the wider local economy, and can create ongoing jobs in advanced manufacturing.

As projects delivering new rollingstock progress over the next decade, the report noted that a diversity of skills will be required, and not just those that are currently being taught. Skills gaps such as in people-based soft skills will need to be addressed, highlights the report.

Victorian

Victorian transport operators exceed all performance and reliability targets

Victorian public transport operators have exceeded all punctuality and reliability targets in April.

The figures were some of the highest in the past year, and some operators recorded the highest results since data was being measured.

The results were largely due to fewer people on the network and fewer disruptions due to stay at home directives issues by the Victorian government to limit the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), according to a statement from Metro Trains Melbourne.

“A quieter network means more trains are able to get to their destinations sooner, which is important for the Melburnians who still depend on our services.”

A Department of Transport spokesperson also acknowledged the impact of fewer people in the transport system.

“The lower patronage on the public transport network combined with fewer cars on the road has resulted in an improvement in punctuality for our trains and trams in April,” said the spokesperson.

“The improved result was also due to a reduction in incidents, such as track and infrastructure faults and ill passengers on the network.”

Metropolitan train services were punctual 96.2 per cent of the time, and 99 per cent of services were delivered. This exceeded the respective 92 and 98.5 per cent targets.

Metro Trains Melbourne said that there were fewer incidents on the network during April, which also improved performance.

“In April we saw fewer faults impacting our trains and equipment meaning a more reliable journey for passengers,” the operator said in a statement.

“There were also fewer disruptions caused by weather events, trespassers and police operations.”

Regional train services were similarly above targets, with 92.1 per cent on time and 97.4 per cent of services delivered. The most reliable short distance line was the Seymour Line with 99.1 per cent of services delivered and the most punctual were services on the Geelong line.

Of the long-distance lines, Warrnambool, Albury/Wodonga, Swan Hill and Echuca, and Shepparton lines all saw 100 per cent of services delivered. The most on time services were on the Warrnambool line, with 99.3 per cent delivered within 10 minutes and 59 seconds of the scheduled time.

The punctuality of tram services was well above the 82 per cent target, with 93.8 per cent of services arriving on time. 99.2 per cent of services were delivered, exceeding to 98.5 per cent target. Both figures were the highest for the past 12 months.

Port of Melbourne scheme

On-dock rail upgrades for Port of Melbourne pass final hurdle

The Port of Melbourne will take the next step forward in its Port Rail Transformation Project (PRTP), with the project having met all its preconditions.

The project will begin on June 1, with construction expected to commence before the end of 2020.

The $125 million project will increase the rail infrastructure at the port and provide a new rail operating framework inside the port.

Overall, the project hopes to increase the amount of containers moved by rail, improving operations at the port, said Brendan Bourke, CEO of Port of Melbourne.

“The Port of Melbourne has listened to industry feedback and is responding with a solution that meets the need for increased transparency in rail access arrangements, improved port access and greater capacity,” said Bourke.

“The project embraces these principles and supports the government’s Port Rail Shuttle Network.”

Port of Melbourne has conducted an Expressions of Interest process, and will next begin a Request for Proposal for the infrastructure works required.

CEO of the Australian Logistics Council (ALC) Kirk Coningham, said that the announcement that the project will proceed is welcome for the industry.

“Moving more freight by rail can deliver a range of potential benefits for industry participants, for exporters and for local communities. The construction of new on-dock rail infrastructure at Swanson Dock East will help to realise those benefits.”

By delivering on-dock rail, congestion around the port can be reduced, benefiting both industry and local communities, said Caroline Wilkie, CEO of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA).

“Improving rail access is not just good for the economy, allowing a more efficient transport of containers, but it will reduce road congestion and pollution around the port.”

Coningham also noted that the work will improve movement in the surrounding areas.

“The PRTP will improve congestion around the Port of Melbourne, which is critical for logistics companies moving freight into and out of the port, and also for improving the liveability of nearby residential communities,” said Coningham.

“The PRTP will also help agricultural exporters moving their goods through the Port of Melbourne by reducing their ‘last mile’ costs.”

Both Coningham and Bourke noted that progressing these infrastructure works while the state and country is recovering from coronavirus (COVID-19) will help increase growth.

“The development of significant new freight infrastructure such as that now being progressed by the Port of Melbourne will also help stimulate economic and employment growth, which will be vital in helping Australia to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Coningham.

“A rail solution for the port will play a vital role in Victoria’s post-COVID economic recovery with a large construction project supporting jobs as well as supporting the more efficient movement of freight and contributing to a more productive supply chain for decades to come,” said Bourke.

Once the PRTP is complete, the Port of Melbourne hopes to connect Webb Dock to the rail network, which is expected to handle half of Victoria’s export container trade by 2050. Coningham highlighted that governments must preserve the rail corridor for this development.

“It will also be crucial for the federal and Victorian governments to work cooperatively to preserve corridors and make investments that will also permit Webb Dock to be connected to Victoria’s rail freight network.”

Victorian

Design released for locally-made new VLocity sets

The design of the new VLocity trains for the North East line in Victoria have been released.

The new model will be manufactured by Bombardier at its Dandenong workshops, said Minister for Public Transport, Melissa Horne.

“These new trains will be the first VLocitys to run on standard gauge tracks on Victoria’s regional network and will provide North East line passengers with a more comfortable and reliable train journey,” said Horne.

Features of the new trains include built in USB chargers, six luggage racks and overhead luggage storage, a modern catering facility, and six wheelchair spaces with companion seats nearby. Three bike racks will be installed, as well as four shared tables so groups can sit together. The design also includes accessibility improvements so that transport is accessible to people of all abilities.

The units will be manufactured in three car sets which can run coupled together for a six carriage train. Todd Garvey, director sales & marketing Australia for Bombardier, said the company has utilised its local knowledge and expertise.

“Bombardier is proud to support the Andrews Government by manufacturing these new standard gauge trains for North-East Victoria, in Victoria, using our local supply chain. Our operations in Dandenong employ over 500 people and we are the only business in Australia that can build trains and trams from end-to-end right here in Melbourne. We are fortunate to have a strong, talented workforce and a facility that can deliver for Victoria.”

The new design was developed in consultation with the community in North East Victoria, said Member for Northern Victoria, Jaclyn Symes.

“The feedback from local passenger groups, accessibility advocates, local government and tourism representatives has been fantastic, and central to the design process – I thank everyone who contributed.”

Once the $235 million upgrade to the North East Line is complete, the new trains will run on the standard gauge line. Current services to Albury are hauled by N class locomotives as the rest of the V/Line VLocity fleet are designed for Victoria’s broad gauge network.

Drilling works continuing for Suburban Rail Loop

Early geotechnical works are continuing as part of the first stages of the Suburban Rail Loop.

Having begun in November 2019, during April a number of site investigations have taken place in Clayton, Burwood, Notting Hill, Mount Waverly, Highett, Cheltenham, and Glen Waverly.

The works so far include drilling to gain data and information about local ground conditions. This involves confirming an area is free of utility services, geotechnical drilling and testing, and installing a groundwater monitoring well for samples and measurement of groundwater levels.

Investigations have been focused in the south east of Melbourne, as the first stage of the loop will run from Cheltenham to Box Hill. Clayton will serve as a new transport super hub while new stations will be built in Burwood and Monash.

In March this year, a number of investigations were also carried out in areas from Box Hill to Highett. The project aims to have 100 boreholes drilled by mid-2020.

Once complete, the Suburban Rail Loop will connect each metropolitan train line in Melbourne and travel around the city from Cheltenham to Werribee via Melbourne Airport.

Initial construction works are expected to commence in 2022. When operational, the Suburban Rail Loop will run as a separate rail line, using dedicated rollingstock and separate systems. The same ticketing system will serve both networks, however.

Victorian public transport exceeds March targets

Victorian public transport operators have met all but one of their targets in March.

The only metric to not meet its target was the punctuality of regional trains, operated by V/Line, which fell to 85.4 per cent from 86.8 per cent, missing the 92 per cent total.

However, all other metrics were above the target and exceeded 12-month averages.

Metropolitan tram punctuality leapt the most, with a 5.3 percentage point increase from February figures. In March 86.8 per cent of tram services in Melbourne were on time. 98.7 per cent of tram services were delivered, exceeding the reliability target of 98.5 per cent.

Factors affecting these figures include the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown measures, with non-essential workers told to stay at home and limit travel. However, stage 3 restrictions, which made previous advice enforceable with fines, only came into effect on March 31, meaning that further limits will have a greater effect on April figures.

Metro Trains Melbourne listed a number of other factors which impacted on services in March, including flooding following heavy rainfall on March 5, the theft of signalling cable on March 13, and trespasser incidents, however 60 per cent fewer delays were caused by trespassers than in February.

Additionally, Yarra Trams has also had to content with COVID-19 measures, such as the cancellation of the Formula 1 Grand Prix. Renewal works on Plenty Road also had a significant impact upon the tram network.

Other renewal works were also carried out in March by Metro Trains Melbourne. A 10-day program of work on the Sandringham Line saw upgrades at Gardenvale Station, maintenance to overhead lines, signal upgrades, and level crossing renewal works near Brighton.

In total, 92.7 per cent of Metro Trains Melbourne services achieved the punctuality threshold, and 98.8 per cent were within the reliability window.

V/Line services achieved a 96.3 per cent reliability rate.

Melbourne trains now using new rail bridge

Trains are travelling over the new rail bridge at Toorak Road for the first time as part of the Toorak Road level crossing removal.

On Monday morning, April 13, Victoria’s 35th level crossing was officially removed, six months ahead of schedule.

For the past nine days, crews have worked around the clock to remove the boom gates, lay new tracks, install wiring and signalling, and connect the new rail bridge to the Glen Waverley Line.

The new rail bridge was largely constructed with 40 locally manufactured L-beams forming the bridge, each up to 31 metres long and weighing up to 128 tonnes. 

Prior to its removal, Toorak Road was one of Victoria’s most congested level crossings. 

 The major removal is part of Victoria’s Big Build program, and works continue to deliver the Labor Government’s $70 billion infrastructure program.

The Metro Tunnel Project’s first two Tunnel Boring Machines (TBMs), Joan and Meg, have both broken through at South Kensington.

The remaining two TBMs, Alice and Millie, are being assembled at Anzac Station, with preparations underway for both machines to be launched in the coming weeks.

The Regional Rail Revival program is also on track. Workers have upgraded four level crossings on the Warrnambool line as part of the $114 million Warrnambool Line Upgrade. 

Premier Daniel Andrews said 35 dangerous and congested level crossings have been removed and the government is now almost halfway to delivering its promise of removing 75 level crossings by 2025.

“Work looks a little different on our big build – with extra physical distancing precautions in place due to coronavirus, so we can protect our workers and protect their jobs,” Andrews said.

Strict protocols are in place on all Major Transport Infrastructure Authority worksites to protect the health and safety of construction workers and the community, and are consistent with the advice from the Chief Health Officer.

Construction activities have been modified to allow social distancing and extra protection for workers who need to work in proximity for short periods of time, as well as enhanced industrial cleaning and additional hygiene measures in place.

Jacinta Allan, minister for transport infrastructure said more vital works will continue across the city and state, with additional measures to keep workers safe and to get these projects done.

Three level crossings to be upgraded North East Rail Line

The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) has confirmed that works will continue over the Easter weekend to upgrade the North East Rail line in Victoria.

The three level crossings upgraded over the long weekend are at Racecourse Rd, Chiltern, Federation Way at Bowser (Wangaratta North), and Bourke Rd at Bowser (Wangaratta North).

These improvements are on top of the 19 level crossings already upgraded in regional Victoria, including at West Wodonga, Wangaratta, and Barnawartha. Additionally, 16 rail bridges have been improved as part of the $235 million project.

“Teams have worked systematically south after major work started in Wodonga with four more level crossing renewals scheduled for April,” said ARTC general manager major projects Ed Walker.

“Work will start at 6pm on Sunday 12 April to improve these level crossings and we thank the community for their patience with changed traffic conditions in place and increased vehicle movements in the area.”

The project has focused on having benefits during the construction phase flow through to regional communities, with a major site office located in Wangaratta employing locals and engaging 32 North East Victorian suppliers.

Over 100,000 tonnes of ballast have been added to the track for depth improvement, mudhole removal, bridge works, and level crossing renewals.

Final work begins to remove Toorak Road level crossing

The Toorak Road level crossing will be removed before the end of April, with a nine-day works blitz about to kick off.

The Toorak Road level crossing in Kooyong will be the 35th crossing to be removed in the Level Crossing Removal Project and having the rail line run over the major arterial road will reduce traffic congestion and improve safety on the rail corridor.

The final works to be completed include removing the boom gates on Toorak Road, installing new tracks, ballast, overhead wiring, complete signalling works and the connection of the rail bridge to the Glen Waverly Line.

To ensure that the works can continue while social distancing and other COVID-19 measures are in place, extra protocols have been introduced to the worksite. These have been negotiated between the government, unions, and contractors to ensure that the 15,000 staff working on transport infrastructure in Victoria can continue to progress projects, said Minister for Transport Infrastructure, Jacinta Allan.

“The important works will go ahead with extra precautions to keep workers safe as we continue to fight coronavirus, ensuring these critical works can be completed quickly and providing job security for workers on major projects.”

While these works are conducted, motorists will be rerouted around the construction zone, and buses will replace trains between Burnley and East Malvern.

Once complete, further finishing works will be complete in 2021, including planting 23,000 trees, plants, and grasses.

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.”