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.”

North East Rail Line upgrade continuing

Work is continuing on the upgrade of the North East Rail Line, the ARTC confirmed on Friday, March 27.

While shutdowns of non-essential services to limit the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) have affected other industries, the construction of rail infrastructure has been deemed an essential service, said  Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) general manager projects Victoria, Ed Walker.

“The freight and transport industry is an essential service– and the North East rail line is a vital transport corridor for interstate freight trains, passenger trains, steel for construction and manufacturing and for regional goods like grain.”

The ARTC has implemented measures to ensure the safety of staff and contractors undertaking the vital upgrades. Workers are practicing social distancing, increasing hygiene and health measures, delivering work in smaller groups, and avoiding non-essential travel.

“We continue to follow advice from Government and monitor and assess the situation daily. The current environment is an uncertain and challenging one for everyone and we certainly recognise the responsibilities we have to the community as we deliver this vital project work and to ensure the safe running of essential freight and passenger train services,” said Walker.

Two weeks ago, sections of the track were shutdown and handed over to contractor John Holland Rail, so that a series of projects could be completed. A similar shutdown will occur from Saturday, April 4.

“Further works will take place next weekend, from Saturday 4 April at 6pm, with bridge and track renewal work taking place at the Old Barnawartha Road, West Wodonga and High Street, Barnawartha level crossings,” said Walker.

The announcement from the ARTC follows assurances given to Rail Express last week that a number of rail infrastructure projects are continuing, including the Level Crossing Removal Project, Metronet works, and Cross River Rail construction.

Cheltenham and Mentone works begin

A week-long closure is now underway to allow for the removal of three level crossings and the building of two new stations in Cheltenham and Mentone in south east Melbourne.

The new stations will open in mid-2020, and in the meantime buses will replace trains between Moorabbin and Mordialloc.

While the stations are shutdown, crews will work on piling, service relocation, and other works. Later in 2020, a two-month shut down will be imposed for further works.

From May 24, rail trenches will be dug out and new stations will be built.

The new Mentone station is scheduled to open in mid-July, and Cheltenham station is expected to open in August.

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, extra precautions will be in place for workers and passengers. These measures will ensure job security for those working on the level crossing removals and new stations.

Minister for Transport Infrastructure, Jacinta Allan, said that these construction works will continue while the response to COVID-19 continues.

“We’re continuing work on these projects despite the COVID-19 outbreak – providing certainty to local workers and making progress on delivering a better train network for Victorians,” she said.

The works at the two stations will also provide benefits to the community

“These level crossings are dangerous and unsafe – we’re getting rid of them, like we promised, as well as delivering new stations for Cheltenham and Mentone, with more open space for the community to enjoy,” said Allan.

Review of rail freight project targets governance, planning for improvement

The Victorian Auditor-General has delivered a withering critique of the governance and delivery of the stalled Murray Basin Rail Project (MBRP) and the Freight-Passenger Rail Separation Project (FPRSP).

The MBRP, which promised to upgrade over 1,000km of rail track in regional Victoria to standard gauge, has been left unfinished as funds ran out and disputes between V/Line and the contractor, a McConnell Dowell and Martinus Rail joint venture, caused the project to spiral beyond its original budget.

The Victorian Auditor-General brought in V/Line and the Department of Transport for criticism, nothing that both projects “have not met scope, time, cost or quality expectations”.

Particularly concerning for the Auditor General was the way that the project had been handled.

“From a project and program management perspective we identified deficient project planning, cost estimation and scoping by the Department of Transport’s (DoT) predecessor agencies. V/Line Corporation’s (V/Line) inadequate contract and project management has also contributed to project delays and cost overruns for the MBRP Stage 2 works,” wrote the Auditor-General.

Rail industry figures have encouraged both the Victorian and federal governments to continue with the project, with the many benefits flowing to hard hit areas, said Pacific National CEO, Dean Dalla Valle.

“Governments of all political persuasions must be acutely aware how vital regional exports are to the overall health of the nation’s economy. With the current coronavirus outbreak, domestic and international trade are facing significant headwinds, now is not the time to neglect key transport supply chains in Australia,” he said.

Rail Futures Institute president, John Hearsch, echoed these statements.

“Until the project can be brought to a successful conclusion the rail industry and its operators are being disadvantaged in terms of service and cost and that impacts their competitiveness.”

The current works have left the network with extensive speed restrictions and roundabout routings, with the objective of improving axle loads not met. Rectifying this would see significant benefit for regional communities said Dalla Valle.

“Upgraded rail lines result in operators like Pacific National being able to run heavier freight trains at increased speeds. Upgraded lines also enhance safety across the network. This means safer, more cost-efficient and reliable rail haulage services to port; hence regional producers and exporters benefit. By extension a significant workforce in regional Australia benefits, including train crews, primary producers, farm workers – the list is long.”

The Rail Freight Alliance (RFA), a grouping of regional councils in Victoria, said that it is essential that the project is completed.

“With Victoria’s freight task estimated to treble by 2051 the Andrews government owes it to industry and Victorians to fix and complete the Murray Basin Rail Project to its original scope, as promised, and now is the time to do it.” RFA chair councillor Anita Rank said.

Currently, the Victorian government is finalising an updated business case for the remainder of the project, said Minister for Transport Infrastructure, Jacinta Allan. Once completed, the revised business case will be submitted to the federal government for consideration, which had contributed funding to the initial stages.

“We’ve been disappointed with the performance of the previous contractor and the management of the project previously by V/Line and that’s why some time ago the project has moved across to be delivered by Rail Projects Victoria,” said Allan.

According to the DoT, the MBRP remains a “priority project”.

“The Murray Basin Rail Project has already delivered benefits for the freight industry, but we know that there is more work to be done. That’s why the Victorian Government is working with the Commonwealth government to progress the business case,” said a DoT spokesperson.

In its report, the Auditor-General issued a number of recommendations, including recommending that V/Line expedite finalisation of all unfinished works in Stage 2 of the MBRP, improve its contract management of major infrastructure projects, and expedite assessment of the reason for temporary speed restrictions on the re-opened standard gauge line from Yelta to Ararat.

The Auditor-General also recommended that V/Line and the DoT both develop a sustainable funding approach for regional rail freight lines and improve network reliability and performance standards. The report also highlighted the need to identify regional rail freight needs, and ensure compliance with project risk management processes for all major capital projects.

Both the DoT and V/Line accepted all the recommendations, and in an action plan the Department of Transport noted that it would review the original MBRP business case by engaging with industry, and complete detailed modelling of the Murray Basin rail network. The Department pointed to the recently formed Rail Freight Working group as a method by which government and industry will work together on rail freight infrastructure projects.

Work completed on the rail network to date includes updating the Mildura and Murrayville to Ouyen lines to standard gauge, as well as the Maryborough to Ararat line. A junction near Ararat station will have its signalling upgraded in the coming months.

Dalla Valle highlighted that work to build a staging area for standard-gauge freight trains at Maryborough could act as a “pressure valve” for the network.

“The Murray Basin is the economic lifeblood of northwest Victoria, with regional rail veins pumping exports worth hundreds of millions into the state’s ports. Thousands of country and city jobs are supported by this freight and logistics ecosystem,” he said.

Berwick level crossing removal design updated

The level crossing removal at Clyde Road, Berwick has been expanded to include the bus interchange at Berwick station. This extends the current project beyond lowering the road underneath the rail line.

Fulton Hogan and Metro Trains Melbourne will deliver the upgrades, which involves moving the bus interchange to the south side of the station. The new location will make the interchange safer, reduce travel times, and allow for more services to run once it is open.

Roughly 22,000 vehicles use the Clyde Road level crossing every day, with boom gates down for a third of the morning peak.

Construction will begin with site establishment works, which include a site compound, fencing, and offices, which will allow major construction works to start. The Level Crossing Removal Project expects works to be completed in 2022.

A key benefit of the project is enabling constant access for emergency services vehicles, which currently have to wait at the level crossing when the boom gates are down.

With the new design, access to Jane Street and Reserve Street will be maintained, and a new U-turn north of Gibb Street will be installed.

The changes were based on community feedback, and are designed to benefit residents and businesses, as well as emergency services.

In January, the City of Casey urged the Victorian state government to improve the amenity of the crossing with wider footpaths, landscaping, and lighting.

“This project also provides a once-off opportunity to transform the Berwick Railway Station, one of Melbourne’s busiest, ageing and out-of-date stations,” said City of Casey Mayor Susan Serey.

trams

One kilometre of track to be replaced on Melbourne’s Route 86

The Victorian government will replace over a kilometre of tram track in Melbourne from Saturday, March 21 until Monday, March 30.

The track on Plenty Road will be replaced to improve services on Route 86, said Minister for Public Transport, Melissa Horne.

“We’re getting on with these works so we can deliver better services for passengers to get them where they need to go.”

The $3 million worth of work will also involve the installation of 15 new power poles, in addition to underground cables and overhead wires.

To avoid extensive disruption, work will be carried out around the clock during the period, however buses will replace trams during this period between Miller/High Streets in Thornbury and the Bundoora terminus.

According to data released in 2018, Route 86 is the third busiest route in Melbourne’s tram network, and the work will improve the route for those who travel upon it, said Member for Bundoora, Colin Brooks.

“Route 86 is one of our busiest tram routes – these works will help deliver a safer and more reliable ride.”

Specifically, the track replacement work will take place on Plenty Road between the Metropolitan Ring Road, Bundoora, and Bell Street, Preston.

Trams will still run between Docklands and Miller/High Street.

While work is underway, Plenty Road between Pender Street and Bell Street will be closed to traffic in both directions from Saturday, March 21 until Monday, March 30. One lane will be closed between the Metropolitan Ring Road and Kingsbury Drive from Saturday, March 28 until Monday, March 30. Minister for Preston, Robin Scott, said that this should not stop locals from patronising businesses along the route.

“Businesses along Plenty Road will stay open while these vital works take place and we should all continue to support them as these vital works are delivered.”

High school students begin rail qualification

The next generation of rail professions have begun a pilot program during high school to prepare them to work in the rail industry.

Victorian students in years 9 and 10 are undertaking the Certificate II in Heavy and Light Rail Fundamentals (pre-vocational).

The course will count towards a VCE qualification and is delivered at the Rail Academy in Newport. The units of study involve training in railway operations, including customer service, safety awareness, rail infrastructure and rolling stock. It also involves hands-on training at the rail academy in addition to a weekly class at the Newport Community Hub.

This year 21 students are enrolled from schools in Geelong, Berwick, and Ringwood. The curriculum has been developed by Swinburne University of Technology with the leadership of the Level Crossing Removal Project and the Victorian rail industry.

“As we get on and remove 75 level crossings, build the Metro Tunnel and upgrade regional rail – we’re training the next generation of rail workers right here in Victoria,” said Minister for Public Transport Melissa Horne.

Currently, over half of workers in the rail industry are aged over 45, and only 11 per cent are under 30. With the increasing demand for workers with rail know-how and experience, pipelines of experienced staff will be needed, with 3,000 workers needed across Victoria by 2024.

“This Australian first is helping high school students get a taste for the rail industry – which is booming in Victoria thanks to our unprecedented number of projects on the go,” said Horne.

Once the pilot is complete in 2021, insights from the course will be used to further develop training programs.

In 2019, the Inland Rail project announced that it would be providing skills development for undergraduate students along the route of the project.

Williamstown

Rail line slated for change at Williamstown level crossing removal

The Victorian government is about to release design options for the raising or lowering of the rail line at the Ferguson Street level crossing.

The level crossing is located in Williamstown, on the Williamstown Line south west of Melbourne.

A preliminary design assessment found that road-based options were not appropriate for the crossing, which is used by 110 trains and 25,000 vehicles a day.

According to Melissa Horne, Member for Williamstown and Minister for Public Transport, community feedback will inform the design.

“Our project experts will take the community’s feedback and engineering investigations on board and keep everyone informed as they come up with the best way to remove this level crossing.”

Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan said that the level crossing will be removed by 2022.

“We’ve heard loud and clear from locals that they want this level crossing gone for good – and we’ll continue to work with the community as we get on and deliver what we promised,” said Allan.

The current stage of consultation is the second in the project’s lifetime, with initial consultation drawing 260 online feedback forms, and 200 face-to-face consultations, in addition to updates, mail, and doorknocks. The project found that efficient and safe pedestrian and cycling connections, local heritage and simplifying local roads were prioritised by the community.

Preliminary designs under active considerations show the rail line lowered into a trench underneath Ferguson Street or raised via an overpass, with the station also updated in each design.

RFI disagrees with Bellarine MP over Geelong fast rail

The Rail Futures Institute (RFI) has disputed comments made by the Victorian Minister for Police and Minister for Water Lisa Neville, whose electorate covers the Bellarine Peninsula and outer Geelong.

In comments reported by the Geelong Advertiser, Neville said that the only way fast rail can be brought to Geelong would be via the Werribee corridor.

RFI president John Hearsch said that their alternative proposal for services via Wyndham Vale, would cut the current 50 minute journey down to 35 minutes with trains running at up to 200km/h.

Under the RFI proposal, fast trains from Geelong would share the route from Sunshine to the city via new high speed tunnels built as part of the Melbourne Airport Rail Link. The Victorian government is yet to make a decision as to whether dedicated tunnels from Sunshine to the CBD will be built or whether airport trains, as well as regional trains from Geelong would share the Melbourne Metro Tunnel.

Hearsch noted that a separate new tunnel between Clifton Hill, the CBD, Fishermans Bend and Newport, known as Melbourne Metro 2 would allow for high speed trains from Geelong to travel on the Werribee corridor.

“However, MM2 is a massive project with twin tunnels each 17 km in length, seven or eight large underground stations, and two under-river crossings including one near Newport under the main shipping channel. Think of it as Melbourne Metro (MM1) doubled in scope, cost and time to construct. We have provisionally costed it at between $26 and $30 billion and consider it would take between 15 and 20 years to plan and construct from the time that Government starts to fund it,” said Hearsch.

The Victorian government has not committed to funding Melbourne Metro 2, however it has been included on long-term planning projects.

Hearsch also called for a more immediate focus on electrifying the Regional Rail Link tracks from Southern Cross to Wyndham Value to enable higher capacity electric trains.

“Geelong Fast Trains and a connection at Sunshine for a 10-minute journey to Melbourne Airport could both be operational by 2028,” said Hearsch. “This can only occur with a new tunnel under Melbourne’s inner west to unlock much needed capacity needed to provide quality rail services to regional Victoria and Melbourne’s west.”

Other bodies have joined concerted calls for the construction of a separate airport rail link, with the Committee for Melbourne chair, Scott Tanner, writing that plans for airport trains to use Melbourne Metro tunnels risk further exacerbating congestion issues.