Government-industry group formed for rail freight in Victoria

A joint government and industry group will advocate for the Victorian rail freight sector.

The newly formed Rail Freight Working group will combine government agencies, freight and primary industries to identify rail freight network priorities.

“Our working group will look at the entire freight supply chain – from farm to port – and make it easier for producers to get Victorian goods to the world,” said Victorian Minister for Public Transport Melissa Horne.

Chairing the group will be Victoria’s Rural Assistance Commissioner, Peter Tuohey, and the group will also include representatives of Victorian Farmers Federation, freight organisations, and Victorian government bodies including the Department of Transport, VicTrack, V/Line, and representatives from ports.

“We’re keen to be involved in this great opportunity to work with government and industry experts to push forward with key rail projects for Victoria,” said Tuohey.

“This new group will give operators and farmers a voice at the table as we continue investing in important Victorian rail freight projects to boost our export power and support regional jobs,” said Horne.

A number of freight rail projects are currently underway in Victoria, including intermodal terminals, port rail shuttle, the Murray basin Rail Project, and the Shepparton Rail Freight Planning Study. Victorian Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan said that the group will contribute to the growth of rail freight in the state.

“We’re working with industry experts to shape the future of Victoria’s rail freight industry, building its capacity and supporting Victoria’s vital export sector.”

ATSB on scene of fatal XPT derailment

Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) investigators are on the scene of an XPT train derailment north of Melbourne. The derailment claimed the lives of two rail employees and injured several passengers on Thursday evening.

A NSW TrainLink XPT travelling from Sydney to Melbourne derailed near the Hume Freeway at Wallan, roughly 50kms outside of Melbourne, just before 8pm on Thursday evening.

The express passenger train was carrying 153 passengers and five crew at the time of the derailment. Two of those crew members – the driver and the pilot – were killed in the derailment.

Senior ATSB investigators arrived at the scene shortly after 9am Friday morning to commence the formal investigation that will involve Victoria’s Chief Inspector.

Federal and state government officials have confirmed that the ATSB, Work Safe, and the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) will conduct a full and thorough investigation to establish the cause of the incident.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said no authority in Australia would allow a train to travel on an unsafe track as “the ARTC monitors these things very closely and regularly”.

Michael McCormack said investigations will look at every factor, including examining the speed limit, signalling, track maintenance, and interviewing witnesses.

“The track will not be reopened until everything has been looked at properly by authorities,” he said.

Greg Hood, Chief Commissioner and CEO of ATSB said they will start their investigation straight away once Victoria Police hand over custodian to investigators.

“All evidence will be gathered and examined in the next week or so,” Hood said.

Hood said ATSB will endeavour to release a preliminary report in the next 30 days and a full investigation report will follow.

Victoria Police have confirmed the two fatalities in the crash were the driver, a 54-year-old ACT man, and the train pilot, a 49-year-old Castlemaine woman. Dozens of passengers were taken to Northern and Kilmore hospital for minor injuries following the incident.

Acting inspector Peter Fusinato said the initial investigation will take days and must be completed before the wreckage can be cleared.

The derailment caused the train’s engine and first carriage to be left on their side opposite the track. Both the driver and the worker were in the same area of the train when it came off the tracks.

The standard gauge track is operated by the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) and has been damaged due to the derailment.

An ARTC spokesperson said services are suspended until further notice, to allow emergency services to respond to a train derailment.

“We are working hard to support emergency services, NSW TrainLink, and investigators to respond to this tragic accident,” the ARTC spokesperson said.

This incident follows a freight train wagon derailment earlier this month in Barnawartha located south of Wodonga, Victoria that caused 1800 damaged sleepers and 180 metres of damaged rail. 

Public Transport Minister Melissa Horne said she had written to the Australian Rail Track Corporation to continue with works on lines in the region after the Barnawartha incident three weeks ago.

“If it’s at all relevant, it will be looked at in the context of this investigation,” Hood said.

James Pinder, V/Line chief executive said the section of track was a “particularly complicated part of the infrastructure” because V/Line trains run alongside XPT trains.

“There are separate signalling systems for the different tracks,” he said.

Pinder confirmed V/Line was operating on the track on Thursday, before the Sydney to Melbourne service derailed.

Paul Toole, NSW minister for regional transport said the government can not speculate what investigations will find.

He said agencies across both Federal and State levels will be working closely together during this situation.

The Victorian Department of Transport said services on the Seymour, Shepparton and Albury lines would be affected by the incident today. The line is expected to remain closed for several days.

Ongoing track fault and delays between Albury and Southern Cross stations had been reported by V/Line’s social media updates in recent days leading up to the incident.

The train left Sydney’s Central Station at 7.40am Thursday morning and was running more than an hour late at the time the accident happened. It was due to arrive at Southern Cross Station in Melbourne at 6.30pm.

Several passengers said the train was gaining speed at the time of the accident after being stopped due to a signalling issue.

One passenger told The Age that signals should have alerted the driver to slow down to be able to move into the side track, but he did not notice the train slowing prior to the derailment.

Four hours before the incident yesterday, the Seymour V/Line Twitter account said the 12:45 Albury to Southern Cross service would be delayed by approximately 70 minutes due to an “ongoing rail equipment fault near Wallan”.

Infrastructure Australia said in December last year that the ARTC’s business case for an upgrade of the Melbourne-Albury North East Rail Line should not be ­included on its national priority list.

The business stated that Victoria’s regional trains had a self-imposed speed limit of 15km/h on the entire line from Melbourne to Seymour, due to “poor track quality” including mud holes and tight rail alignments.

Last year the Victorian and Federal Government committed $235mil to upgrade the North East line, due to be completed by 2021.

The Border Mail reported on Thursday that north-east train travellers were being asked to allow an extra 60 minutes for trips after a signal hut at Wallan was destroyed by fire earlier this month.

Luba Grigorovitch, Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) state secretary said the section of track was awaiting maintenance.

“Conditions were altered and V/Line drivers rightly refused to traverse this section over the past week,” she said.

“The RTBU is deeply saddened by the tragic accident that has taken the life of two rail workers and unnecessarily injured many more.

“Today marks a difficult day for drivers and rail workers across the state and the RTBU will be here not only to offer support but to ensure a thorough investigation is undertaken.”

The union had refused to operate in that area because it believed the tracks were degraded.

Danuek Bowen from the Public Transport Users Association said serious accidents on the Australian rail network are very rare, “but that makes it even more important to investigate the cause”.

Emergency crews, including from CFA and SES, scoured the tracks and surrounding scrub until 10am Friday morning.

Ambulance Victoria stated that an air ambulance was not required at the scene and a number of people did not require treatment. One passenger was taken by road to the Royal Melbourne Hospital in a stable condition.

The front locomotive carriage remains on its side as the train has not been moved from the position where it derailed.

Results from an engineering report will determine when it’s safe to travel trains on the line again.

Toole confirmed that the NSW regional rail fleet of XPT are 38 years old and have served their purpose. The aged fleet will be replaced in 2023 as part of the $2.8b upgrade with  Momentum Trains.

The Express Passenger Train (XPT) travels between Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Dubbo, Grafton and Casino.

Murray Basin Rail Project has run out of steam

The $440 million Murray Basin Rail Project needs urgent assistance to help complete the half-finished upgrades, according to the Rail Freight Alliance (RFA).

It’s been more than six months since the Victorian Government acknowledged the project had run out of funding. An Auditor General’s report is due next month to conduct a thorough review and investigation of the upgrade.

The RFA is calling on the state government to quickly fund the rest of the Murray Basin Rail Project.

Reid Mather, RFA chief executive officer said he is exceptionally disappointed at the current status of the project that is still yet to meet the scope of stage 2 that was due for completion in 2018.

Mather says the entire project will have to start from scratch and revisit stage 1 and 2.

“There is now a big slab of rail lines in Victoria that are exceptionally wrong due to underwhelming upgrades,” he said.

The completion of stage one, which began five years ago, included carrying out essential maintenance works across 3,400m of rail and roughly 130,000 sleepers in the Mildura freight line between Yelta and Maryborough.

The entire project is intended to convert parts of the Victorian freight rail network’s historical broad gauge to the standard gauge used in most other parts of Australia to enable tracks to have a higher axle loads for more efficient intrastate freight transfer.

However Mather claims that operators are saying that the network is slower than ever before.

Mather said Mildura to Melbourne was previously a 12 hour direct route before the upgrade project. In stage one, 30km of stabling was removed which now requires trains to route around Ararat and Geelong – now 17 hours a journey from Mildura to Melbourne.

“It is unacceptable. There is now a reduced capacity and uncertainty,” Mather said. 

Rail Projects Victoria is reported to be the organisation to carry out the review.

A Department of Transport spokesman told the Ararat Advertiser that the review would determine the most cost-effective outcomes of any future spending and make recommendations on the way forward.

“The Murray Basin Rail Project is delivering better, more efficient freight services for Victoria and continues to be a key project for the Victorian and Australian governments,” the DoT spokesman told the Ararat Advertiser.

“The project has already seen freight trains return to the Mildura and Murrayville to Ouyen lines with standard gauge access, and to the Maryborough to Ararat line, which has been reopened after 15 years,

“We know how vital this project is for our regional communities and the Victorian Government is working with the Federal Government to review the Murray Basin Rail Project business case, to jointly determine the best way forward.”

The state government last year announced the remaining $23m of the $440m federal and state money set aside for the project would go on urgent repairs to the Manangatang line and a new business case.

A spokeswoman for Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan said a business case would be handed to the federal authorities by early to mid-2020.

Mather said the window for getting federal budget funding, to complete the project, was rapidly closing and requires urgent attention from state and federal officials.

“Works were meant to be completed by 2018 and certainly won’t be starting this year. The current network is in grid lock and it’s time to get the bones right,” Mather said.

“It’s all in the [government’s] hands.”

Level crossing work comes to Werribee

Construction has begun on replacing the Cherry Street crossing in Werribee, Melbourne.

Instead of the current level crossing, a bridge will be built of the Werribee line between Tarneit Road and the Princes Highway.

Delivering the project is an alliance of McConnell Dowell, Arup, Mott MacDonald, and Metro Trains Melbourne. The alliance has already completed three other level crossing removals around Melbourne, and is building a stabling yard at Wyndham Vale.

The Cherry Street project is the first level crossing removal for the Werribee region. It will be followed by level crossing removals at Old Geelong Rd and Werribee Street. All will be completed in 2022, according to the Level Crossing Removal Project.

Victorian Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan visited the site on January 13 as work began on the $113.8 million contract.

“The Cherry Street level crossing can cause delays of up to 38 minutes in the two-hour morning peak, so removing these boom gates will mean less frustration and better travel times for drivers,” said Allan.

Member for Werribee Tim Pallas highlighted the economic benefit the project would bring to the local community.

“These major rail and road projects are creating thousands of jobs in Melbourne’s west and providing vital experience to Victorian apprentices, trainees and cadets under the Major Project Skills Guarantee,” said Pallas.

In addition to the level crossing replacement works, 130 new car parking spaces will be created at Werribee station.

Where cars once crossed the rail line at Cherry Street a new pedestrian underpass will be built to connect shops and homes for pedestrians and cyclists, and a shared-use path will also open up new connections in the area around the rail corridor.

Construction progresses at Melbourne Metro Tunnel Project’s new State Library station

Melbourne’s State Library station will be 240m long and 30m wide, and its 19m platforms will be some of the widest underground metro platforms in the world.

The first permanent building works for the station are now underway, and a concrete floor has been installed that will form part of the future platform.

Three roadheaders have dug 36m under Swanston Street while also excavating the station length of 240m between Franklin and La Trobe Streets.

Later this year, they will go back underground to dig out the rail tunnels on each side of the central station cavern.

State Library and Town Hall stations will feature ‘trinocular caverns’ – three overlapping tunnels dug by road headers which will allow the concourse and platforms to be integrated on one level.

500 tonnes of rock are being excavated every day as the roadheaders are equipped with cutterheads that smash through rock three times harder than concrete.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan inspected progress on the construction happening at State Library station on Thursday morning. 

“A huge amount of work continues to be done at State Library Station, with the platform already taking shape,” said Andrews.

Allan said the Metro Tunnel is the biggest public transport project in Victoria’s history.

Major construction is continuing in the northern end of Swanston Street at the site of the future State Library Station throughout February this year.

The $11 billion project is set to be completed by 2025.

Free Tram Zone distracting from network improvements: PTUA

Members of Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) are calling for the Free Tram Zone in Melbourne to be abolished.

The PTUA said in a statement that they do not support the Free Tram Zone due to overcrowding on services across the Melbourne CBD.

This follows the state parliament inquiry into Expanding Melbourne’s Free Tram Zones. 

Parliament of Victoria received over 300 written submissions to the Economy and Infrastructure Committee. 

The PTUA said in their submission inquiry that the current Free Tram Zone already covers the busiest part of the tram network and urging greater investment in service improvements, instead of extending free transport.

The association said they believe the money spent on providing the Free Tram Zone would be better spent extending and upgrading services across Melbourne.

PTUA wrote in their submission that increasing free public transport will also reduce “the funding available to make much needed improvements to public transport services such as improving accessibility for people with disabilities, increasing frequencies and lengthening operating hours in poorly-serviced areas.”

PTUA said the state government should consider adopting a traffic light priority system that is commonly seen in many European cities.

“An ambitious approach to public transport priority could boost tram frequencies and capacity in the inner core of the network and thereby ease crowding,” they said.

“Reduced delays to public transport vehicles at traffic lights and the improved service levels enabled would make public transport more competitive.”

The association’s submission also suggested a full roll-out of high capacity signalling across the rail network would allow higher train frequencies and help to relieve crowding and enable efficient use of existing infrastructure.

“In comparison to highly-performing lines in other cities, Melbourne only achieves comparatively low frequencies on its busiest railway lines due to signalling limitations,” the inquiry stated.

Rod Barton, party leader of Transport Matters Victoria said public transport groups against expanding Melbourne’s free tram network are confusing operational issues with a bigger picture solution.

“Frustrations over the limitations of the existing services should not prevent the committee considering the wider picture,” Barton said.

“There are ongoing complaints that the current free tram zone contributes to overcrowding on inner city trams. Paying commuters are frustrated when they are unable to board overcrowded trams in the inner city,

“Indeed, overcrowding exists across the entire public transport network. This is an operational issue that could be solved by adding increased services or shorter shuttle routes that take passengers to the perimeter of the zone.”

The inquiry into expanding Melbourne’s Free Tram Zone closed submissions on 31 January 2020.

Inland Rail grants $4000 to a men’s cultural group in QLD

Over $55,000 in community donations from Inland Rail will be granted to groups across the whole rail corridor in regional Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.

The Maibin Jaihilah Yahgilah men’s cultural group from Beaudesert, Queensland will receive $4000 in the third round of the Inland Rail Community Sponsorships and Donations program.

The funds will be used for the completion of an amenities block on a five-hectare site that has significant cultural ties to Mt Warning (Wollumbin) and the Mununjali people dating back thousands of years.

Rebecca Pickering, Inland Rail Director of Engagement, Environment and Property said more than $180,000 has already been allocated in the first three rounds of the program to help communities through a range of events, projects and activities.

“We congratulate successful recipients for this round which include sporting groups, schools, men’s groups, and Indigenous Cultural Groups. Funded projects represent a diverse range of initiatives such as upgrading community facilities, skills building in the areas of STEM education and inclusive events,” Pickering said.

Sharne Iselin, president of the Maibin Jahyilah Yahgilah men’s group said they meet every month to discuss challenges and barriers and how to overcome them.

“The work we do is really important and sadly it’s something that is badly needed in today’s society. We do all we can to support our community empower and strengthen local Mununjali cultural values and principles,” Iselin said.

The next round of funding applications for the program is now open and eligible groups can still apply for funding of between $1000 and $4000 for their project or service by Friday 31 January.

Inland Rail said in a statement that applications are encouraged from individuals and organisations in regional centres along the corridor, to ensure regional areas receive maximum benefit.

People are invited to visit the Inland Rail website to apply for a donation and for further information on the program.

Track repairs commence following V/Line and freight train crash

Work is now under way to replace more than 1,800 damaged sleepers and more than 180 metres of damaged rail.

Last week an incident involving a freight and passenger train between Chiltern and Barnawartha in south of Wodonga, Victoria caused all services on the line to be suspended until further notice.

A northbound freight train derailed, and a passenger train travelling south on the adjacent track struck a wagon of the derailed freight train.

A spokesperson from the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) provided an update on the investigation following the incident that occurred on Wednesday, January 29. 

“The ARTC is continuing to work with rail safety regulators and operators on the recovery effort,” the spokesperson said.

After safety regulators completed their initial assessments the day after the incident, the recovery operation started involving around 60 workers.

“Work so far has focused on recovering wagons, components, and containers from the track and moving the V/Line train and majority of freight containers,” the spokesperson said.

“While repairs are underway, timing for the line to reopen is not yet confirmed.

“With temperatures reaching more than 44 degrees in the recovery site area, hot works are being extremely carefully managed and crews provided additional rest breaks and hydration measures.

“ARTC will provide further updates to media and our customers as soon as they become available.”

$125 million in new rail infrastructure for the Port of Melbourne

The Victorian government has approved a new on-dock rail to be built at the Port of Melbourne.

Port of Melbourne Operations will invest $125 million in new rail infrastructure.

The Port of Melbourne will introduce a $9.75 per twenty-foot equivalent unit charge on imported containers and the funds raised from the charge will directly deliver new sidings and connections for the rail project.

Improving rail access to the Port of Melbourne is a legislated condition of its lease, aiming towards a wider push to expand rail freight across Victoria.

The Labor Government said in a statement they are “also supporting the Port Rail Shuttle Network connecting freight hubs in Melbourne’s north and west to the port, new intermodal terminals planned at Truganina and Beveridge, new automated signalling for faster rail freight to GeelongPort and improvements in the regional rail freight network”.

“On-dock rail will make rail transport more competitive, cut the high cost of the ‘last mile’ and reduce truck congestion at the port gate – a big win for Victorian exporters delivering goods to the Port of Melbourne.”

Minister for Ports and Freight Melissa Horne said the project will increase the competitiveness of Victorian industry.

“The Port of Melbourne is a vital part of our multi-billion dollar export sector and agriculture supply chain and on-dock rail will make its operations more efficient for Victorian exporters – removing congestion at the port gate.”

Chairman of the Freight on Rail Group, Dean Dalla Valle, highlighted the industry’s support of the measure.

“Port of Melbourne must also be congratulated for working closely with government and freight companies to deliver this game changing initiative.”

The project is set to be completed by 2023.

ARTC to modify reference design for Inland Rail route

John Fullerton, Australian Rail Track Corporation CEO, said “the current route is not locked in,” at a senate inquiry hearing of the management of the Inland Rail project, held on January 30 in Brisbane.

Richard Wankmuller CEO for the Inland Rail Programme said “we understand we need to improve.”

One senator called out “Mr Fullerton, there are pitchforks waiting for you,” as the CEO addressed “white hot anger” concerns of the proposed inland rail route from QLD senators.

Fullerton said the potential “fatal flaw” is floods. 

The ability to construct a public safety model that aligns with the proposed Inland Rail route through the McIntyre floodplain is the main area of concern, Fullerton stated in the hearing.

“There are a number of areas of concern that we’re looking at,” Wankmuller said.

“We’ve finished about 90 per cent of the reference design phase and we’re modifying the reference design.”

Fullerton said ARTC’s main priority is investigating floodplains and “increasing transparency”.

“I get people are scared, and it’s our obligation to [construct] something that is safe,” Wankmuller said.

“This is not just an ARTC program, that is a community program and there is no way we can be successful without community, council, and private sectors.”

Fullerton’s hearing follows criticism that the major freight rail corridor will go through one of Australia’s largest floodplains, raised from the rural Senate Committee meeting in Millmerran on Wednesday evening. 

Goondiwindi Mayor Graeme Scheu said the regional council is an advocate for the project, but object ARTC’s decision-making process.

Scheu stated to the committee that the decision to announce D1 as the preferred design option “came as a major surprise to everyone in our region”.

“From the minute D1 was announced, it has been the opinion of Goondiwindi Regional Council that if the route had to cross the floodplain (primarily to appease the time restraints), then the only acceptable solution would be an elevated bridge from the Queensland side to Wearne on the NSW side,” he said.

“I must reaffirm that Goondiwindi Regional Council is supportive of the Inland Rail Project and have been for many years but the decision making process of ARTC leaves a lot to be desired.”

Goondiwindi Regional Council stated they are advocating to overturn the D1 route design option and “believes the decision should be over turned to the alternative option of A”.

“The route directly crosses the floodplain, minimising the flood potential once the Whalan escape route is fully addressed.

Community consultation results and opinion will support Option A over D1.”

Fullerton said that “this is a complicated project that is important to people,” and recognises that engagement in the past “wasn’t up to speed”.

“We are looking where we have made the right decision or where a different decision should be made.

“There is government procedures in everything we do, we meet with the minister’s department for monthly and quarterly reporting to look at each issue.”

The Inland Rail route will be about 1,700km in length across Queensland, NSW, and Victoria and is scheduled to be completed by 2025.