Qube train. Photo: Qube

Victoria’s Ultima Terminal will generate millions in new exports

Victoria’s minister for ports and freight Melissa Horne officially opened a rail freight terminal in Ultima, northern Victorian, for exporting to the Asian market.

The QUBE Ultima Intermodal Terminal officially opened yesterday, however trains have been running on the line since at least June according to Fully Loaded.

Recently, the state government spent $23 million on an upgrade of the Manangatang freight line. It went towards the replacement of sleepers over a 90km section of the line in the Ultima region by V/Line. Track formation was also improved with new ballast which will improve the ride quality for trains.

Two trains a week currently service the Ultima facility, but it’s expected that will expand to three or four trains a week.

“This new facility is creating jobs for the local community and is helping to get more freight onto rail – removing around 4,000 truck trips every year from Victorian roads,” Horne said.

QUBE, Pentarch Agricultural and Pickering Transport, through a joint venture, invested $3.65 million in the facility

“Already two trains a week are using this terminal to provide integrated rail solutions to the intermodal and bulk markets, and we hope to expand this when more local products become available later this summer,” QUBE Managing Director Maurice James said.

Hay from local farms is compressed and loaded into containers at the facility. The containers are then put on a train and taken to the Port of Melbourne for export to Asia.

Pentarch markets Australian oaten hay, cottonseed and other grain internationally and the new facility will generate millions of dollars in new exports to Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China.

AusRAIL: What’s next for Inland Rail

Inland Rail CEO Richard Wankmuller has updated industry on the progress of  the project and what it will tackle next now that Queensland has given the greenlight to construction.

“We’re moving over the next few months to the next section. This is much larger, at least double the size of what we’ve completed so far. Now that we’ve been given the green light, we can begin the economic stimulus of this area. We’re trying to accelerate that as much as possible for these vital areas that have been impacted by the drought,” Wankmuller said, speaking at the AusRail Plus conference.

This section comprises 28km of new dual gauge track between Gowrie (north-west of Toowoomba) and Helidon (east of Toowoomba).

“This is an engineering feat. It will be very challenging, and we have to make sure that we get it right,” according to Wankmuller.

“The centrepiece is a 6.2 km long tunnel to be constructed through the Great Dividing Range of Toowomba, a mountainous terrain which leads down into the Lockyer valley, creating topographical and geological challenges requiring eleven rail and two road bridge and viaduct structures totalling 6.7km in length between Gowrie and Helidon.

“The tunnel through the Toowomba Range and I will call it The Tunnel, because The Tunnel is the second largest great tunnel in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s going to be an engineering marvel not just because of its size and its length but because of all the challenges that are involved in designing a world class and efficient system.

“But we do have to attack some of the big challenges which include ventilation. When you put a diesel freight train through a tunnel like that you have a lot of heat and you have to make sure you’re ventilating it appropriately and making it safe. We are future proofing it so passenger rail can go through if needed in the future.

“The highest of the thirteen structures along this section is the Six Mile Creek Viaduct which is expected to be about 966 metres long and 49 metres high at its maximum. By comparison the total length of the Sydney Harbour Bridge is 1149 metres and the bridge’s height clearance for shipping is around 49 metres. The second viaduct is expected to extend to about 1.8km in length, and in addition to rail bridges there are three crossing loops posed between Gowrie and Helidon, each about 2.2 kms in length.”

The extensive geotechnical investigations have been carried out with extensive stakeholder consultation, according to Inland Rail.

“This is one of the more challenging sections and it is challenging on a world scale, so we had to put together a world class team and we’ve done that. We now have 400 or so of the world’s best working directly for Inland Rail, not to mention the 1000s of service providers helping us meet this challenge. But the challenge is real.

“But Inland Rail’s ingenuity isn’t just about these really difficult challenges it’s also about what we do every day. We’re very proud of what we do every day and safety is near and dear to our heart every day. We look at innovation in all industries and one of the interesting things we’ve adopted is one we stole from the mining industry where we’re electronically tagging our people so when they enter a danger zone with equipment, that equipment automatically shuts down before there can be any reaction to that person and their equipment.

“We’ve changed the steel rail profile itself, which for many years has been the same design. We’ve rounded it out so we don’t need to grind it to get our trains in operation, this is going to lead to less maintenance.

“In 1700km we’re going to have 2-3 million concrete sleepers. We’re going to have to get those fabricated, delivered and unloaded on site. We’ve found a way to do that efficiently, by designing hydraulic machinery we can use to unload it in the most efficient way possible and touch it the least amount of times. If we can save 10 minutes or even 2 minutes every time we unload it across all those millions of sleepers, it saves a lot of time and productivity gains.”

One of the reasons for the delay in Queensland getting on board with Inland Rail has been the controversy surrounding the Condamine floodplain, Wankmuller addressed this.

“It’s not just about having global technology capabilities, it is about having local knowledge. That’s how you make a truly world class flood model. You talk to the local people and see what they’ve seen in previous storm events. By working together with global expertise and the local knowledge of people that have been there for generations, you get a model that makes sense and replicates what actually happens. So now you know you can rely on it in the future, because if you can’t, everything you do from that point is wrong.

“It is all about safety and we’re committed to not making the situation any worse than it was going to be anyhow by us being there. Water has to flow, it has to flow around and through our structures, and there’s some engineering challenges in that that we’re geared up to meet, and we’re doing the work to get it right.”

Wankmuller wrapped up with a call to federal and state governments to accelerate their uptake of the project.

“We need the federal and state governments to work together and they’re doing that but there’s still a lot left to do. We don’t know where the intermodal tunnel rails are yet, in Melbourne or Brisbane. Hard to build a rail line when you’re storing your stock.”

Ballarat Line Upgrade nears completion

Melbourne’s Cobblebank Station in the outer west is now open, with services stopping at the station since Monday.

Deputy prime minister and minister for infrastructure, transport and regional development Michael McCormack said passengers along the line will experience greater reliability thanks to the 18 kilometres of new track duplication.

The new track between Melton and Deer Park West will enable extra services by providing allowing trains to pass each other along the Ballarat Line. Passengers between Melton and the city will also get two extra peak hour services.

“This is a huge step forward for Ballarat Line passengers, who will see even more benefits from the Ballarat Line Upgrade rolled out next year,” said McCormack.

The station opened after 23-days of intensive construction work, including upgrades at Bacchus Marsh and Ballan station, track and signalling works, safety testing and driver training.

“I thank the workers who have been out there day and night delivering these works so this wonderful new station can start taking passenger,” Victoria’s minister for transport infrastructure Jacinta Allan said.

The station was delivered as part of the half-a-billion-dollar Ballarat Line Upgrade, which also includes four major station upgrades, two new passing loops and new train stabling.

Major construction on the Ballarat Line Upgrade is on track to be finished by the end of the year, according to the government. A final works blitz will take place from Saturday 7 to Friday 13 December.

Following the completion of the major construction work, there will be a further period of disruption for commissioning and safety testing to bring the remaining infrastructure online and enable even more services to be introduced in 2020.

The $551.7 million Ballarat Line Upgrade is jointly funded by the federal and state governments as part of the $1.75 billion Regional Rail Revival Program.

Rail bridge construction underway in Melbourne

Work towards rail bridge foundations has now commenced in an inner Melbourne suburb.

Thirty-four piles (deep concrete foundations to support the rail bridge) are being bored at the Toorak Road site in Kooyong.

Piling rigs and cranes have been at work on the site of the level crossing removal project. A piling rig is a specialist piece of equipment with a high mast that enables it to dig deep into the ground.

The piles at Toorak Road will be up to 20 metres deep and 2.1 metres in diameter. The locations of the piles were determined after geotechnical investigations were conducted in late 2018 and early 2019.

Once the piles have been bored, cranes will lift a steel cylindrical ‘cage’ into place to reinforce the pile, with each piling cage weighing between 9 tonnes and 12.5 tonnes. The hole is then reinforced with steel and concrete.

“This process creates secure foundations and ensures safety and stability of the rail bridge,” according to a Victorian government statement.

Resleepered track on WA's Leonora Branch Line. Photo: Brookfield Rail

Victoria’s $27 million sleeper replacement project underway

Sleeper replacement work has begun along the Shepparton line as part of the Victorian government’s more than $27 million sleeper replacement project.

A crew of 50 V/Line staff is working through the night in 10-night blocks to replace the first of 37,000 sleepers on the 83-kilometre section of track between Seymour and Shepparton.

“Crews are working through the night to get these essential sleeper replacements done while minimising disruptions to passengers,” minister for public transport Melissa Horne announced on Monday.

The government says the work is progressing quickly with workers now on the section of track between Murchison East and Toolamba.

Because of the major work, Shepparton trains will travel over the new sleepers at a slower speed to allow them to bed down.

“As a result, all services have an additional two minutes’ journey time during the works,” according to a government statement.

The major overhaul will reduce the need for future maintenance work, as well as improving the ride quality of the track, and ensuring safer and more reliable service for north east communities.

“We’ve invested more than $27 million on sleeper replacements along the rail corridor in the last 12-months as part of our plan to deliver more reliable services for locals,” member for Northern Victoria Jaclyn Symes said.

Vital maintenance complete on Victorian regional tracks

Vital maintenance is now complete on regional tracks in Victoria, Minister for Public Transport Melissa Horne announced yesterday.

More than 60 staff worked on the $3.4 million project, replacing old track and point machines with more reliable infrastructure.

“The track that was replaced at Southern Cross Station is one of the most used and most complex pieces of track on the regional network – which is why this maintenance work is so important,” said Horne.

Passenger trains began using the replaced two critical sections of track near Southern Cross Station on the morning of Friday 25 October, after extensive testing of the new infrastructure had been completed.

The tracks funnel regional trains to and from Southern Cross Station, forming a crucial part of the network.

“Replacing the aging track with new modern infrastructure will improve performance and reduce the risk of delays or disruptions due to track faults in the area.”

The new tracks were laid with the help of installing machines and safety systems, which control the movement of the tracks to direct trains to and from different platforms.

During the work, trains were not running on the Albury line so that staff could perform major maintenance on standard gauge trains. The Australian Rail Track Corporation also used the opportunity to expedite the removal of several temporary speed restrictions between Seymour and Albury.

Trains from all regional lines will now benefit, according to the government, as disruptions at Southern Cross Station often have flow on impacts to the entire network.

Drones watch over Victorian train network on Cup Day

Victoria has deployed two drones to monitor the more than 1000 extra train services running racegoers to and from the Melbourne Cup Carnival in Flemington.

Metro Trains Control Centre and security staff alongside Victoria Police will monitor the train network, which is operating at a higher frequency, via the drones. The intention is to be able to respond quickly if there is an infrastructure issue or security incident on the track, and therefore improve the reliability of trains.

“Using drone technology, we’ll be able to get the best possible views of the train network, which will carry around half of the 300,000 racegoers expected to flock to the Melbourne Cup Carnival,” announced the Minister for Public Transport Melissa Horne yesterday.

This is the first time Metro Trains will use its own drone technology, complementing the 9,000 CCTV cameras already in place across Melbourne, with 10 specially trained pilots working across the four race days.

“We’re always working with our public transport operators to use new technologies that allow us to react quickly to anything that may occur anywhere on the train network,” said Horne.

Metro Trains and Victoria Police are spending $100,000 to tighten security for the race. A new mobile CCTV trailer, complete with thermal night-time, will also be used along the Flemington Racecourse line.

It is intended to target vandals and trespassers on the tracks, following major train delays over the past two weeks caused by the theft of copper cables which forced morning commuters off trains and onto buses.

The trailer includes a six-metre mast carrying a zoomable camera, as well as a thermal imaging camera, providing clear vision at night or in areas with little or no light.

Both technologies will help reduce the impact of train and track faults across the network, getting trains and racegoers moving as quickly as possible.

Flinders Street to partially close for Metro Tunnel works

The eastbound lanes of Flinders Street, Melbourne will be closed to traffic between Elizabeth Street and Swanston Street for up to three years while works on the Metro Tunnel project are carried out. 

The closure will begin from September 2, and the Victorian Government has warned of significant disruption to traffic. Trams will continue to run through the area in both directions in an attempt to ease the ensuing congestion however, with the exception of October 27.

The closure will cut truck movements on Swanston Street in half to around 100 trucks a day during peak construction in late 2020, with the full footpath on Flinders Street scheduled to re-open to pedestrians in late 2020

“This is a significant closure, but we need to do it – it’s the only way to build this vital underground connection between Flinders Street and the Metro Tunnel station,” said Victorian Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan.

“We know how disruptive this major construction will be so we’re doing everything we can to minimise disruptions and impacts on local residents, businesses and people visiting the city.”

Access for pedestrians and vehicles will be kept for residents and local businesses, with loading bays in place to the east of Elizabeth Street for drop-offs and deliveries. A new footpath will be constructed for pedestrians to the west of Degraves Street so that pedestrians can cross to the south side of Flinders Street, maintaining access to the tram stop.

The $5 billion Metro Tunnel project reached a drilling milestone last week as roadheaders broke through to the site of the State Library Station 30 metres below the Swanston Street surface. It is one of five new underground stations that will be built for the nine-kilometre project by 2025.

Monash study finds preference for cars among new parents

A Monash University study surveying the transportation habits of  Melbourne commuters has revealed possible methods to increase public transport adoption amongst first-time parents.

Respondents who had become parents in the past year cited a lack of off-peak frequencies, dedicated caregiver station parking and suburban reach as issues preventing their increased use of public transport.

The study found that among the 758 new parents surveyed, many were increasingly turning to cars to support their needs, with the volume of people using public transport regularly dropping from 30 per cent of respondents in the year prior to becoming parents to just 14 per cent a year after the birth of their children.

In addition, the number of respondents who said they rarely or never used a car decreased from one-third to less than one per cent in the same timeframe.

“A number of studies have shown that households with children are more car-dependent than other households groups,” said Laura McCarthy, a PhD researcher from Monash University’s Public Transport Research Group.

“Our study identifies different groups of transport users. By doing this, we found that, while car use did increase for most groups, other groups displayed more sustainable travel patterns following parenthood.

Monash split its findings into five distinct transport categories: Transit Leavers, Consistent Drivers, Committed Multimodals, Transit Faithfuls and Devoted Cyclists.

The Devoted Cyclists group showed one of the biggest post-parenthood drops, from 46 per cent to just one per cent.

McCarthy suggested that modest changes could be made to better accommodate families with young children using public transport.

“Each of the five groups shared different characteristics and attitudes towards travel modes,” she said. “This suggests a one-size-fits-all policymaking approach may need to be abandoned in favour of a more nuanced consideration of the public transport needs of new parents.”

Melbourne Metro Train. Photo: Creative Commons / Zed Fitzhume

Train collides with two cars at Melbourne level crossing

A train has his two cars at a level crossing in Officer, southeast Melbourne. The cars were on the level crossing after one car rear-ended the other onto the tracks.

The boomgates then closed as the drivers got out of their cars to swap details. The vehicles were destroyed, with the train pushing one of the cars 150 metres up the track and the other being pushed aside into the boom gate.

Five people received non-life threatening injuries in the incident, including the driver and two child passengers of the less damaged car and an elderly driver and passenger of the other car. The 84 passengers and two staff on the train were unhurt, though the driver was understandably shaken by the incident.

“The train on approach has seen those cars, sounded its horn and applied emergency brakes,” Public Transport Victoria spokesperson Georgia Main told the Australian Associated Press yesterday.

“The train driver’s pretty shaken, but okay. One car is stuck under train. That’s going to take a little bit to clear.”

The crash led to delays for commuters as sections of the Pakenham line were suspended, with Metro Trains arranging for buses to transport passengers between Pakenham and Berwick. The Gippsland V/Line was also affected by the crash but both services eventually returned to service in the afternoon.