Rail construction works continue to schedule

The building and renewal of rail lines around Victoria is following its planned construction schedule, despite a pause on noise restrictions.

The Victorian government announced on Monday, April 6 that new planning rules will exempt essential businesses from existing noise restrictions.

The exemption allows 24-hour dispatch and delivery during the current State of Emergency and for three months after too. New South Wales and Western Australia have also lifted noise restrictions for construction and logistics operations.

Corey Hannett, director-general of the Victorian Major Transport Infrastructure Authority (MTIA) said the Melbourne Metro Tunnel and Level Crossing Removal works have processes in place to manage construction noise and minimise the inconvenience and impacts of construction on local communities.

“MTIA projects are currently considered essential and we are working with our building partners to deliver our critical infrastructure projects while implementing strict safety measures to protect our workforce and the community,” he said.

For all Victorian project works, the majority of the construction happens during the day, however some 24-hour works will be required. 

“We understand construction can be disruptive and noisy, especially during major works or at night – that’s why we work with residents to find the best solutions and minimise any impacts,” Hannett said.

Richard Wynne, Victorian Minister for Planning approved the new planning rules and said the measures are to support essential business outside normal business hours.

An Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) spokesperson said the North East Rail Line upgrade currently complies with all existing EPA noise regulations and will continue to comply.

“Our projects will not have a need to utilise this new exemption,” the ARTC spokesperson said.

“If we are required to undertake night works, we provide notification to impacted properties, which is our regulatory requirement.”

John Fullerton, ARTC CEO said in a recent interview that was broadcasted on Sky News that transport companies are moving as much as they can to boost the flow of essential goods and services.

“Rail is no different, we move around five million tonnes across the continent from the eastern seaboard to WA and a lot of our product involves groceries and the hardware that sits on those supermarket shelves,” he said on Sky News.

Fullerton said rail volumes are up approximately 13 per cent due to the unprecedented demand for goods.

“There is never a better time to invest in infrastructure,” Fullerton said.

“One thing coming from this pandemic is looking at major projects to offer economic stimulus.

“It’s a huge opportunity to improve the transport lengths particularly on the Eastern seaboard.”

New rail bridge in Melbourne almost completed

The Level Crossings Removal Project team has installed major L-beams that make up a new rail bridge, with 60 per cent of the bridge now complete.

The Toorak Road level crossing in Kooyong will be removed six months ahead of schedule by April this year.

Over the past few weeks, the team at the Toorak Road level crossing removal project have been installing 24 of the 40 L-beams that make up the new rail bridge.

The largest beams spanning Toorak Road are 31 metres long and weigh 128 tonnes.

The beams are lifted into place by two cranes weighing up to 550 tonnes and then stitched together to create the U-trough, which the trains will travel on.

Each beam is made in Kilmore, Victoria and delivered overnight 87km to Toorak Road.

Project director Steve Brown told the Herald Sun the rail bridge was taking shape at record pace.

“We’ve installed more than half of it in under a week, and the project is on track to be finished six months ahead of schedule,” he said to the Herald Sun.

Services on sections of the Glen Waverley line throughout March will not run and be replaced by buses, due to works at Toorak Road, Kooyong.

Following ongoing level crossing removals across Melbourne, Hurstbridge Station located in the city’s north-east has started construction on the $2.8 million project to upgrade commuter car parks.

Ace Infrastructure will build the government funded project which will include new and upgraded car park spaces along Graysharps Road west of Hurstbridge Station.

Other improvements coming up on the Hurstbridge line include a new station at Greensborough and the duplication of three kilometres of track between Greensborough and Eltham, and 1.5 kilometres between Diamond Creek and Wattle Glen.

Melburnians face a city- wide construction blitz this autumn, including major shutdowns of the Frankston and Upfield lines.

Concern over toxic soil to be dumped at a V/Line rail yard

$172.9 million V/Line stabling yard development could potentially be used as a temporary holding site for contaminated soil with possible carcinogens PFAS and asbestos.

The Wyndham Vale rail yard is set to be occupied by V/Line as a maintenance and storage space to replace the Footscray train stabling site which is being removed as part of the West Gate Tunnel works.

The $6.7 billion project requires 2.3 million tonnes of soil to be relocated offsite. The 82-hectare government-owned site in Melbourne’s west is being considered by officials following a meeting with Wyndham Council this week.

The Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) are raising concerns for the health and safety of rail workers if the soil was dumped next to the V/Line rail yard.

Luba Grigorovitch, Victorian Secretary of RTBU wrote in a letter to state Government officials on Monday that she is “deeply concerned” the toxic soil would pose a huge risk to workers and residents.

Grigorovitch told Rail Express that she is demanding confirmation from the government whether soil would contaminate the air conditioning systems of the Geelong-Melbourne trains, which run directly alongside the site.

The state secretary for the union said they’ve been inundated with calls from concerned V/line workers. 

“Our members don’t want to be operating alongside contaminated soil,” she said.

“This government seems to be infamous for passing the buck. We’ll be  undergoing full safety audits and testing before giving the ok for our members to be working at the site.”

The new facility is designed to meet interpeak stabling needs for V/Line trains operating on the regional rail network, while also ensuring there is capacity to house additional trains in the future.

The project will involve construction of a stabling yard, driver facilities and a bypass track connected to the Geelong line, which will allow trains to access the facility without delaying passenger services.

38 new VLocity carriages are arriving to the V/Line network early this year and there are concerns that there isn’t enough facilities for the growing network.

V/Line stated in 2018 that stabling capacity would be exceeded by March 2019.

The Age obtained an internal V/Line document under freedom of information laws, reporting that “the rail yard was needed to run a greater number of services on the network and to operate new trains reliably”.

According to the internal document, the lack of maintenance infrastructure will continue to impact on performance and shortages will impact V/Line’s reliability.

A government spokeswoman told the Hearld Sun that if Wyndham Vale was a temporary site it would not disrupt rail operations.

“Transurban and its builder are working with project parties to find a long-term solution to manage the rock and soil from tunnelling – no decision has been made,” she said.

Department of Transport spokeswoman said operations of the stabling facility will not be compromised.

“While a decision on where to temporarily hold soil from tunnelling for the West Gate Tunnel is yet to be made, the land in question is outside the Wyndham Vale stabling facility so if the site was ever used it would not impact the timing or operations of the new stabling facility,” she said to The Age.

The Wyndham Vale rail yard is metres away from proposed housing estates and four planned schools.

Treasurer Tim Pallas and member for Werribee said on air during a 3AW interview that it won’t be a long-term containment.

“Any suggestion that there is going to be long-term containment or toxic facility is just nonsense,” Mr Pallas told 3AW.

“What is proposed at Wyndham Vale is essentially a short-term place where it is isolated from the environment and if it is ever used – it may well not ever be used – it’s only if you can’t get access to the long-term facility.”

The stabling project is funded by the state government and is still under construction and set to open in the coming months.

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.”

Victorian Intermodal freight hub seeking a developer and operator

Development Victoria (DV) is seeking a developer and operator of the Ballarat intermodal freight hub terminal.

The Victorian Government is requesting expressions of interest to develop the intermodal freight hub on the Ballarat to Ararat railway line which is part of the Ballarat West Employment Zone (BWEZ).

Development Victoria said the BWEZ will allow freight and logistics enterprises to have exceptional access to road, rail, and aviation infrastructure. The freight network will link Melbourne, regional and rural Victoria, Adelaide and the ports of Melbourne, Geelong, and Portland.

It is proposed that the successful respondent will take on design and delivery risk, demand and operational cost risk, manage the commercial return based on these risks and the services provided.

Operational arrangements are likely to be effected through a lease agreement with VicTrack.

Federal government funding of $9.1 million was provided in the 2014 federal Budget for the development of the facility. Potential additional funding from the State via DV will be made available if required.

There is some flexibility around the physical configuration of the Facility to allow for rail siding (either linear or loop), and it is expected that the successful respondent will have operational access to the connected rail stub and associated signalling which will be delivered by the State up to the eastern boundary of the Facility connecting from the main-line.

The civil works for Stages 1 and 1B of BWEZ are complete with a large percentage of land having been sold. 

The head of Rail Freight Alliance has publicly said Victoria will only benefit from the proposed intermodal freight hub once the Murray Basin Rail Project is complete.

The Murray Basin Rail Project (MBRP) is improving key freight centres in Victoria and encouraging competition and private investment in the rail freight network.

MBRP stated that an increased axle loading will allow higher volumes of product to be safely freighted across the network, allowing trains to carry up to 500,000 more tonnes of grain each year.

The first stage was completed in 2016 and freight trains have returned to the Mildura line and to the reopened Maryborough to Ararat line. V/Line crews are working to finalise and bed in the track to complete stage 2 of 3 for the project.

Catherine King, federal member of Ballarat and shadow minister infrastructure, transport and regional development said the BWEZ facility is located alongside existing road and rail infrastructure, enabling the freight hub to connect with more locations.

“A truck will be able to come in straight off the Western Highway and either head in to a manufacturer or connect up with the rail line and deliver products further afield,” she said.

“The prospect of future infrastructure upgrades to the adjoining Ballarat Airport site will open up even more opportunities across the Ballarat region, but this will only come with support from governments at a state and federal level.”

Respondant registration closes on March 3 and EOI submission must be made by March 13, closing at 3pm.

New rail bridge and station opens part of $3bn investment

Trains are now running over a new rail bridge in Carrum, located in south-east Melbourne.

Carrum station opened on Monday morning following a two-week construction blitz, including laying track and ballast and installing traffic signalling.

Level crossings at Mascot Avenue, Bonbeach, Station Street, and Eel Race Road were removed as part of the project, making the new station boom-gate free.

The new rail bridge now connects to the existing Frankston line. The Victorian Government has invested $3 billion to upgrade the Frankston line on the Metro trains network, including the removal of 18 level crossings and building 12 new stations.

Sonya Kilkenny,  Member for Carrum, said the “dreaded ding” of boom gates will no longer effect the community, making it safer and quieter.

Construction is still continuing on Carrum station. Current access to the new station is through The Station Street level crossing. The main entrance at McLeod Road is set to open later this year.

Carrum station, located in the bayside suburb, has been designed to accommodate coastal weather conditions, with weather protection pods, shelter canopies on the platform and wind screens in entrances.

The station will create a town square at its main entrance, a garden at the southern entrance, and a new foreshore park and beach promenade linking Carrum to the bay.

Jacinta Allan, Victorian minister for Transport infrastructure, said 34 crossings have been removed and 26 new stations have opened part of the level crossing removal project.

“It’s great to see the new Carrum Station bustling with passengers right on schedule,” Allan said.

“We’re not wasting a minute delivering the road and rail projects our city and state needs.”

Suburban Rail Loop starts next phase at Box Hill

The Victorian Government is carrying out geotechnical work on the Suburban Rail Loop project, signalling the start of extensive ground works. 

The geotechnical work encompasses borehole drilling to depths of between 30-60 metres at the Box Hill site, with samples to be analysed over the next fortnight for soil and rock composition and stability. The work is intended to identify suitable locations for the underground stations.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan were in attendance at Box Hill to announce the next phase of the project as it moves towards its anticipated 2022 construction start date.

“We said we’d get the Suburban Rail Loop started and that’s what we’re doing – with geotechnical work now underway in Box Hill,” Andrews said.

The $50 billion Suburban Rail Loop, part of Victoria’s Big Build program, is intended to connect Melbourne’s middle suburbs through an underground 90-kilometre rail link running from the Frankston line to the Werribee line via Melbourne Airport. 

The project, which is planned to incorporate several new stations looping from the southeast to the northwest of the city, may not be fully completed until the 2050s. Andrews stated that the project would change the way people move around Melbourne, “slashing travel times and better connecting people with jobs, education and other vital services, wherever they live”.

The expensive project received a funding blow following Labor’s defeat at the federal election in May. Former Labor leader Bill Shorten promised $10 billion for the project in the event of winning the election, including $300 million in matched funding with the Victorian Government, but this failed to transpire due to his loss to Liberal leader Scott Morrison.

Busy Glenroy level crossing in Melbourne faces removal

Glenroy Road’s level crossing is now set for removal, becoming the second crossing to be removed on Melbourne’s Craigieburn line as part of the Victorian Government’s Level Crossings Removal Project (LCRP).

The rail line will be lowered below Glenroy Road to accommodate the removal. The government stated that this method would be the most feasible design option as it avoided significant levels of compulsory property acquisition while also suiting the topography of the area. A new station will also be built as part of the works, which are set to conclude in 2022.

The government stated that Glenroy Road was one of North Melbourne’s most congested roads, with around 19,000 vehicles passing the level crossing each day.

“We are now undertaking further technical investigations. Later this year, we will be back out with more information and locals will have the opportunity to provide feedback on the project,” VicGov said in a statement.

“The boom gates at this level crossing can be down for up to 43 per cent of the morning peak, causing congestion for up to a kilometre along Glenroy Road. Delays will worsen as more trains and cars travel through Glenroy in the future.”

Acting Premier Lisa Neville, acting Minister for Transport Infrastructure Melissa Horne and Member for Pascoe Vale Lizzie Blandthorn convened at Glenroy Station to aonnounce the project

“This dangerous and congested level crossing holds up thousands at Glenroy Road each day – it’s got to go,” Neville said.

“This will make a real difference for people in Glenroy, making it quicker, easier and safer to get around.”

The LCRP has so far removed 29 of a planned 75 dangerous and congested level crossings in Melbourne, with the remainder set for removal by 2025.

Melbourne to axe three more level crossings by 2022

Three level crossings on the Werribee line in Melbourne are to get the chop as part of the Victorian Government’s ongoing Level Crossing Removal Project.

The crossings will be removed at Cherry Street, Werribee Street and Old Geelong Road in Hoppers Crossing by 2022. The means by which the crossings will be removed was eventually narrowed down to one of two options, with the government expressing a preference for each crossing.

The preferred design for the Cherry Street crossing is a road bridge running over the rail line at Tarneit Road, with ‘Design B’ comprising an underpass at Cherry Street.

The road bridge was cited as the preferred option as it would allow the project to use the irrigation channel reserve adjacent to Wyndham City Council officers to provide a direct connection from Princes Highway to Railway Avenue and Tarneit Road.

The alternate design would involve digging a 4.6-metre trench to lower Cherry Street while the rail tracks retained their present level.

A rail bridge is the preferred option for the Werribee Street crossing, with a new road bridge at Bulban Road as backup. The rail bridge was chosen as the preferred option as it would incorporate improvements at Wyndham Park, and open up space below the rail line.

For Old Geelong Road, the preferred option is a new road bridge connecting Old Geelong Road to the Princes Highway, with a road bridge at the current crossing as the ‘B’ design 

Two community drop-in sessions will be held around Werribee and Hoppers Crossing to prompt further discussion around the project and allow the public to get involved on Saturday July 13 from 10am12:30pm and Tuesday July 16 from 5pm7:30pm.

Tunnel boring machine construction begins for Metro Tunnel in Victoria

The first piece of a massive tunnel boring machine (TBM) has been assembled in North Melbourne in preparation for drilling works on the Metro Tunnel project.

The delivery of the machines component coincides with the one-year anniversary of ground being broken at the site. Three pieces of the TBM have been lowered into the station box in the last week, with crews working to finish the machine as soon as possible.

The TBM, nicknamed ‘Joan’ after Victoria’s first Premier Joan Kirner, will excavate over 100,000 cubic metres of rock and soil once launched. The boring project is part of the winter “suburban transport blitz” announced by the Victorian Government last month.

The construction marks the first TBMs planned for development on the Metro Tunnel project.

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews and Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan visited the project site today, where they discussed more details of the blitz.

“Crews are working around the clock to put these massive machines together, which will dig the Metro Tunnel,  untangle the city loop, and deliver more trains more often across Melbourne,” Premier Andrews said.

“It’s part of our massive Suburban Transport Blitz – which is creating thousands of jobs and building the road and rail projects we need to get you where you need to go.”

Buses will replace trains on the Pakenham, Cranbourne and Frankston lines between Flinders Street and Caulfield from July 614 whie the works take place.

Coaches will also replace trains between Wendouree and Southern Cross on the Ballarat line from June 24-July 7.

Minister Allan thanked commuters for their patience while the works were carried out.

“Soon these massive tunnel boring machines will be digging underneath our city to run more trains more often,” she said.