Tier 3 grain lines assessment to evaluate cost, time to re-open

The Western Australian government has committed to an engineering assessment of unused Tier 3 grain lines in the state.

The assessment will determine the cost and time of bringing the mothballed freight lines back up to scratch.

The lines, which stretch over 500km, are managed by rail network operator Arc Infrastructure but were put into care and maintenance by the WA government in 2014. An Arc Infrastructure spokesperson said that it would facilitate the assessment.

“Arc Infrastructure understands the Public Transport Authority (PTA) has engaged a third party to conduct an engineering assessment on the Tier 3 lines. Arc is facilitating the assessment as required, by providing access to the network and some baseline data, however it is being completed independent to Arc.”

Grain handler CBH Group, whose grain freight trains, operated by Watco, take its grain to port, has also supported getting grain onto rail.

“CBH’s long-standing policy is that it supports grain on rail where it is economically viable to do so,” said CBH Group chief operations officer Ben Macnamara.

In 2014, the ABC estimated that it would cost $120 million to return the lines to operating conditions.

Following the closure, CBH Group and Arc Infrastructure entered into an arbitration process over access to the rail network. That process was completed in 2019, and the final agreement decided not to reopen the Tier 3 lines due to the deterioration in quality.

The WA government is close to completion of the Revitalising Agricultural Regional Freight Strategy (RARF) and is currently considering submissions. The draft strategy recommended improving the rail network in all regions, however noted that the re-opening of the Tier 3 lines is not part of the strategy.

The Arc Infrastructure spokesperson said that it was working with CBH on initiatives proposed in the RARF.

“We will continue to support the planning and design on any of the high priority RARF initiatives that will increase volume of grain being moved on rail for the benefit of WA growers.”

CBH’s Macnamara also looked forward to improving the rail network.

“The grain rail freight network is a significant part of the WA grain industry supply chain and CBH has welcomed the State Government’s development of the Revitalising Agricultural Region Freight Strategy,” he said.

“We look forward to continuing working with the government and industry on this important initiative.”

WA trains begin to return to normal timetable

Western Australia will begin to bring back public transport services that were reduced because of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Services were scaled back on March 31 as passenger numbers dropped while people stayed at home and self isolated, however with school students returning to face-to-face classes, the WA government has brought forward regular timetabling.

“With students returning to school from April 29, we will see an increase in transport activity across our community,” said WA Transport Minister, Rita Saffioti.

“While initially we prepared a staged and scaled return to normal services, it is now our view to have services running to a normal schedule as soon as possible,” she said.

“In particular, feedback from parents, and from schools directly, has been that we bring the school services back from the first day.”

While it had already been announced that bus services would pick back up when school resumed, the latest announcement confirms that trains will begin to return to regular timetables on Monday, May 4. Until then, trains will follow the current timetabling – a Saturday in place of the Monday to Friday timetable, and no after-midnight train services on Friday and Saturday nights.

“Working with the contractors, unions and the PTA, we are now bringing forward the return of normal public transport services,” said Saffioti.

The WA government has advised passengers to continue following COVID-19 hygiene practices and additional cleaning will continue. WA was one of a few states to reduce train services. In NSW and Victoria, services continued to their regular timetable to allow passenger to practice social distancing, while in Queensland cuts were only made to long-distance and tourist train services.

TBM Sandy breaks through at Bayswater

Tunnelling is complete on the Forrestfield-Airport Link, part of the Metronet project in Western Australia.

On April 20, tunnel boring machine Sandy broke through at the Bayswater dive structure. WA Premier Mark McGowan said that the completion of tunnelling is a “major milestone” for WA.

“While Western Australia has been grappling with COVID-19, TBM Sandy and the project team have been continuing to work on this incredible project for Perth.”

The breakthrough ended 900 days of tunnelling under Perth Airport and the Swan River, creating 16 kilometres of tunnels, two twin 8km tunnels.

Now that tunnelling is finished, track will start to be laid from July 2020. The track slab is half installed while construction and fit out of the station buildings continues.

“In times like these it’s important we continue to progress projects that will provide work for local businesses and keep workers in their jobs, ultimately supporting the State’s wider economy,” said McGowan.

The tunnels, made with 9,000 tunnel rings comprising 54,000 locally made concrete segments, link three stations, Forrestfield, Airport Central, and Redcliffe to the wider rail network.

WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti thanked those who have worked on the project so far.

“In July 2017, Premier Mark McGowan and I were at the Forrestfield Station site to mark the start of tunnelling on the Forrestfield-Airport Link,” she said.

“Thank you to the tunnelling team and other workers who delivered TBM Sandy to her destination and helped achieved this major milestone.”

The $1.86bn Forrestfield-Airport Link provides over 700 jobs in Western Australia, and is one of six Metronet projects underway in 2020.

The tunnelling for the Forrestfield-Airport Link was conducted by a joint venture of Salini Impregilo and NRW Civil and Mining which won the design and construct contract, along with a 10 year maintenance contract, in April 2016.

Contractor announced for Bayswater Station construction

The preferred proponent for the construction of the Bayswater Station is Evolve Bayswater Alliance, Coleman Rail.

The $253 million contract, awarded by the Western Australia government as part of the Metronet project, covers the building of the station, precinct works, new platforms, and rail infrastructure. The Bayswater station serves as a crucial linking point between the Midland Line to the future Forrestfield-Airport Link and the Morley-Ellenbrook Line.

Once construction is complete on these new lines, more trains will run more often between Bayswater and Claremont, driving greater use of public transport in Perth, said WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti.

“Bayswater is on track to becoming one of Perth’s best connected communities, with access to three rail lines and many bus services,” she said.

A rail turnback for Forrestfield-Airport Link operations will also be built.

“In times like these it’s important we continue to progress the projects that will provide work for local businesses and keep workers in their jobs. This will ultimately support the State’s wider economy,” said Saffioti.

The contract will involve staged construction of the two island platforms. The first will be constructed while the current line and station are still being used. When complete, trains will begin using this new platform while the old station is removed and a new platform is built for the Morley-Ellenbrook Line.

“Building this project, combined with construction of other nearby major projects like the Tonkin Gap and Morley-Ellenbrook Line, will help support the WA economy through some tough times ahead,” said Saffioti.

Utility and environmental works have already begun at Bayswater Station, as have improvements to Meltham and Ashfield stations, and the future station will improve the surrounding community, said Maylands MLA, Lisa Baker.

“Bayswater Station is more than just a public transport project – the wider Bayswater community will also benefit with new public spaces and more pedestrian-friendly streets around the station,” she said.

BHP keeps rail services moving

BHP’s rail workforce are changing the way they work to respond to the coronavirus (COVID-19) and ensure that the network continues to operate.

As a number of train drivers are based interstate and overseas, some have opted to stay in the Pilbara. Those who have relocated to Western Australia are undergoing 14 days of self-isolation before they return to work.

Additionally, rail operations staff including supervisors, coordinators, trainers and other team members are helping out in roles they may not normally fill to ensure the trains keep running. Overall, however, most of BHP’s rail operations team live in WA.

“With the current challenge in front of us, the team are doing whatever it takes to help each other out and keep our trains moving,” said rail operations manager Steve Campbell.

“The Rail drivers here at BHP are some of the best in the world.  They are proud of what they do and who they represent.  I am so proud of the entire rail team who have all been up to the challenge, keeping our trains moving, helping to keep the country moving – to me, that’s big!”

BHP operates two main railways in WA to support its iron ore mining in the Pilbara region. The rail lines travel from Newman to Nelson Point and Yarrie to Finucane Island, both of which are located in the Port Hedland harbour. The 634 kilometres of rail line are supported by a number of spurs, loops, and marshalling yards.

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.”

Metronet to unlock development precincts

The Metronet project in Perth will drive transport-oriented development, with project areas declared around the Bayswater and Forrestfield stations.

The project areas will allow for redevelopment and the construction of town-centres integrated with new train stations.

The two sites, as well as the Midland area, form the Metronet East projects, which through a redevelopment scheme will guide future development.

The Metronet East Redevelopment Scheme will be delivered by DevelopmentWA and is forecasted to be in effect by late 2020.

WA Planning and Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said that transport projects have the ability to extend beyond mobility.

“Metronet is creating more than just new train stations – it’s also creating well-connected, accessible community hubs which will service the needs of locals and visitors,” she said.

“We recognise certain station precincts have the potential to become major activity centres – we are putting the necessary planning frameworks in place to unlock that potential and encourage investment in new housing, services and jobs.”

The designation of these areas as project areas is hoped to ensure that transport upgrades lead to successful integration of businesses and residents in the surrounding areas.

“By bringing the Bayswater and Forrestfield station projects under Metronet East, we will attract much needed private investment to help transform these centres into authentic places where people want to live, work and visit,” said Saffioti.

WA transport minister defends railcar manufacturing in Bellevue

Liza Harvey, leader of the opposition in Western Australia, has labelled railcar manufacturing as a practise from a bygone era.

In a speech to the state’s business community at the Business News Politics Breakfast on Wednesday morning, Harvey said “we don’t know the total cost to the state of the McGowan Government rail car experiment” and claimed that railcar manufacturing should not be a focus for WA.

“What we will not do is heavily subsidise industries where the State has no comparative advantage, nor bring back industries from a bygone era,” Harvey said in her speech.

Harvey said the opposition has been trying to scrutinise the decision by the McGowan Labor government to determine if this decision delivers value for money for the taxpayer of Western Australia given that this is a $1.3 billion investment.

WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said that building railcars in WA was cheaper than other options.

“The cost of WA-made railcars is cheaper than the cost of the previous procurement of B-Series from Queensland that was ordered when she was Deputy Premier,” Saffioti said.

“The cost per railcar under the last order of B-Series trains was $4.05 million, while the cost under the new C-Series contract is around $2.97 million.”

The spokesperson from the office of Liza Harvey said Saffioti has refused on many occasions to provide any transparency regarding this contract.

“The Minister has refused to provide any breakdown regarding the various cost elements of the contract such as the cost of maintenance,” she said.

“The Minister has refused to table the contract or provide a business case.

“The Leader of the Opposition indicated that a future Liberal Government would not be subsidising uncompetitive industries however, we will not do what the current Government does and create sovereign risk by ripping up contracts,” Harvey said.

Saffioti denied Harvey’s claims including a comment that WA’s facility was going to “fit out trains from Victoria”.

“Victoria builds its own trains – as do many modern economies around the world. WA will also be building its own trains,” she said.

Saffioti said train manufacturing involves modern skills that are easily transferable to other industries.

“The Opposition Leader’s embarrassing attack on WA workers shows the Liberal Party hasn’t moved on from their fundamental opposition to rail and local jobs,” she said.

“Our vision for WA is to build a modern train manufacturing and maintenance hub, that not only builds and maintains our public transport trains, but creates further opportunities for the freight, agricultural and mining industries.”

Saffioti said these industries are major users of rail and rolling stock, and the railcar contract provides growth opportunities throughout the state.

“The question for Ms Harvey is: If Western Australia should not build our 246 C-series railcars, and six Australind railcars, then who should?”

Metronet Airport Central Station now 70 per cent completed

The construction of Metronet’s Airport Central Station in Perth is 70 per cent complete with the first roof modules installed last week.

The first girders of Airport Central Station’s 137-tonne steel roof structure have been craned into place, with the steel fabricated locally by Naval Base company Pacific Industrial Co.

The $1.86 billion Forrestfield-Airport Link is jointly funded by the Australian and Western Australian governments and will deliver a new rail service to the eastern suburbs of Perth – with three new stations at Redcliffe, Airport Central and Forrestfield.

Rita Saffioti, WA Transport Minister said that, until now, the construction of Airport Central Station has been largely underground with significant excavation undertaken to build the three-level railway hub.

The roof modules will be craned into place over a three-month period, before specially designed sheeting is installed.

“While most works to date have been largely hidden, construction of this massive roof structure marks a new phase in above-ground construction for this project – an architectural milestone,” Saffioti said.

The roof installation comes as TBM Grace, the first tunnel-boring machine, finishes its work, having broken through into the Bayswater Station dive structure on February 18.

TBM Sandy is expected to break through towards the middle of the year to complete the project, and by end of their three-year journey, the machines will have travelled eight kilometres each.

At Skybridge level, the steel frame for the link between the station entry and the 280-metre-long elevated walkway has been constructed with travelators and information screens installed.

WA Premier, Mark McGowan, said about 2,000 jobs have been created on this project alone, with more than 700 people currently employed, and 70 jobs created as part of the Skybridge project.

“The Forrestfield-Airport Link is an important part of Metronet and when it opens next year it will provide an accessible public transport link for thousands of Western Australians and tourists,” McGowan said.

Breakthrough on longest rail tunnel in WA

After two and a half years, the Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) called Grace has reached the end of its eight-kilometre tunneling journey in Perth.

TBM Grace has broken through at Bayswater dive station, part of the Metronet’S Forrestfield-Airport Link project in Western Australia.

Two tunnels will house the $1.86 billion project’s rail lines and TBM Grace has now built the first tunnel from Forrestfield to Bayswater.

WA Premier Mark McGowan said this is a historic milestone for the state and a major engineering feat that hasn’t been seen before in WA. 

“Where once there was dirt, sand, rocks and tree roots, now sits the foundation for our new railway,” McGowan said.

Through her journey it has tunnelled underneath Perth Airport, Redcliffe Station and the Swan River, before reaching her final destination at Bayswater.

Walls of the twin tunnel were installed by TBM Grace using half of the 54,000 locally fabricated concrete segments.

Grace is the first TMB and will be dismantled and craned out of the dive structure in preparation for the arrival of TBM Sandy, who is a safe distance behind Grace.

WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said the arrival of TBM Sandy in coming months will mark the completion of tunnelling.

“With the end of tunnelling in sight, work is continuing on important infrastructure components such as station construction and fit out and readying the tunnels for track laying,” Saffioti said.

“The precision engineering it has taken for this machine to tunnel eight kilometres, through varying and sometimes challenging soil types, to break through in exactly the right spot is truly remarkable.”

Tunnelling work is due to be completed in May.

Metronet is the biggest public transport project Perth has seen and trains are set to run on the new rail line in the second half of next year.

The rail link between eastern foothills, Perth Airport, and the CBD is expected to be a 20 minute trip.