Back to All News

Estimates: speed restrictions on Albury Rail

Estimates & Committees
Janet Rice 6 Mar 2017

Senator RICE: I want to go to the bigger question. We have the example of the Western Distributor. I will follow on from that but more in a general sense of the issues of transparency and accountability in terms of making good transport decisions. Do you agree that it is a problem for your work and for the Australian public if we do not have that transparency and access to the information about aspects of major transport projects?

Mr Davies : We encourage full transparency. That is certainly something we addressed in our 15-year plan, which we published last February. We think there is a contingency that could be placed on funding to have transparency around business cases. We certainly do that with our work, where we publish these initiative briefs and project briefs on what is on the priority list. We think it is an important way of communicating not only with the community but also with the supply chain so that people can see what is ahead.

Photo of MPSenator RICE: So how about where we have other—the state agencies or other projects that are not as forthcoming, particularly in relation to business cases that are not available to the public, whether it is the Perth Freight Link or critical information in other major projects? For the Western Distributor, in theory we have the business case, but all of the economic modelling and all of the transport modelling have been redacted from it. So the critical information that the community needs is not available to them in terms of looking at whether the projects add up. How can Infrastructure Australia work with that? What recommendations do you have for state governments in terms of whether that information should be available?

Mr Davies : This is probably a three-part answer. We need that level of detail in order to complete our work and do our due diligence.

Photo of MPSenator RICE: So it is a problem for you if it is not available to you?

Mr Davies : Often that—we require that information to do our job. Over and above that, it is really up to the state governments how much they want to make that information available. Often there is commercial information that goes with these business cases, particularly where they are negotiating or going out to contract with the private sector. So clearly there is a need to keep that commercial in confidence.

Photo of MPSenator RICE: Do you see that as a problem in terms of your desire to have transparency and accountability? It seems there is always—given that most of these transport projects that we are seeing seem to be public-private partnerships in some way, that just means that there is no transparency, yet we are meant to be in an environment where we are valuing transparency and accountability. I cannot see how the two add up and I cannot see how your work then can be effective in terms of the community having confidence that the projects add up if the critical information is not available to us.

Mr Davies : We support transparency ourselves, Senator. There is evidence of that in terms of the Infrastructure Priority List. We certainly encourage transparency, but that is a matter for the proponents of projects. Depending on the stage of the development of the project they are up to, they might be going through a commercial negotiation, so clearly they need to protect that.

Photo of MPSenator RICE: Do you think it should be a condition of Commonwealth funding that the critical information is released? Infrastructure Australia has a significant role in determining the projects that are being implemented in Australia and providing advice to government as to which projects should be funded. Does Infrastructure Australia—given that you have that priority on transparency and accountability, do you think it should be a condition of Commonwealth funding that that transparency is there?

Mr Davies : In terms of the 15-year plan that we published last February, one of the recommendations in there is around putting conditions on Commonwealth funding. One of those conditions may well be the publication or publishing of business cases. Another recommendation might be around undertaking post-completion reviews to look at the project once it is implemented and check whether the benefits and the broader outcomes were achieved—those kinds of conditions.

Photo of MPSenator RICE: Infrastructure Australia has put those as options to government?

Mr Davies : Yes, Senator.

Photo of MPSenator RICE: Is that as far as you are willing to go? Is it options or would it be a recommendation to government that that should be the case?

Mr Davies : That is certainly a recommendation of ours.

Photo of MPSenator RICE: That that transparency should be in place?

Mr Davies : Yes.

Photo of MPSenator RICE: Thank you. Is Infrastructure Australia going to be engaging in publishing post-implementation reviews? Is that part of your role?

Mr Davies : Once again, I think that is something that should be routinely undertaken by those delivering projects. Our recommendation is that funding, once again, should be contingent on those being undertaken and published as well. We would be happy to support the process of defining what those reviews should look like and giving advice around that, but those should be routinely undertaken on all projects.

Photo of MPSenator RICE: Are they currently being undertaken at all?

Mr Davies : On some projects, yes, but it is not across the board.

Photo of MPSenator RICE: Moving on to your Infrastructure Priority List that you just released, we have a list of high-priority projects, priority projects, high-priority initiatives and priority initiatives. Can you walk us through what the criteria are to be in each of those categories?

Mr Parkinson : Yes. As you have noted, there are two different categories of projects. There are full projects which have business cases and there are initiatives, which are potentially good ideas to address nationally significant problems but for which we do not yet have a business case. So there are two stratifications there. In the project list and in the initiative list we separate high priority and standard priority on the basis of the magnitude of the problem or opportunity which is addressed by the project.

Photo of MPSenator RICE: So, in terms of the high priority and priority, the high priority are ones that you have a business case for and it has been assessed?

Mr Parkinson : Is that for projects?

Photo of MPSenator RICE: Yes.

Mr Parkinson : They have a business case and they are assessed. For high priority, they address a particularly large, nationally significant problem or opportunity. Standard priority are the regular problems or opportunities in the project or initiative categories.

Photo of MPSenator RICE: What is the difference between the priority projects and the high-priority initiatives?

Mr Parkinson : A priority project has a full business case which has been evaluated by Infrastructure Australia and that evaluation has been published. An initiative is a potential good idea to address a problem, but it has not yet been developed into a full business case or been assessed.

Photo of MPSenator RICE: Given that it has not had a full business case or been assessed, how does it make it onto a high-priority initiatives list? You know from your audit that you have a problem. How do you know that that initiative is a good solution to that problem?

Mr Parkinson : You are quite correct—we use the audit as an evidence base for understanding the problem and in a lot of cases the magnitude of the problem. The initiative process is really about identifying that problem and recognising it for being nationally significant and, in the case of high-priority initiatives, recognising that it addresses a particularly challenging problem.

Photo of MPSenator RICE: You do not have any assessment as to whether the initiative that is being proposed is an appropriate solution to that problem?

Mr Parkinson : The assessment is more focused on the quantification of the problem or opportunity, but it considers whether the proposal, in the shape that it is presented in, is appropriate. You will see that, for a number of them, they are very high level and they really focus on the problem that is there. For some of them, they name a specific potential solution, which is indicating that there has been more evidence provided. That has been assessed and we consider that that particular proposal warrants the development of a business case.

Photo of MPSenator RICE: You are saying that it has been assessed. If you have a problem—if you have urban congestion being your problem in a particular corridor, there are many different ways of solving that problem. If you then have a road project that is proposed as a solution to that problem, what are the criteria then for saying that is an appropriate solution and it is appropriate enough to go on your initiatives list? Is there any assessment of the validity of that solution before it makes it onto your list?

Mr Parkinson : Yes, we do assess initiatives. Obviously, we do not have the benefit of a full business case, so, as I said, we are really focusing on understanding the problem and whether the proposed idea is shaping up to address that problem. But you will see that, in a number of cases, we specifically stay mode neutral until further work is done. Where there is further work done then we indicate what is likely to address that.

Mr Davies : I think that is a really important question. In terms of the business case development, as Mr Parkinson said, in those initiatives, particularly for transport projects, we are attempting to be mode neutral. As part of the business case development, we are looking to see a full range of options developed.

Photo of MPSenator RICE: But, looking at your initiatives list now, none of them are mode neutral. They are all specific. The proposed initiative is either—they are particular projects, or the vast majority of them are. We have the Sydney metro bus rapid transit, so there are some public transport ones. There is the Cross River Rail. There is Perth CBD—that is capacity and that is mode neutral. But most of them are for particular modes. There is the Newell Highway upgrade, various highway upgrades—

CHAIR: I think the panel of officials—you have made a statement. Are you asking them to comment on it?

Photo of MPSenator RICE: They are saying that the vast majority of those initiatives are mode neutral. That does not actually seem to me to be the case.

CHAIR: All right—challenge them on your specific cases.

Photo of MPSenator RICE: We have Ipswich Motorway—the remaining sections; a road connection between West Gate Freeway and the Port of Melbourne and CBD north; improving the connection between the Eastern Freeway and CityLink. They are all—they are not mode neutral.

Mr Parkinson : As we consider the initiatives, we look at the specific problem as presented. Take the Ipswich Motorway initiative that you have just mentioned. We take account of the traffic flows on that motorway, the freight volumes on that motorway and what purpose that motorway serves. We recognise that there is a constraint there in that particular section of the motorway which would be most appropriately addressed by that motorway being enhanced and aligned with the rest of the motorway.

Photo of MPSenator RICE: But there is not a business case for that as yet?

Mr Parkinson : As it happens, we have a business case for a specific part of that, but we do not have a business case for the whole part of that proposal.

Photo of MPSenator RICE: The point I am getting to is that they gain status by being on your priority initiatives list. Often it is on the basis that somebody has proposed it as a solution. But there has not been an assessment as to whether it is an appropriate solution to the problem that it is addressing.

Mr Parkinson : That is part of our assessment. Our assessment focuses on the problem and on the appropriate solution at a high level. You will see that, in some of them, it is mode neutral. For some of them—the other ones you mentioned; the Newell Highway upgrade or Sydney metro, for example—they are addressing specific modal problems.

Photo of MPSenator RICE: Looking at the projects now that are in your high-priority and priority projects and the balance between those, we have 18 projects altogether, only one of which is a public transport project. There are three freight rail projects. Looking at the ones that are dealing with urban congestion, do you think that balance, if you take the freight rail out, of only one in 18 of those priority or high-priority projects being a public transport project is an appropriate balance for the transformation of our cities that is required for sustainable, resilient cities and increasingly high-density cities?

Mr Davies : These projects that are on the list are the ones that have come to us in the most recent past. The priority for advancing those is really with the state and territory governments. Also, those projects are being delivered as part of a broader transport strategy in their respective jurisdictions. So they are not the whole answer; they are only a part of the transport system solution. In terms of looking at the balance, it is really representing what is coming to us. It is hard to just look at those 18 in isolation from the other investment that each state and territory is making.

Photo of MPSenator RICE: If you are only making recommendations about the projects that come to you, it goes to the very heart of how much influence Infrastructure Australia can have in implementing a national plan. If you look back at your plan, there are all sorts of things that you say in the plan about the need to have better public transport and that we need to rethink our economic infrastructure to deliver networks and services which will enhance the liveability and productivity of our cities and regions and support a transition to a more sustainable and resilient economy. My understanding of the overwhelming transport evidence is that, in our Australian cities, that means we need public transport to be playing more of a role than it has in the past. That would mean that you should really be giving a priority to those public transport projects. But even just an equal balance, given the role that public transport needs to play in our cities, would seem to me to be appropriate. But, of the projects that are being delivered to you, only one in 18 of those is on your priority project list. That is not going to be delivering that balance.

CHAIR: That is a long statement. I might be able to truncate it. Is it even a part of your brief to stand this far back from these projects to ensure tests of national interest and connectivity and so on or are you assessing them on a case-by-case basis as they are presented to you by the proponents?

Mr Davies : The former, Senator. We are very much looking at how these projects fit as part of a system. Often we are presented with piecemeal projects that are fixing a very specific problem. Our focus is very much on how do these projects fit in to the transport system, how does this road help with connectivity for moving people around on buses and how does it help for people who are cycling and walking. We are looking at the bigger picture. That often is a big part of the line of questioning that we are bringing to our due diligence in terms of how this is fitting into a system.

Photo of MPSenator RICE: Given that, are you satisfied that, of your list of high-priority and priority projects, only one out of the 18 of them is a public transport project?

Mr Davies : But many of the roads also have buses running on them and that is very much part of—

Photo of MPSenator RICE: I have had this discussion with Mr Mrdak at previous estimates and I think I have provided the evidence that almost all of those projects do not have buses running on them. These new tollways and motorways that are being proposed are not providing bus connectivity. In terms of that balance, if you look at those projects, we have only one out of the 18 that is a public transport project. Is that an appropriate balance, do you think, in terms of implementing Infrastructure Australia's plan?

Mr Davies : In terms of the broader list of initiatives and other business cases we are getting, we have—

Photo of MPSenator RICE: But they are not up there in terms of projects.

Mr Davies : I am pleased to say that, of the other nine business cases we are currently reviewing, we have Sydney metro, Northern Beaches bus rapid transport and Cross River Rail just to name a few. There is more focus on public transport coming. The sequence we get these business cases in is outside of our control, but rest assured that our assessment is very much looking at the bigger picture and looking at how these projects, particularly transport projects, fit into our overall transport system. It is important that we think about the transport system, not just the project.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Proceedings suspended from 11 : 03 to 11 : 25

Australian Rail Track Corporation Ltd

CHAIR: Welcome.

Photo of MPSenator RICE: Good morning. It is nice to see you again, Mr Fullerton. It will be no surprise that I want to continue to follow up the questions and discussions we have had at previous estimates about the Albury rail line. Can you start with how the Albury rail service and the condition of the track to Albury is currently going?

Mr Fullerton : I might start with the Ballast Rehabilitation Program because that is a program you will be familiar with. We started that work in I think December 2011. It is a five-year program. It concluded about 12 months ago. The whole purpose—it was a $134 million program to bring the track up to a standard consistent with the rest of the network. That program delivered the right results that we expected and the track does perform now at a standard that is equivalent with the rest of the network. In terms of the ongoing maintenance of the track, that is part of our ongoing maintenance budget. It is fair to say that we had some additional speed restrictions that got put into place after the winter on that section of track in addition to the track between Stockinbingal and Parkes because of the heavy winter conditions. Nonetheless, it is still performing at a level far better than it did two or three years ago at the worst of the track condition. We are confident we have the track to a level that is a good condition and it is meeting all of our KPIs, both in terms of our lease obligations and all of our obligations under our track access agreements. I am aware that V/Line performance did suffer a bit in November and December as a result of those speed restrictions. We have carried out some further work on the track. We have further work planned in March of this year—a major shutdown to look at a variety of activities around bridge upgrades, level crossing upgrades, ballast repair and also a lot of tamping work. After that we will again address some of those speed restrictions that are affecting V/Line and they amount to around 10 minutes of time lost between Melbourne and Albury.

Senator RICE: Last time we spoke I understood there were about eight to 10 sections of track that had speed restrictions on them. How many stretches of track are currently being speed restricted?

Mr Fullerton : I think there are about six or seven particular sections of track and they total, in terms of the speed restriction, as I said, about 10 minutes of time lost for the passenger services on that network. The majority of those speed restrictions will be lifted after that March program of works.

Senator RICE: I have been told by local residents that there are currently 23 temporary speed restrictions in place compared with the eight to 10 that were in place a year ago.

Mr Fullerton : I need to take that on notice to verify whether that is correct or not. My advice is that the speed restrictions I am referring to—there are about eight to 10 speed restrictions.

Senator RICE: You are saying eight to 10. So it is about the same as what we had a year ago?

Mr Fullerton : No, 12 months ago there were far fewer than that. As I said, there was some deterioration on track performance in October and November of last year with the rain. I am just referring to those speed restrictions that were applied as a result of that.

Senator RICE: So can we expect to have speed restrictions every time it rains from now on? I thought the Ballast Rehabilitation Program was meant to stop there being speed restrictions every time it rained.

Mr Fullerton : No, across our whole network—that is 8½ thousand kilometres of network—our average track under speed restriction would be around two per cent, which is pretty much—

Senator RICE: I do want to focus on the Albury line.

Mr Fullerton : On the Melbourne to Albury line it is around three per cent of our track under speed restrictions, so the work that we will do in March will bring it back to—will overcome some of those speed restrictions and reduce that time lost on V/Line services.

Senator RICE: But you still feel that the Ballast Rehabilitation Program has been successful despite the fact that the evidence that I have is that we have double the number or more than double the number of speed restrictions that we had?

Mr Fullerton : Absolutely. There are always things you discover after the work is done and we will deal with that. But the Ballast Rehabilitation Program—if you look at the performance of the track over the last five years, you will see how we have reduced temporary speed restrictions, we have improved running time and we have improved the track quality index that we measure. All of those statistics are on our website for the performance of that track between Melbourne and Sydney.

Senator RICE: On that track quality information, I think last time we discussed the measurements you take and the data you collect and that that is not publicly available. Is that still the case?

Mr Fullerton : No, we are required under the access undertaking to publish performance results for all of our network. They are on our website. The December results, if you look at them, cover off track reliability, availability, temporary speed restrictions—

Senator RICE: But in terms of the actual measurements and the data to inform your assessment—track ride measurements and other data—we have been told that you do not release those.

Mr Fullerton : No, on our website we have all of that track data for the track between Melbourne and Sydney. That is on our website.

Senator RICE: The track ride measurements and other raw data that you then use to perform your assessment as to whether the track is performing—you are now saying that information is publicly available?

Mr Fullerton : It is on our website. Our track performance statistics across the whole network, including Melbourne to Albury, are on our website covering off those five categories I referred to. It is graphed and it goes back quite a number of years. I think if you look at those statistics you will see that at the height of the problem on the Melbourne to Albury track we had poor performance when it came to train running reliability and track condition.

Senator RICE: I have been told that there is data that the community has requested that has not been made available because such information is considered to be commercial. That is that raw data. I am confused. Is there such data that has been requested?

CHAIR: Can you particularise the data?

Senator RICE: The information I have been told—and, in fact, that this committee has had confirmed in writing—is that they would not be releasing the track ride measurements and other data which your organisation measures as part of the requirements to prove to the Victorian government that you are compliant with your track access agreement to the north-east Victorian tracks. The reason they gave is that such information is commercial.

Mr Fullerton : I think you are referring there to the lease requirements that we have in place with the Victorian government. That information is not published.

CHAIR: Senator Rice has identified that there is track ride data. Is there such a dataset as track ride data?

Mr Fullerton : No. Under the access agreements with our rail operators, that information is published on our website. It covers off all the categories I referred to.

CHAIR: Mr Fullerton, don't get off track here. You have indicated that there is no set of data called track ride data—ride quality data. So the answer is there is none that is available?

Mr Fullerton : We have a track quality index.

Senator RICE: That is an index that uses data. I am talking about that raw data that I presume you then use to create the index. Is there raw data that you do not release to the public?

Mr Fullerton : That is right. There is data that we collect to generate those KPIs.

Senator RICE: So that data you collect, not the KPIs.

Mr Fullerton : No, we do not release that data.

Senator RICE: Why don't you release that data?

Mr Fullerton : Because that data is used to generate those KPIs to meet our lease obligations. Our lease obligations are well and truly met in terms of the performance.

Senator RICE: Yes, but that raw data that you collect—the track ride measurements and other raw data—

Mr Fullerton : It is highly technical data that actually is—we collect condition data off the AK condition car, which is very complex data that is used to generate the quality index that we are required to report under the terms of our lease.

Senator RICE: Given we have an ongoing situation where we have dispute about condition of the track—you are saying there are only six stretches of track and other people are telling me that there are 23—it is in the interests of transparency and accountability. I cannot see why that raw data, even if it is complex data—there are lots of people in the community who are capable of interrogating complex data—needs to be commercial and why it is considered commercial.

Mr Fullerton : It is part of our lease arrangements with the Victorian government. As I said, the performance of the track, in accordance with the lease, well and truly meets all of the performance requirements of the track.

Senator RICE: Yes, I hear you saying that. But I cannot understand, and the community cannot understand, why that raw data which determines the quality of the track needs to be confidential.

Mr Fullerton : It is maintenance data that we collect through our monitoring.

Senator RICE: Great. So why does it need to be confidential?

Mr Fullerton : We use that data to collect—

Senator RICE: Yes, but why does it need to be confidential?

Mr Fullerton : I think it is complex data that is used to collect—

Senator RICE: Why does it need to be confidential? It is complex, but that does not mean that it has to be confidential.

Mr Fullerton : I think the important thing is to make sure that whatever we communicate with the community on what we are doing to get the track up to performance—and that data is complex data that is generated—

Senator RICE: Yes, but that is not an answer as to why that data should be confidential. It is complex, yes. But there are people who are capable of interrogating complex data. It is a matter of your reputation in the community, because the community are talking to me and they are concerned that you are hiding data. They are concerned that your assessment of the track—yes, it meets standards that you have determined with the Victorian government, but it does not meet the community standards. We have 23 temporary speed restrictions and we have ongoing really slow, inefficient services. What that means is that the community is being adversely affected.

Mr Fullerton : I think that, if you have a look at the performance of the track and the ballast rehabilitation that we have implemented over five years, there has been a substantial improvement in the performance and the statistics show that.

Senator RICE: Will you take on notice whether you could consider making that raw data available given that you have not been able to provide us with a good reason as to why it should be confidential?

Mr Fullerton : I will, Senator.

Back to All News