Senator RICE: Hello, Mr Fullerton. Nice to see you again. I will continue on that. I'm interested in checking in on where things are at with the track upgrade project between Melbourne and Albury.
Mr Fullerton: As you're aware, in the May budget the federal government announced $100 million for a grant funding contribution to ARTC to do further work in upgrading the track between Melbourne and Albury and asked us to engage with the Victorian agencies V/Line and the PTV—the department of transport in Victoria—to develop a scope of works on how best to invest those funds in the track. The three primary objectives were to improve the passenger service reliability, to improve the track resilience in terms of being able to operate at a more consistent level over the course of the 12 months and to improve the passenger ride comfort on the trains themselves. It's a combination of track and rolling stock.
We have commenced that work. I'm on the steering committee with those agencies. We've met a few times, but there is a technical working group that's currently determining what that scope of work should be and what the priority is in terms of getting the biggest bang for your buck for the $100 million to achieve those three objectives.
Once that work is completed, the plan will be to then have it peer reviewed by an independent party, then report back to the federal government and the Victorian government on: 'This is what we recommend in terms of that investment, to achieve those three objectives.' The plan is also to engage with all the communities, to explain to them what that scope of works will entail, and what benefits will flow from that investment in the track once we commence and complete it.
Senator RICE: What's the time line on the development of that recommended work and then putting it out to peer review and then actually seeing works done?
Mr Fullerton: We're working as quickly as we can, given the priority that's been set for us. The plan will be by the end of the year to have a PPR with the federal government, which is the standard proposal report that we establish which will outline the scope of works. I'd have that in place by the end of the year.
Senator RICE: Will that be before or after your peer review of it?
Mr Fullerton: I think that would be after the peer review.
Senator RICE: So you are expecting to have the proposal and then a peer review done by the end of the year?
Mr Fullerton: Yes. That's our objective.
Senator RICE: Two months!
Mr Fullerton: I think the important thing is to get the scope right, given that we do want to make sure we invest the money in the right areas, to achieve those three objectives.
Senator RICE: Absolutely.
Mr Fullerton: We 're working very constructively with V/Line and the PTV to achieve that.
Senator RICE: Obviously it will depend upon what works are recommended to be undertaken, but what's your expectation as to what period of time the works would then be undertaken over?
Mr Fullerton: I think the matter will be then to scope out the works and go to the market. Given that we don't do the work ourselves, we'll contract that out. Obviously some of the work will be ballast renewal for a lot of the sections, but there also could be some bridge works on old timber deck bridges. We're considering some improvements to the signalling systems. I wouldn't like to hazard when we'd go to the market for that, but it would certainly be as soon as we can.
Senator RICE: The $100 million is over the forwards basically, so you'd be expecting the works to take place over—
Mr Fullerton: I would think that the works will probably take over 12 to 24 months.
Senator RICE: You said that you expect some of that to be ballast renewal. I've been advised that, in the last three months of last year and the first few months of this year, there were still around 20 temporary speed restrictions in place. Essentially the ballast renewal is acknowledging that your ballast rehabilitation program hasn't succeeded in dealing with the need for speed restrictions—is that case?
Mr Fullerton: I don't agree with that. The ballast rehabilitation program, which was $134 million spent between Melbourne and Sydney from 2012 to 2016, achieved significant improvement. We're happy to share the
evidence over that time around speed restrictions and delays to trains. There's been a significant improvement. But we still are left with an ongoing ballast issue that we intended to maintain under our normal maintenance program, but of course what this $100 million offers to us is to get some advance work done to improve the ballast condition to a level that we can then maintain it to a high standard.
Senator RICE: Basically you're saying that things would have been even worse if you hadn't done the ballast rehabilitation program.
Mr Fullerton: Absolutely.
Senator RICE: But you've still got ongoing problems with ballast?
Mr Fullerton: Well, yes. But the ballast rehabilitation program—the objective was to get it back to a standard consistent with the rest of the network. It has got back to that network, and I think if you look—
Senator RICE: Except you have still got these 20 speed restrictions in place over—
Mr Fullerton: No. We've only got about nine, as I speak today. When I appeared at estimates, I think back in February, we had about 23, and there was a major possession planned in March that cleared, I think, all but about five. We have currently got nine. The train reliability for V/Line last month was over 90 per cent. It's certainly been a significant improvement from those three months that we experienced late last year, you would recall, between about now and December—or to March, I should say. So the track is performing a lot better than it was 12 months ago. We've still got speed restrictions. We are getting some removed this month and I think another three in November. We've got a planned shutdown on 17 and 18 March next year to do further works.
Senator RICE: Sorry; the planned shutdown is when?
Mr Fullerton: On 17 and 18 March, and it's not the long weekend.
Senator RICE: In terms of what needs to be done with the ballast in developing your program of works, are you calling in outside geotechnical expertise to help you put together what the program of works is going to be?
Mr Fullerton: Well, as I mentioned before, we're developing a scope of works, and effectively the works are to do with clean-flowing ballast. It's not a geotechnical issue. The issue is to get about 200 millimetres or 300 millimetres of new ballast under the track, and that's what the plan is. That will be peer reviewed by an independent expert.
Senator RICE: So the answer is no. You are not calling in independent geotechnical expertise in the development of your—
Mr Fullerton: No, we're working with V/Line, who have their own expertise on track—they maintain track in Victoria—and their own experts to develop that scope of works, which we'll then have peer reviewed. That scope of works involves, as I said, ballast renewal—removing the old ballast in some locations; there is some formation repair; and there is also work we're considering around timber deck bridges that cause some of the ride issues. They will be replaced with ballasted deck bridges. So there is a range of work we're working up with V/Line, because it gets back to those three shared objectives that I mentioned a bit earlier.
Senator RICE: Given that you had this $134 million ballast rehabilitation program and you still have ongoing issues, don't you think there would be a case for calling in some independent geotechnical expertise to help you sort out what needs to happen into the future?
Mr Fullerton: We will be getting independent advice on that works program—independent, peer reviewed—to confirm—
Senator RICE: Will that include peer review by people with geotechnical expertise?
Mr Fullerton: Absolutely. It will be peer reviewed by those that are expert in track structures and track maintenance to provide us their view of what V/Line and we have decided as some of the priority works.
Senator RICE: Does the federal government have a representative on your technical reference group that is overseeing the development of that program of works?
Mr Fullerton: The federal government are represented on the steering committee.
Senator RICE: On the steering committee, but not on the technical reference group?
Mr Fullerton: No. The technical reference group is technical people from ARTC and V/Line.
Senator RICE: Can you tell me who is on the technical reference group?
Mr Fullerton: I know from ARTC's point of view it's Tony Frazer, who's a well-experienced track engineer. I'd have to get the names for you of those who are represented from V/Line—
Senator RICE: So it's ARTC and V/Line, and that's it? They are the two organisations represented?
Mr Fullerton: There could be somebody from the PTV. I'd have to take that on notice.
Senator RICE: Thank you.