Thursday, December 7, 2023

A few ‘hiccups’ or complete chaos? As Perth’s big rail shutdown begins, here is everything you need to know

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Major construction work across Perth’s south-east rail and road networks has begun, with the daily commutes of about 10,000 passengers set to be affected for up to 18 months.

It’s all part of a multi-billion upgrade and extension to the 130-year-old Armadale train line and includes seven new train stations, the removal of 13 level crossings and the elevation of 5.5 kilometres of rail line.

Rita Saffioti says the government has worked hard to minimise disruption during the shutdown.(
ABC News: Briana Shepherd

WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti thanked the WA community in advance for their patience during what she said would be the “biggest public transport transformation ever, across a number of fronts”.

“We expect some hiccups over the initial few days, ” Ms Saffioti said.

“New ways, new processes, in particular, a whole new bus service that’s been created, will cause some challenges across the network.

Sign at a train station indicating a shutdown at the Armadale/Thornlie line.

Work has already begun on the massive project.(
ABC News: Rick Rifici

“We have improved our infrastructure, got the bus routes ready, got the communication out, we’ve done everything we think is possible to make sure it can go as smoothly as possible.”

How will I get around during the shutdown?

Monday 20 to Wednesday 22 November

The entire Armadale/Thornlie Line will be closed for three full days as work to allow passenger trains to turn at Victoria Park is carried out.

During this time, train replacement services will be in place between Victoria Park and Perth, as well as extra bus services.

Sign at a train station indicating a shutdown at the Armadale/Thornlie line.

It’s hoped many commuters affected by the rail closure will use one of the bus options.(
ABC News: Rick Rifici

Thursday 23 November to mid-2025

The Armadale/Thornlie line will remain partially closed for up to 18 months from Thursday, with train services operating only between Victoria Park and Perth stations at an increased frequency of approximately every 7.5 minutes during the day and every 15 minutes at night.

With train services between Armadale/Thornlie and Victoria Park stations not running during this partial closure, existing bus services will be supported by seven new routes, and five “enhanced” routes.

A bus waits behind a white car at a red light at the intersection of Albany Highway with Shepperton and Welshpool Roads.

Technology is being used to give buses more green lights when needed.(ABC News: James Carmody)

Three new temporary bus interchanges have been built in Armadale, Cannington and Victoria Park with more than 100 additional buses brought onto the network for the shutdown period.

How much disruption will there be?

About 10,000 commuters use the Armadale/Thornlie Line each day and while the government is hopeful between 80 to 85 per cent switch to the bus services, it has also planned and executed upgrades to the road network.

“Roads will be busier, but we believe we’ve done a lot of work … to try and basically equip all the residents along the Armadale rail line to move in and out of the city, move in and out of their places of work, of shopping as smooth as possible,” Ms Saffioti said.

A section of train line with powerlines overhead.

The Armadale train line will be closed until the middle of 2025.(ABC News: Keane Bourke)

The shutdown preparations include more than 1.2 kilometres of priority bus lanes along Albany Highway and Shepparton Road in Victoria Park as well as the installation of intelligent transport systems the government said will improve traffic flow and bus movements.

One way it does this is by having virtual receivers set up at traffic signals which can automatically keep traffic lights green for up to 30 extra seconds to allow for buses to move through.

Additional right turning restrictions on key arterial routes along Albany Highway are also in place with digital signs displaying travel times for certain routes to be installed at six key locations along the road network.

A dedicated Main Roads Incident Response Service for Shepparton Road and Albany Highway has been established to better respond to any incidents, with nine new CCTV cameras installed across the network.

Main Roads has also released an app, Traffic ALT, to provide drivers with audio updates on key information such as traffic congestion levels and travel times. The app was designed to run through a driver’s hands-free phone or car stereo bluetooth.

Commutes longer but free travel on offer

Amid the shut-down, the government expects those travelling from Armadale into the city will have their travel time take between 15 and 30 minutes longer than it would on the train.

For commuters going from Cannington into the city, an extra 10 minutes is expected.

Passengers board a train in Perth.

Some commuters will be eligible for free travel.(ABC News: Hugh Sando)

As a bit of a sweetener amid the extended disruption, the government is offering six months of free travel on the public transport network for those who have a Smart Rider and have used it on the Armadale/Thornlie Line during at least 13 out of the last 26 weeks.

Year 7 students starting high school next year who travel on the affected line are also entitled to the free travel.

What if I am a wheelchair user?

In May this year, the government said it was upgrading bus stops on the new and “enhanced” routes to be accessible but not all wheelchairs or mobility devices will fit.

A government spokesperson said while most regular electric wheelchairs will fit on the buses, anyone with a disability requiring additional assistance should contact the Public Transport Authority or Metronet directly.

A wheelchair user alongside a bus.

Wheelchair users concerned about access are encouraged to contact the Public Transport Authority.(Supplied: WA government)

Those unable to access the bus replacement services can, if they have not already, apply for the Taxi User Subsidy Scheme.

So what does the work involve?

The shutdown will allow for a series of works across three major Metronet projects: the Byford Rail Extension, the Victoria Park-Canning Level Crossing Removal and the Thornlie-Cockburn Link.

Those works include the construction of seven new train stations, including one in Byford – a suburb on the south-eastern edge of Perth a little more than 40 kilometres from the CBD — which will be the new final stop on the now Armadale Line.

Twelve level crossings will be removed, 13 in total with Thomas Road over rail south of Armadale already completed.

A map of the upgrades to the Armadale rail line.

The planned transformation of the Armadale line.(Supplied: WA government)

The government said removing the level crossings would ease major bottlenecks, with the boom gates currently down (because of passing trains) for more than seven hours a day at Wharf Street, six hours a day at Oats Street and more than four hours a day at Welshpool Road and Mint, Hamilton and Williams Street.

Five-and-a-half kilometres of rail will be elevated creating six hectares of new public open space, with things like playgrounds, fitness zones, basketball courts, skate parks and other community spaces all planned for around, and under, the line.

An artist's impression of soon-to-be-built Cannington train station.

An artist’s impression of the planned new Cannington train station.(Supplied: WA government)

And while works on the Thornlie-Cockburn Link are already underway, the government said the shut-down will allow for the project to be completed with the construction of two new stations at Ranford Road and Nicholson Road (in addition to the seven new stations on the Armadale Line) and the delivery of the first east-west rail link connecting the Armadale and Mandurah lines.

How much is all this costing?

The total cost of the works is expected to amount to almost $3 billion, with the federal government providing a significant funding contribution.

The Byford Rail Extension project is expected to cost $797 million with $1.05 billion for the Victoria Park-Canning Level Crossing Removal and a further $1.1 billion for the works to be undertaken on the Thornlie-Cockburn Link.

Sign at a train station indicating a shutdown at the Armadale/Thornlie line.

The shutdown has been a long time in the planning.(
ABC News: Rick Rifici

While the federal government last week announced it was slashing the nation’s infrastructure spend by $30 billion, with five projects worth a total of $300 million affected in WA, it said it would continue to bankroll Perth’s suburban Metronet passenger rail upgrade and extensions with its $1 billion commitment.

And despite delays to several Metronet projects – as well as significant cost blowouts since the Labor Government came into power in 2017 — Minister Saffioti said she was “very, very confident” the works would be completed on time.

This would see the line reopen in May 2025.

“We’ve done a lot of work to prepare for the shutdown, in particular, the preparatory work,” she said.

And she said she was also confident it would not run over the $3 billion price tag, despite that figure having grown since the works were first announced.

A train going through a level crossing.

The Armadale train line will be closed between Carlisle and Armadale until the middle of 2025. (ABC News: Keane Bourke)

“We’re confident with those numbers,” she said.

“We believe those numbers are very strong and we’ve taken into consideration some of the escalation.”

Liberal leader Libby Mettam was not convinced, pointing to previous delays and cost blowouts on the government’s other Metronet projects.

“Given the Cook Labor Government’s credibility in delivering Metronet projects on time and on budget, I look forward to seeing how they actually deliver on this promise,” she said.

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