Inland Rail upgrade continues despite COVID

Construction continues along the Narrabri to North Star (N2NS) section of the Inland Rail alignment in NSW, despite the statewide lockdown recently imposed to arrest a major surge in COVID cases. 

This section of the 1700km freight rail line – connecting Melbourne and Brisbane via regional Victoria, NSW and Queensland – will upgrade 184.5km of existing rail corridor and construct 1.7km of new track near Moree. This is the second section of Inland Rail to enter the building stage, following the commissioning of the Parkes to Narromine line in September 2020. 

With freight workers considered essential and exempt from many COVID restrictions, Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) Inland Rail Delivery Director Central Heather Parry said construction needed to continue as the track had to be operational in time to resume services ahead of the next grain season. 

“ARTC has developed a construction schedule allowing works on the Narrabri North to Moree section to be undertaken minimising impact on key harvest and offtake periods as much as possible,” Parry said. 

“We are continuing to work with all stakeholders including grain growers, traders and train operators using the existing network to assess the impact to their operations and appropriate mitigations. 

“Australians rely on the freight network to deliver essential supplies such as food, medicine, medical equipment, which are critical now more than ever.  

“ARTC takes our responsibility to maintain a safe and reliable rail network very seriously and we are working hard to ensure we balance the challenge of ensuring the safety and reliability of a critical transport network, alongside our obligations to meet and respond to the current public health challenge.” 

Parry said ARTC is continuously monitoring COVID restrictions across various jurisdictions and adapting work practices on the national network to conform with the latest advice.  

“We are very conscious of our own ongoing responsibilities to not only the health and safety of our workers, but the communities where we work and live,” she said. 

Parry said the current Sydney outbreak posed a challenging set of circumstances. 

She said the ARTC had implemented additional preventative measures to ensure the safety of its team and the Moree and Narrabri communities. 

“Workers involved on Inland Rail construction in Moree are tested on arrival and then regularly throughout their time at the workers’ accommodation and we are meeting all NSW Government guidelines to ensure our workers and the community are protected,” Parry said. 

“We are committed to the safe delivery of Inland Rail during this unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, and we want to give the community confidence we are on track to re-open the track on October 31.” 

Parry said construction has been progressing well against a backdrop of wet conditions and workers taking extra health precautions to safely manage the risks of COVID while at work. 

How Australian Rail Track Corporation is managing COVID-19 risks on Inland Rail construction: 

Travel 

  • Minimising non-essential travel of staff 
  • Workers on leave must observe border directions and not visit any hot spot zones if staying in NSW 
  • Workers who return to hot spots must stay in those areas until restrictions are lifted and follow the ‘stay at home’ orders issued by NSW Health 
  • Where travel is essential, workers are encouraged to use low-risk options, such as charter flights or private vehicles 
  • Symptom check of workers before they travel 

Construction sites 

  • COVID test on arrival for shift and regular tests every seven days or more frequently in accordance with applicable Health Department guidelines 
  • Check-in app in use at each office and on site to enable detailed contact tracing if required 
  • Workers encouraged to access vaccinations with leave approved to attend appointments and to recover from any side effects 
  • Symptom check of workers before each shift 
  • Ensuring social distancing and good hygiene practices 
  • Reducing the size of groups working and rearranging facilities to meet social distancing requirements 
  • Increasing the cleaning and disinfection of our offices and facilities 
  • Implementing a COVID Safety Management Plan in the Moree Accommodation facility 
  • Restricting the number of staff who can travel in a vehicle together. 

The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) also recently forged ahead with a critical major maintenance shutdown of the Hunter Valley Network, from August 10-12. 

ARTC Group Executive Hunter Valley Wayne Johnson said, after review of priority work and the current situation, the maintenance work had to go ahead. 

“Each priority job underwent an in-depth review to ensure the safety of the workforce and the community amidst the current COVID-19 outbreak,”. 

“We understand that the community in NSW is facing a challenging time with the latest COVID outbreak, and want to reassure everyone that the work which is being done on the track is absolutely critical in ensuring that freight can continue to move across the country. 

“Freight is an essential service. This work ensures that the Hunter Valley network’s vital supply chain for freight delivery and communities and the economy can keep moving safely. We have cut back on maintenance and ramped up our procedures to ensure we are diligent in doing all we can to protect the community and our workers.” 

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