Perth sets shortlist for underground airport link 05 Apr 2015

Shani Wallis, TunnelTalk

Three international consortia are shortlisted to bid for design-build construction of the new 8.5km long underground rail link to the airport and the foothill suburbs of Perth, Western Australia.

Fig 1. 8.5km Perth Airport rail link
Fig 1. 8.5km Perth Airport rail link

The shortlisted consortia are:

  • John Holland and Leighton Contractors JV
  • Salini Impregilo and WA mining and civil construction company NRW JV
  • Acciona Infrastructure, BAM International and Ferrovial Agroman JV

The estimated Aust$2 billion Forrestfield-Airport Rail Link project will be an 8.5km underground spur heading east off the existing Transperth Midland rail line, diverting just past the Bayswater Station and running underground in twin TBM-bored tunnels to link three new stations at Airport West in the suburb of Belmont, Perth Airport to serve redevelopment of a central airport terminal hub, and Forrestfield at the foot of the residential areas in the Perth hills (Fig 1). The new rail line will travel under the Swan River, Tonkin Highway, Brearley Avenue and the airport runways and precinct to a completely underground mined airport station and on to Dundas Road in Forrestfield where it will surface to terminate at a new above ground station (Fig 2).

A formal request for proposals (RFP) will be issued by the WA State Government Public Transport Authority (PTA) for fully costed proposals from the three shortlisted proponents with a view to having a design-build contract awarded to the successful bidder in mid-2016 and for construction to start in late 2016. The project will be awarded as a single design-build package covering tunnel and civil infrastructure, track, stations and rail systems and signalling, communications and power. The project is a fully publically funded investment by the State Government with a plan to have services running on the completed extension in 2020.

Fig 2. Alignment passes under Swan River, Tonkin Highway and the airport to Forrestfield
Fig 2. Alignment passes under Swan River, Tonkin Highway and the airport to Forrestfield

In announcing the shortlist, WA Transport Minister Dean Nalder said; “the level of interest in building this transformational rail line to Perth’s foothills has been high. Five groups of leading national and international contractors submitted proposals when expressions of interest were called on 29 January, but only a maximum of three can progress to the next stage.”

The two EOI proposals that missed the cut were submitted by:

  • a JV between Lend Lease of Australian and Italian company Ghella, and
  • a joint venture between China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC), Western Australian company BGC and Australian company VDM

All the companies involved in the groups are involved in major transport tunnelling projects including the Oslo-Ski Follo Line railway link in Norway awarded to the Acciona/Ghella JV, the Northern Line Extension of the London Underground awarded to the Laing O'Rourke/Ferrovial Agroman JV, Salini Impregilo involved in joint ventures for the Riyadh and Doha metro projects and CRCC involved on the Hong Kong Express Rail Link and many major metro projects in China.

In Perth, the 8.5km underground alignment of the airport link in twin TBM bored tunnels is specified by the PTA to limit disruption on the surface and reduce the impact of construction and rail operation on the roads, the community and the environment. It also continues a legacy of placing transportation infrastructure underground in the major cities of Australia and in Perth follows on from the city’s first transportation tunnel built in the late 1990s. The 1.6km long Polly Farmer highway tunnel, named after the famous WA footballer Graham Farmer, is a section of the Perth bypass highway that was forced underground when citizens of the Northbridge district objected to building it on the surface through the suburb. The underground section added to the cost and this drew fierce anti-project objection, but today, all residents of the capital city acknowledge without reservation they could not now live without it.

Video tour of the proposed new rail link

Underground development continued in 2004 with start of the Mandurah extension of the Transperth Rail network with the last 2km of the 72km long line running underground in twin TBM-bored tunnels into an underground Perth Station. As a follow on, a 600m section of the Fremantle Line at Perth Station was replaced underground in cut-and-cover work to eliminate the rail barrier and reconnect the city centre with the Northbridge district. The $360 million rail project was funded by the Federal, State and Local Governments and was delivered by the Perth City Link Rail Alliance, between the PTA, John Holland and GHD, in December 2013. As part of the project, the new Fremantle Line tunnel had to pass just 1.2m above the existing (and operating) Joondalup Rail Line tunnels.

The next stage of the City Link project is replacement of the ageing Wellington Street central bus station in a new underground Busport. Funded by the State Government and the City of Perth, the City Busport Alliance (the PTA, Brookfield Multiplex and BG&E) will deliver the cover-and-cut construction project in 2016. Busport will be accessible to passengers by three separate entrances at ground level and connect seamlessly to the underground bus station and on to the underground rail station and via underground pedestrian passageways to the city streets.

At the airport, the new rail link will be a final element infrastructure following on from major privately funded $1 billion transformation of the airport itself by its private enterprise operator to consolidate all commercial air services into one precinct, and completion of the largest infrastructure project undertaken by Main Roads WA to upgrade the roads surrounding Perth Airport including the Tonkin and Leach Highways. The $1 billion-dollar Gateway Project, funded by the Federal and State Governments, is driven by the expected doubling of passenger air travel and road freight over the next decade, and the airport’s redevelopment project.

When WA Premier Colin Barnett confirmed the Forrestfield-Airport Rail Link project, he said the State Government would use government asset sales to help pay for the project. Premier Barnett’s call for a Federal Government contribution for the project is reported as having fallen on deaf ears, with Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott saying he would not fund passenger rail projects. The three new stations on the line are expected to accommodate 20,000 passengers a day.

As the shortlisted bidders prepare to submit costed proposals, the first major contract on the project has been progressing since September 2014 when Golder Associates began a programme of geological investigation along the route for the PTA. The link will be the longest twin bored tunnels in the State and work has progressed to drill 14 boreholes from barges for the Swan River crossing and with more than 100 bore holes, 70 monitoring wells, penetration tests, test pits and pump test wells installed as part of the geotechnical investigations along the remainder of the 8.5km long alignment and its three new stations.

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