MBRL off the rails Friday, 12 August 2016

News article written by Corbett Communications. The statements made or opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Engineers Australia.

The Queensland Government has extended the timing of its review into what went wrong with the Moreton Bay Rail Link (MBRL), in particular the choice of signalling system and its safety, which put a stop to the official opening of the $1.1 billion project in June.

On the MBRL (Kippa-Ring to Petrie line), it was found that with the new signalling system, three trains could not pass through Petrie Station, in Brisbane’s north, without the system going down.

Yet the MAcroLok system by Italian signalling company Ansaldo on its website says its “flexible suite … M-Lok is able to control either very large station layouts or complete railway lines”.

Amidst the political fallout of the MBRL ‘rail fail’, Queensland Rail (QR) said the system had not been its preferred option, specifically citing its engineers’ concerns as early as 2014 before construction began. The system was chosen, the authority said, for the project due to it being “significantly cheaper [by $7 million]” than the alternatives.

"QR’s signalling engineers participated in the technical evaluation of the MBRL signalling system in April 2014 and rated Ansaldo's MAcroLok system lower than the alternatives due to it not being type approved and QR's lack of confidence in the technology being able to be implemented within the timeframe required for delivery of the project,” QR stated.

"QR reiterated its concerns with the technology, but was advised that the system was significantly cheaper than the preferred technologies and that the contractor was confident they could overcome QR's concerns."

The state rail authority revealed it uses a range of signalling systems across its network including a different system by Ansaldo, the MicroLok. The MBRL was the first major rail project it had not managed or delivered, QR revealed, and appears to be yet another argument for engineers to be involved more in government decisions. The Department of Transport and Main Roads had managed the project up until the incident and it was transferred to QR in early June.

State Transport Minister Stirling Hinchliffe ordered an independent audit in early June to investigate how and why the Ansaldo MAcroLok signalling system was selected. He appointed Rail Systems Manager for Transport for NSW, Rob Smith, to head the independent audit. Its terms of reference are:

Governance and Contractual processes for MBRL, including: 

  • Any signalling system related issues, risks and/or opportunities arising from the decision in 2012 to bring the project under the auspices of the Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR);
  • A review of the signalling system elements of the tendering and contract process;
  • Whether the role assigned to Queensland Rail through contractual and/or governance documents and processes provided for appropriate involvement of the rail operator in the assurance processes relating to signalling; and
  • Contract milestone payments relating to signalling, and gainshare payments, and the grounds upon which any payments have been made.

Performance and integration of signalling systems during design and construction, including:

  • The nature of assurance activities by the project team, Queensland Rail, or other parties to monitor, test, and review signalling systems and signalling system interface/integration;
  • The nature of interface/integration issues experienced between multiple signalling systems on the one network; and
  • The adequacy of assurance activities, and lessons for future rail contract selection and oversight;
  • The processes by which concerns raised by Queensland Rail or other parties regarding the signalling systems or signalling system integration were managed; and
  • The assurance program being implemented by Queensland Rail in order to have the project commissioned.


Author: Desi Corbett