Adelaide diesel trains approaching end of the line

Adelaide’s passenger diesel trains will reach the end of their service life by 2030 without additional investment, the Transport Department warns, as planning work begins to transition the entire Adelaide Metro rail and bus network to zero emission technology.

Dec 06, 2022, updated Dec 06, 2022
An Adelaide Metro diesel railcar arrives at Port Adelaide station. Photo: Thomas Kelsall/InDaily

An Adelaide Metro diesel railcar arrives at Port Adelaide station. Photo: Thomas Kelsall/InDaily

The Department of Infrastructure and Transport released a tender on Monday calling for two business cases to investigate the cost of moving Adelaide Metro’s train and bus fleet to zero emissions alternatives.

The bus fleet business case is expected to be completed by April 30 and the rail fleet case by October 31. The planning work was first flagged by the Department in August.

The tender documents reveal Adelaide’s three remaining diesel passenger train lines – Belair, Outer Harbor and Grange – require significant infrastructure upgrades in the short to medium term, regardless of the transition to zero-emission trains.

The 70 diesel railcars operating along the lines were built between 1987 and 1996 and will be out of action within 10 years, according to the Department.

“Diesel trains currently operating on the Belair, Outer Harbor and Grange lines are expected to reach end of service life between 2030 and 2032 without additional end of life investment,” the tender document states.

“The current Outer Harbor, Grange and Belair line signalling systems are approaching end-of-service life and will require replacement irrespective of any changes to rollingstock and power supply.

“The Grange line will also require a track infrastructure upgrade in the short [to] medium term.”

The Belair and Outer Harbor lines are identified in the tender as a priority for a transition to zero-emission technology, subject to funding approval.

Three Adelaide passenger lines – Seaford, Flinders and Gawler – have moved from diesel to electric over the last 10 years.

But the electrification of the Gawler line suffered numerous cost blowouts and delays and forced commuters in the northern suburbs to catch substitute buses for nearly 18 months. The cost of electrifying the line eventually reached more than $842 million.

The Department is now open to exploring other options to transition the remaining diesel train lines to zero-emission, including hydrogen fuel-cell trains.

“While the Gawler, Seaford and Flinders lines have been converted to a traditional 25 Kilovolt AC electric service with overhead power supply, other technologies such as battery electric and hydrogen fuel cells are either currently viable or expected to reach commercial and operational viability within the short to medium term,” the document states.

A Transport Department spokesperson told InDaily that rail line electrification is still an option, although cost will be a factor.

“The State Government will consider all available technological solutions regarding the Belair, Outer Harbor and Grange lines, including electrification,” the spokesperson said.

“Total cost of ownership for the different technologies will be part of the assessment. Any works are subject to funding.”

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The Department also sets out in its tender that the rail business case needs to investigate creating “interoperability” between Adelaide’s diesel and electrified lines via “alternative signalling systems” and “introduction of alternative zero emission rolling stock”.

Meanwhile, the Department is also seeking advice on accelerating its take-up of electric buses.

Adelaide Metro currently has 24 “first generation” electric hybrid buses in its fleet of 991 and will begin trialling its first-ever fully-electric bus early next year.

It has also ordered another 83 “new generation” electric hybrid buses which will begin operating over the next two years.

The Department’s business case tender asks for options to “redevelop, expand or replace” existing inner-city bus depots to facilitate the zero-emission transition.

It also asks for a “detailed assessment of power demand as a result of the transition” and consideration of “impacts to the bus supply industry including short term transition and longer-term risks and opportunities”.

It builds on an earlier pre-feasibility study conducted in 2021 which was tasked with finding an “optimum staged pathway to a 100 per cent electric bus fleet by no later than 2050”.

The Transport Department says the “Electric Bus Integration Study” found that “the technology was available to enable no new diesel buses from 2025, subject to the supporting infrastructure required to support the zero emission technology”.

Transport Minister Tom Koutsantonis says the initial focus on the new business case will be “the use of inner-city depots, charging infrastructure and power demand”.

“We are already making exciting progress across the Adelaide Metro network, including electrification of the Gawler and Seaford rail lines, hybrid technology on some trains and buses, and the imminent delivery of a fully-electric bus,” he said in a statement.

“The bus transport industry, with its increasing focus on fleet electrification, is leading the transportation industry’s efforts towards a cleaner and more sustainable future.

“We know there has been a rapid uptake in the deployment of zero-emission buses globally, driven by a desire for cleaner transport and advancements in bus and battery technologies.”

Submissions for the business case tender close on January 17.

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