THE Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) is activating a range of measures to ensure the safe and reliable running of the Hunter Valley Rail Network in the face of coronavirus (COVID-19).
It follows its designation as an essential service by state and federal governments.
"The freight and transport industry has been identified as an essential service," Hunter Valley group executive Wayne Johnson said.
"This is a responsibility the Australian Rail Track Corporation takes very seriously.
"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."
Mr Johnson said the Hunter Valley Rail Network played a vital role in the transport and supply chain - and in supporting the Hunter, NSW and Australian economies.
About half of the trains on the rail network are passenger services, while ARTC also manages the safe transit of valuable export commodities like coal, grain and other products.
The transport of regional freight and interstate goods trains are also served.
"It is critical that we continue to meet the need of delivering goods, products and people," he said.
"But, we are acutely aware of balancing the demands of running an extensive rail network, with the health and welfare of our people and the communities in which we operate."
Delivering a safe and reliable rail network means undertaking critical maintenance work will be required.
ARTC has significantly scaled-back its previously planned maintenance shutdown of the Hunter Valley Rail Network next week, with a focus on delivering works essential to ensuring the rail network's safety and reliability for the community and freight supply that relies on the network's operation.
The ARTC decided to carry out the critical work after a thorough assessment considering safety, reliability and impacts to safety.
"As COVID-19 continues to spread and disrupt people's daily lives, we have implemented a range of preventative measures to ensure the safety of our team and the community, while endeavouring to ensure reliable network operations can be sustained for critical freight movements in coming weeks," Mr Johnson said.
ARTC will be taking a range of additional measures for next week's work noting current COVID-19 health concerns, including:
- Limiting workers to be those employees and contractors based in the Hunter Valley rather than the typical 'surge' workforce that can come from intra and interstate. This scales back the workforce by more than 500 people.
- Ensuring teams carry out their work in smaller groups and in separate locations across the network
- De-scaling the total scope of works to focus on essential reliability focused tasks only.
ARTC will also continue ensure all our staff practice social distancing, minimise interactions with the broader community, conduct communications and briefings with 4m2 and regular health and hygiene check-ups.
Mr Johnson said the measures in place were being assessed daily and the type of work being undertaken still required a shutdown of the network to be carried out as safely as possible.
"The coronavirus pandemic is an incredibly challenging set of circumstances for us all and it's clear that this period of uncertainty is going to remain for some time," he explained.
"We thank our customers, the community, commuters, and motorists across the network for their understanding of the need to carry out this critical maintenance activity to assure the integrity of the network for coming weeks.
"We remind residents to remain vigilant as there may be more vehicle movements in and out of work sites in areas around the work sites and the rail corridor."
Alternative public transport will be provided for impacted passenger train customers, and details and schedules can be found at the Transport for NSW website.