AUSTRALIA: Keolis Downer has been awarded an A$2·1bn contract to operate the 122 km Adelaide Metro suburban rail network for eight years from the end of January 2021, with an optional four-year extension.
Announcing the performance-based contract on September 18, South Australia’s Minister for Infrastructure & Transport Corey Wingard said ‘Keolis Downer will implement a new customer experience strategy to enhance customer satisfaction’.
The minister emphasised that ‘the state government still owns all the rail assets including tracks, trains and stations and will continue to have control of fare price, revenue and standards for service levels’.
Keolis Group CEO, International, Bernard Tabary explained to Railway Gazette that the contract includes a range of KPIs to incentivise customer focus and grow rail ridership on the six suburban routes, including ‘passenger satisfaction, on-time performance and the evolution of patronage’.
The joint venture already operates the tram and light rail networks in Melbourne, Gold Coast and Newcastle, but this is its first suburban rail contract in Australia.
Wingard pointed out that Keolis has extensive international experience of heavy rail operation and maintenance, while Downer has expertise in rail infrastructure and rolling stock maintenance as well as asset management.
Tabary said around 700 existing staff would transfer to the new operator, joining around 5 000 employees running light rail and bus services across Australia.
As well as operating the Adelaide network, Keolis Downer will be responsible for maintenance of the self-contained 1 600 mm gauge infrastructure, and it will take over rolling stock maintenance from Bombardier Transportation after an existing contract expires in the next two years. The current fleet of 70 DMUs and 22 EMUs is set to grow, with a further 12 three-car EMUs on order for delivery in 2021.
At present Adelaide Metro operates four routes: Belair, Gawler, Outer Harbor and Seaford/Noarlunga. Addition of the 5·5 km Grange and 3·9 km Tonsley lines will take the network to 131 km and 89 stations. A 650 m extension of the Tonsley Line to Flinders University in the southern suburbs expected to open later this year. The 40 km Adelaide – Gawler line to the northeast is currently being wired at 25 kV 50 Hz, following the electrification of the route to Noarlunga and Seaford in 2014, with completion anticipated by the end of 2021.
Wingard anticipated there would be faster trains and more services following completion of the Gawler line electrification, while the Flinders Line would have ‘more than 2 200 new services per year, offering weekend services for residents, students and workers in the southern suburbs’. There will also be an extended trial of ‘high security zones’ on platforms that includes CCTV, improved lighting and the installation of help phones ‘to create a safer environment for travellers’.
The transfer of Adelaide rail operations forms part of a wider privatisation programme, which has seen some bus services in South Australia operated by private contractors for the past two decades. In March, a joint venture of SeaLink Travel Group bus subsidiary Transit Systems, John Holland and UGL was awarded a contract to operate the Adelaide tram network.