In the case of the Vic Broad gauge track that was in a near state of collapse with severe speed restrictions, what ARTC learned in taking over the original standard gauge track some years earlier and the various rehabilitation works carried out on that should have given them that knowledge to fairly accurately assess the scope and cost.
Would it havebeen better to have done another sleeper cycle on that to keep it in reasonable condition rather than wholesale removal of all timber sleepers and have focused on the closed broad gauge track, fully rehabilitated that with concrete sleepers (to a closer 600mm spacing to future proof higher axleloads and/or speeds), new ballast and new 60kg/m rail (which was subsequently installed on the original standard gauge track) and effectively used the “new” standard gauge track as the principal main and the lightly refurbished “original” SG main as the secondary track.
That would have eliminated the mudhole and the increasing rail condition issues at least for the “new” main and probably minimized the level of disturbance to the “original” SG main and further saved all the issues of doing the upgrade in Victoria “under traffic”. Without doubt that would havesaved initially on capital, disruption costs and as we have subsequently seen substantial on-going rehabilitation works, cost and disruption.
In regard tothe network north of Albury, given its poor state, full concrete sleepering to Junee with drainage and rehabilitated ballast seems obvious but reducing the spacing of concrete sleepers to 600mm spacing would have likely better supported the existing 50/53kg/m rail. Againretaining the very best timber sleepers as feedstock for further north.
North ofJunee on the double track through to say Goulburn would the same model as referred to above for the Seymour to Wodonga double track section have yielded greater benefits more cost effectively. Thatis developing one fully rebuilt very high standard main and having a reburbished secondary main using recycled timber sleepers with bi directional signaling on both mains to enable overtaking moves might have been more effective given the extensive delays caused by superfreighters running behind grain trains in NSW. Yes that would have required additional high speed crossovers but from what I read here perhaps not that many to make this a much more fluid railway whilst reducing overall capital cost for other works. (In fact thedouble track main from Seymour to Wodonga is configured this way and there are many instances of PN and Aurizon intermodals running parallel northbound as part of the evening “rush”).
I reiterate these are only views to engender discussion.
The point to be made is:
The ARTC did not have a budget for general maintenance that they allocated to the installation of concrete sleepers.
After a number of derailments and significant delays in summer, they went to the Federal Govenment and asked for special funding for the installation of concrete sleepers as an emergency measure to keep the system running.
So the money was to be used for the installation of concrete sleepers, not general maintenance. Had it been used in the way described above the ARTC would have be open to accusations of fraud.
The installation of concrete sleepers was generally successful although the state of the ballast was not improved. Had there been the funding available, simply cleaning the ballast removed and replaced during the sleeper installation by cleaning before replacement would have greatly reduced any future problems and not cost much, although addtional ballast to replace the 30% or more of dirt would have cost something as would the transport to site of the ballast and the removal of the dirt.
However, the installation of concrete sleepers did not cause problems with mudholes. In general, the mudholes were there before and after concrete sleeper installation and I have photos to prove this in many areas on the NSW main South. It is true that since the concete sleepers were more positively attached to the rail, the pumping effect was worse because the wooden sleepers didn't move much because the rail was mainly attached to them by gravity.
The dramatic speed reductions required in summer have gone. The XPT appears to run to time unless affected by mechanical problems. It is no longer possible in midsummer to drive from Cootamundra to Junee overtaking the XPT legally on a 100km/h highway and taking departure photos in Cootamundra and arrival shots in Junee... as I have done in the past.
The rectification of ballast is taking place now in NSW. I've seen two different side ballast cleaners parked in Albury at different times, and one of them working out of Goulburn.
But it was the ARTC and its access to the Federal Government that gave us the concrete sleepers. Sydney Trains or RailCorp or Rail Infrastructure Corporation would not have done so because they need to consider first the Sydney commuters who vote for their State Government masters above the needs of private freight operators.
As for slow grain trains, these are mainly run by Pacific National in NSW. Many of the intermodal trains potentially delayed by grain services are also run by PN. Adding a third 81 class to 40 loaded NGKFs on the up would greatly reduce the problem, but Junee Control do allow overtaking at Harden, Yass and Goulburn, reasonably located on the steepest grades.
I've seen 4PS6 overtake a failed grain between Jerrawa and Oolong by taking the wrong line. I think it stayed on that line from Yass until Joppa Junction, and they didn't seem to worry that the signals were facing the wrong way. The grain then managed to restart and no more wrong line working was required.