Inland Railway - Construction Phase

 
  Trainplanner Chief Commissioner

Location: Along the Line
I too shook my head at the appallingly short sightedness of the standards used for the Alice Springs to Darwin line considering that it is a modern railway, had a substantial amount of Federal Government funding which I think should have been leveraged by the Feds to ensure that key components of the new line were at least future proofed for higher axle-loads and speeds.   I don't apologize for my constant harping on this because this stuff only gets built once in this country.   Anybody who thinks any Government or Private investor for that matter is going to cop a "please sir can I have some more" Oliver Twist begging a few years after they've already poured heaps of funding for another round of investment just doesn't get it.

There's plenty of evidence around what I say.  Just have a look at the date stamps on the side of rail in mainlines and see how old they are on some of the busiest and heaviest sections of network and that just may give you a reality check that once its in, its in for decades and decades.

I've quoted several times the example of Western Australia's request to install 107lb/yard rail instead of the Commonwealth's laid down 94lb/yard standard at the time the standard gauge was being built on the basis of the axleload and tonnage WAGR was proposing for its iron ore traffic and grain.  The WAGR had undertaken an extensive analysis of speed, axleload and other requirements looking at railways in North America particularly Canada and also the NSWGR which was already using 107lb/yd rail.

Within months of the line opening, broken rails and derailments started and withing 8 years the WAGR went ahead and funded a 108 million resleepering (heavy duty concrete sleepers) and rerailing (60kg/m head hardened rail).   It was compared to the original cost of building the line a huge financial whack.

So let's turn to the beautifully, optimized fit-for-purpose Alice Springs to Darwin railway.   A very dear friend (sadly departed) who is a hands on highly experienced track maintenance guy was urgently summonsed to Adelaide not all that long after the new line was open to provide his advice on problems that were already appearing on the new line.   He was aware what had been done to save "pennies" as he quoted with wider sleeper spacing, reduced formation profile, 50kg/m rail etc but until he actually saw it in the field he was staggered at what he saw with contract workers battling to keep  it together.

He then took a field trip south of Alice to sections where he knew Australian National had installed lighter 80lb/yard rail but on full depth concrete sleepers, standard sleeper spaced track with good formation, ballast etc.

Notwithstanding the age of the rail the track was otherwise in good condition and he remarked to me that short of significant re-spacing of sleepers north of Alice, formation widening on various curves and other works there was no way the new line would perform in the way that it should south of Alice.   This was especially apparent with the heavier ore traffic moving on the top end of the railway.

He was staggered that the sleepers north of Alice cannot accommodate heavier rail in the future unlike the 1970's AN sleepers south of Alice and worst of all the major new bridges north of Alice are not rated for heavier axle-loads.   If you check the reference material regarding the Tarcoola to Darwin Line you'll see almost a constant line of high grade mineral deposits located either side of the corridor virtually along its full distance.   Those sites all present potential opportunities over many decades to come.

So yes we may not have the domestic tonnage to Darwin but no one knows what the future brings in changing traffic flows that might have resulted in land-bridging etc in the future.  At least because of the foresight of Commonwealth Railways/Australian National we at least are able to rerail the Trans Line in 60kg/m rail as is being done now but sadly we still can't find the extra money to close up the sleeper spacing so that those sleepers can bare higher speeds and take advantage of the better performance 60kg/m rail delivers again proving my point that investments made in the 70's (40 years ago) are still not being refreshed/enhanced and upgraded for a higher standard railway of Australia's best inter-modal corridor.

So again yet another nation building 100 plus year piece of infrastructure compromised and guess what, the starters gun is at the ready to do it all over again with Inland Rail, we are doing it with Murray Basin Project in Victoria, goodness knows how many cracks we've had at upgrading Townsville-Mt Isa and of course look at Brisbane-Sydney-Melbourne-Adelaide.   Around $3 billion of upgrades compromised whilst we spent over $7 billion just on the Hume Highway between Sydney-Melbourne!!!

End of rant!!!

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  BDA Chief Commissioner

Location: Sydney
Well its probably time to leave the apparently intended to be limited Darwin line example behind .
The Inland Railway is supposed to save time and be more competitive than the existing route , if it is built to lack luster perway standards then the overall success of the project seems rather optional doesn't it .
  br30453 Chief Train Controller

Well its probably time to leave the apparently intended to be limited Darwin line example behind .
The Inland Railway is supposed to save time and be more competitive than the existing route , if it is built to lack luster perway standards then the overall success of the project seems rather optional doesn't it .
BDA
With 22 years of highway design, 18 years of rail design and 8 years in a railway "interface" positon I feel that I am in a position to comment.
The inland line is not being built to "lack lustre" standards despite what the "armchair experts" say. The standards adopted for this route are quite adequate for the task. The bridge standard are as per current practice which allows for any foreseeable increase in axle loads. Track standards can be upgraded when necessary.
The inland route as being designed can be considered "adequate for the task" which is the benchmark applied to all projects.
  nswtrains Chief Commissioner

Well its probably time to leave the apparently intended to be limited Darwin line example behind .
The Inland Railway is supposed to save time and be more competitive than the existing route , if it is built to lack luster perway standards then the overall success of the project seems rather optional doesn't it .
With 22 years of highway design, 18 years of rail design and 8 years in a railway "interface" positon I feel that I am in a position to comment.
The inland line is not being built to "lack lustre" standards despite what the "armchair experts" say. The standards adopted for this route are quite adequate for the task. The bridge standard are as per current practice which allows for any foreseeable increase in axle loads. Track standards can be upgraded when necessary.
The inland route as being designed can be considered "adequate for the task" which is the benchmark applied to all projects.
br30453
At least you are putting your hands up to the sub-standards adopted in the past. Read my lips, the inland line should be built to full USA standards, nothing else. Then proper full USA outline locos can be used instead of these overpriced designs we use with USA power plants shoe horned into them and too light to take full advantage of the tractive effort available to a 200 ton plus loco.

We don't make locos here anymore so its not affecting local industry but the efficiency gained would far outweigh any losses in that area. Go for the best for once for g*ds sake.
  james.au Chief Commissioner

Location: Sydney, NSW
Look, I am all for future proofing a design, but what future are you proofing for?

Some futures are more realistic than others. You have to pick the realistic ones, not unrealistic ones, and plan for those.

Yes, some of the assumptions might be wrong, but there is no such thing as a perfect forecast.

There is no point in spending lots of dollars planning for the most optimistic of forecasts when it has a low chance of being right.  You need to align the spend with the most likely outcome.

If you do go ahead and spend up big on optimising infrastructure for the highest possible tonnage, you end up taking away funds that could be used for other projects.  I would prefer a number of rail projects with infrastructure done at say 19-21 TAL that serves a broader range of markets than one project with 30-40 TAL that takes up all the money in the budget.
  Trainplanner Chief Commissioner

Location: Along the Line
I'm not an armchair poster.   Some people need to get out more and talk to those on the job and look for yourself at the appalling condition of the "fit for purpose" solutions or adequate for the task solutions that exist in many parts of the network.

And where is the

ARTC maintenance staff on the ground will tell you what its like trying to hold together a north-south corridor of 25TAL steel trains hammering the Sydney/Melbourne corridor and elsewhere.

If you want the task to be on an ever diminishing percentage of the freight task then you're on the money.   And to say track standards can be upgraded when necessary is a true statement but what is the real world situation.   It has taken financially starved ARTC well on a decade to get funding to commence rerailing of the Trans Line, years after it identified that the existing rail was severely stressed.   I can hear the chorus right now.  Ah that was good management.  Sweat the asset etc.   That's great to a point but when your across the road train performance suffers then its way too late.

Contrary to your claim I can recall managing 18tonne axleload nickel and fuel trains in Western Australia operating over 60lb per yard rail with only every 4th sleeper a standard gauge sleeper and the others narrow gauge sleepers.   But it didn't last long and tonneages rose and so the line was upgraded.

What we have here is entirely different.  An enormous and growing freight task and operators supporting the Inland Rail Project but what will be delivered will be a poor compromise and people really think after spending $10plus billion someone will come along later and drop some more billions to make it better after the business has almost disappeared.
  tazzer96 Deputy Commissioner

Building something correctly once costs more money initially, but will nearly always be cheaper in the long term.  Sure, nothing is overly wrong with building it to 25TAL, and future proofing the bridges, culverts etc to 30 TAL.  But lets face it, the line won't ever get upgraded to 30TAL if its originally built to 25TAL.   Upgrading it later means higher costs and disruptions to services.  

It doesn't cost that much extra to build it to a higher standard, but the higher standard does mean it can be utilised to its full potential.  Any freight company would love being able to remove a loco from an 1800m train and replace it with a wagon.  It means extra revenue from the freight, and money saved by not having to buy and maintain an extra locomotive.  
Its the savings of being able to travel at 100km/h instead of 80km/h.  All of these add up.
  Trainplanner Chief Commissioner

Location: Along the Line
Couldn't have said it better.   No more rants from me!!!   Great to see contractors are undertaking formation and sub grade stabilzation and rehabilitation works on the Ararat to Avoca section of the Ararat to Maryborough section.  Shame there hadn't been a bit of that on the Sydney - Melbourne section rather than spending tens of millions in what is basically piece meal works that will go on for decades!!!
  arctic Deputy Commissioner

Location: Zurich
Are PN, SCT et al lobbying for 30TAL? These are the guys who would benefit from such a change.
  The Vinelander Minister for Railways

Location: Ballan, Victoria on the Ballarat RFR Line
So you think the way to go about it is to build for very limited performance value . The glaring statement you make is that its fine to build this railway down to a cheap price rather than up to a modern standard .
Blind and Def Freddy already knows than we generally operate with sub standard axle loads in this country and continuing this lunacy is and always will be an exercise in going backwards .
Have a look at the most successful and profitable freight railways in Australia today and tell me they run on cheap dinky perway .
They spend good money on their infrastructure and are getting huge returns from the dollar spent . Nothing else compares , doesn't even get close .

Mate in the case of Adelaide-Darwin, you could build it to a 50 or 60 or hey, lets be crazy and say 100 tonne axle load and youre not going to make any significant difference to the tonnages hauled.  They're just not there to be hauled.  It is Darwin we are talking about, population less than the ACT.

What I'm saying, going and spending lots of money to create the best, world class train line, in some cases (and demonstrably in the case of Adelaide-Darwin) would be a waste of money.

It would be like a tradesman buying a road train to carry around his tools.
james.au

This is foolish thinking.

Darwin's population has nothing to do with it.

The SG wasn't built solely for the Ghan to take tourists to Darwin.
Getting back to basics...It was built as its a faster way to trade goods with Asia.

Unfortunately the under-investment was under the Howard government which wanted the brownie points for a little $$ as possible

Building it on the cheap will come back to bite them, as what happened on Victoria's North East line which is a constant work in progress....end of.


Mike.
  BDA Chief Commissioner

Location: Sydney
To be future proofed they want to be running 23TAL at 100-115 km/h , think 4 x 23 = 92T gross wagons .
Nobody expects 30TAL at 115 in the foreseeable future but 30TAL at 80 km/h is not an unreasonable expectation .
Think Hunter Valley NSW and how impossible it wasn't to run 30 TAL , is it really that much more expensive to have at least this on the Inland ?
  Trainplanner Chief Commissioner

Location: Along the Line
Thanks BDA.  It is about future proofing to enable the base infrastructure to be able to support application of those design and operating parameters into the future.   In terms of the question raised around are the operators ready for this???   The answer I believe is absolutely.   There are already locomotives and a significant number of double stack well wagons able to take advantage of increased load and speed limits as and when they become available so 23TAL at 115km/hr would be snapped up by them virtually immediately with the existing equipment.

Even though they are disappearing shortly, even Aurizons gauge converted narrow gauge container flats are good for loading up to 92 tonnes gross (23TAL) (I checked this morning at Dynon to be certain before sitting in my armchair!!!), so using that as the base then literally hundreds of wagons are available for 23TAL operations and many stenciled for 115km/hr operations as well.

So an increased speed limit and an increase in axleload would deliver immediate benefits in loco and fleet utilization (or as a minimum provide a buffer for maintaining punctuality).  

I'm not sure how much journey time saving (because it needs modelling) an increase in 10 to 15km/hr will deliver over the entire 1700 km long corridor but its safe to assume new construction would enable those speeds and upgraded existing track would have significant sections where such speed can be attained but of course its not continuous obviously because of grades and curvature on legacy sections.   No doubt someone with knowledge in that area could make a reasonable estimate.
  james.au Chief Commissioner

Location: Sydney, NSW
This is foolish thinking.

Darwin's population has nothing to do with it.

The SG wasn't built solely for the Ghan to take tourists to Darwin.
Getting back to basics...It was built as its a faster way to trade goods with Asia.

Unfortunately the under-investment was under the Howard government which wanted the brownie points for a little $$ as possible

Building it on the cheap will come back to bite them, as what happened on Victoria's North East line which is a constant work in progress....end of.

Mike.
The Vinelander

I bet that the increased economics of having a higher TAL on that line still wouldn't offset the reduced economics of using shipping from the start of the journey.  Sea freight is the cheapest form of freight around and over long distances simply whacks rail out of the ball park.  

It failed at what it was built for, not because it wasn't built with a higher TAL, but because it never made economic sense to do so in the first place.

Building it at all came back to bite the original owners who went into liqidaition as they sorely realised that their business model was flawed.
  Sulla1 Chief Commissioner

This is foolish thinking.

Darwin's population has nothing to do with it.

The SG wasn't built solely for the Ghan to take tourists to Darwin.
Getting back to basics...It was built as its a faster way to trade goods with Asia.

Unfortunately the under-investment was under the Howard government which wanted the brownie points for a little $$ as possible

Building it on the cheap will come back to bite them, as what happened on Victoria's North East line which is a constant work in progress....end of.

Mike.

I bet that the increased economics of having a higher TAL on that line still wouldn't offset the reduced economics of using shipping from the start of the journey.  Sea freight is the cheapest form of freight around and over long distances simply whacks rail out of the ball park.  

It failed at what it was built for, not because it wasn't built with a higher TAL, but because it never made economic sense to do so in the first place.

Building it at all came back to bite the original owners who went into liqidaition as they sorely realised that their business model was flawed.
james.au
Even during the peak of rail construction in the 19th century, the private rail builders in the United States rarely survived the debt accrued during construction and were generally reorganised during or after the construction, often more than once. The corporate history of the Darwin line appears to be remarkably similar to many of the mainlines in the US where construction bankrupted someone, but at the benefit to remote and hitherto undeveloped regions. The Northern Territory would have missed much of the benefits of the China Boom without the Darwin line, and it's reasonable to state that much of Darwin's current and future development is tied directly to the lower transport costs and opportunities created by the line. That it exists at least allows for future upgrades.
  Nightfire Minister for Railways

Location: Gippsland
The Alice Springs - Darwin railway was built as a long standing Commonwealth Government promise to the South Australian and Northern Territory Government’s / people.

As South Australia had carved off about half of It’s State and signed It over to the Commonwealth Government (to become the Northern Territory) In exchange for building a rail link from Adelaide to Darwin.
  neillfarmer Chief Train Controller

If sea freight is so cheap why are the Chinese and EU working on building and operating a China to Europe railway?
All over Australia we have infrastructure that is installed on the cheap and then when it becomes clogged with users after a few years rebuilding it causes massive disruption.
In the latest trains magazine there is an article on the 100 ton intermodal wagons and their problems. These wagons were crucial in making intermodal viable in the US. If double stack trains on the inland route are limited to 80kph or to lightly loaded containers it will be a joke and a massive wasted effort. Gee, we should be building for the next 30 years, not last year.
Neill Farmer
  james.au Chief Commissioner

Location: Sydney, NSW
1. If sea freight is so cheap why are the Chinese and EU working on building and operating a China to Europe railway?

2. All over Australia we have infrastructure that is installed on the cheap and then when it becomes clogged with users after a few years rebuilding it causes massive disruption.

3. In the latest trains magazine there is an article on the 100 ton intermodal wagons and their problems. These wagons were crucial in making intermodal viable in the US. If double stack trains on the inland route are limited to 80kph or to lightly loaded containers it will be a joke and a massive wasted effort. Gee, we should be building for the next 30 years, not last year.
Neill Farmer
neillfarmer

1. This rail line is a minuscule, minuscule mover of freight.  The vast vast vast majority is going by sea.  This 'new' 'line' is a nieche market at best.  Also, China is imposing itself all over their part of the world through the one belt one road initiative, which if a business case was prepared it would need to be loaded with political influence benefits to make it stack up from China's perspective.  Ie, all their projects are political.  Indeed, some of the projects are being wound back or abandoned as they are just not going to ever pay for themselves.

2. I hardly think that being clogged is a problem for infrastructure that applies in this discussion.  indeed others are talking the other way around - there is not enough traffic.
  Pressman Spirit of the Vine

Location: Wherever the Tin Chook or Qantas takes me
1. If sea freight is so cheap why are the Chinese and EU working on building and operating a China to Europe railway?

2. All over Australia we have infrastructure that is installed on the cheap and then when it becomes clogged with users after a few years rebuilding it causes massive disruption.

3. In the latest trains magazine there is an article on the 100 ton intermodal wagons and their problems. These wagons were crucial in making intermodal viable in the US. If double stack trains on the inland route are limited to 80kph or to lightly loaded containers it will be a joke and a massive wasted effort. Gee, we should be building for the next 30 years, not last year.
Neill Farmer

1. This rail line is a minuscule, minuscule mover of freight.  The vast vast vast majority is going by sea.  This 'new' 'line' is a nieche market at best.  Also, China is imposing itself all over their part of the world through the one belt one road initiative, which if a business case was prepared it would need to be loaded with political influence benefits to make it stack up from China's perspective.  Ie, all their projects are political.  Indeed, some of the projects are being wound back or abandoned as they are just not going to ever pay for themselves.

2. I hardly think that being clogged is a problem for infrastructure that applies in this discussion.  indeed others are talking the other way around - there is not enough traffic.
james.au
James, I think your overlooking the most important fact.
Yes, sea is the cheapest, But it's also the slowest.
A Freight train from Adelaide to Darwin is less than 48 hours, whilst a ship from Adelaide to Darwin is more like 7 to 8 days.
Containers moved via the Adelaide to Darwin line then shipped from Darwin reach the Asian ports a week quicker than shipping via sea direct from Adelaide or Melbourne, that's the advantage of the line.



As for the construction of the line, yes it was a long standing promise from the Federal Government made to sway the then South Australian Government to dissect the state and create the Northern Territory many moons ago.
(And doesn't that sound so similar to the promise of the transcontinental line made to Western Australia at Federation)
The Feds funded the line to Alice Springs and built south from Darwin to Larrimah only then tried to forget that promise they made.
If it wasn't for the SA and NT governments pushing the point and raising 50% of the funds and convincing Johnny Howard to fulfil the long standing promise, we still would not have a line to Darwin.
  james.au Chief Commissioner

Location: Sydney, NSW
Oh no i do realise that the sea freight is slower than rail, I'm not missing that point.  Still, the economics don't appear to stack up.

Someone put some detail into an explanation on another thread some time ago that was useful, but essentially what it was saying is that the shippers (i.e. the customers) find it far more efficient to go down to Melbourne and Sydney for various reasons.  Time to them is not as important as total cost.  Sure for some things the time is important, but for most things, it isn't.  

I think that the biggest thing that we should focus on is what is really happening.  Even with the line, customers are shipping their goods out of Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide instead of Darwin.  The line didn't lead to a wholesale change in shipping patterns and is really serving a domestic market only.
  cootanee Chief Commissioner

Location: Waiting for the sky to fall, the seas to rise... and seeing a train on the SSFL!
Back to the project we have Wink

Noticed the program of works Albury-Junee, Stockinbingal-Parkes make no provision for additional passing loops. No mention of loops in the new Illabo-Stockinbingal route. One assumes this means sufficient capacity with existing loops.
  Trainplanner Chief Commissioner

Location: Along the Line
Thanks Cootanee.   I think its still a concern regarding provision of loops etc.  As you well know Junee is where many crews etc changeover and at times there is a build up of trains where trains are held outside of town etc, etc despite there double track north of Junee and crossing loops fairly closely sighted to the south Harefield, outside Wagga etc.   With Junee in the order of 6 hours or so from Melbourne I imagine it will still be a significant crew change point.

Without access to any modelling etc but just reading the literature available we know Parkes is going to be a major north-south-east-west crossroads point and unlike the Main south described above all approaches to Parkes are on single track which does make me question what additional infrastructure maybe needed to keep that fluid on the assumption that numbers of trains will increase substantially if the target is to get 80% of the contestable market share on rail.

Its a long way from Parkes through to Illabo/June with only minimal numbers of crossing loops and of course these are not "passing lanes" with higher entry and exit speeds etc.

I assume more detail will flow so no point in guessing!!
  james.au Chief Commissioner

Location: Sydney, NSW
Could crews feasibly make it from Melbourne-Parkes?  If they're on 12 hour shifts (as per other threads), with appropriate breaks they should be able to make it no?

I agree with @Trainplanner, the role of Parkes is going to be big given its the joining point between the NS and EW traffic flows.

From Parkes, where could 12 hour shifts get you?
  neillfarmer Chief Train Controller

Melbourne to Parkes via the Newell Hwy is 710 km and a trip time of 8 hours.
Brisbane to Parkes via the Newell Hwy is 960 km with a travel time of 11 hours.
I think Melbourne to Parkes could be done in one shift, but Parkes to Brisbane might be a stretch.
Anybody know what the longest distances travelled by a crew are now?
Neill Farmer
  Trainplanner Chief Commissioner

Location: Along the Line
As you'll appreciate 12 hour shifts doesn't mean 12 hours at the controls and there will be drivers and ops people who are much more uptodate on what that translates to across the road in actual driving hours combined off course with dwell time for crosses etc.

But I would be surprised if you could get to Parkes in one shift.   It's slow getting out of Melbourne for a start and that relatively restricted speed doesn't open until around Broadmeadows and then there is the climb and curvature involved crossing the divide into and through Seymour so for the first 100/120km the average speed is low.   Then it opens out more of course through to Wodonga, and you're on single track from there with slow points into/out of Junee etc.   Certainly I've paced numerous intermodals and when they get underway they really move but not I'd suggest to really build a high average speed.   From Ilabo to Parkes you have similar variability so I'd say adding in crosses etc you would really eat well into even a 12 hour shift without accounting for prep and sign on/sign off etc.

As I say the Drivers will have that understanding but hence why BDA and colleagues talk of higher track speeds etc.
  cootanee Chief Commissioner

Location: Waiting for the sky to fall, the seas to rise... and seeing a train on the SSFL!
Just announced.
  • Around $30 million worth of contracts awarded for feasibility and detailed design
  •  These contracts will support the approvals process, environmental investigations and engineering design, progressing the project  toward construction

  •    Stockinbingal to Parkes (NSW) $500,000 contract awarded to Lycopodium Infrastructure Pty Ltd
  •    Parkes to Narromine (NSW) $10 million contract awarded to WSP Australia Pty Ltd and Mott MacDonald Australia Pty Ltd
  •    Narrabri to North Star (NSW) $13 million contract awarded to WSP Australia Pty Ltd and Mott MacDonald Australia Pty Ltd
  •    Tottenham (VIC) to Illabo (NSW) $6 million contract awarded to Kellogg Brown & Root Pty Ltd


http://minister.infrastructure.gov.au/chester/releases/2017/november/dc361_2017.aspx

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