North Coast Line Crossing Loop Extensions

 
  Sulla1 Chief Commissioner

As part of the State Government's $100-million upgrade of the North Coast Line's capacity, eight loops between Rockhampton and Townsville are to be extended and opened for 950-metre long trains between 2020 and 2021. Rockhampton to Mackay includes; Kunwarara, Kooltandra, St Lawrence, and Koumala. Mackay to Townsville includes; Mt Ossa, Longford Creek, Guthalungra and Gumlu. Work at Gumlu has already begun.

Currently there are 24 loops between Rockhampton and Mackay, all RCS (CTC) controlled from Townsville, with Parkhurst, Yaamba and Mackay exceeding 800m, the remainder are mostly around 700m in length. Between Mackay and Townsville there's 27 loops, all RCS (CTC) controlled from Townsville, with Yalboroo, Longford Creek, Mookarra and Giru exceeding 800m. There are two double track sections - Durroburra to Kaili, north of Bowen, and Nome to Townsville.

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  RTT_Rules Oliver Bullied, CME

Location: Dubai UAE
As part of the State Government's $100-million upgrade of the North Coast Line's capacity, eight loops between Rockhampton and Townsville are to be extended and opened for 950-metre long trains between 2020 and 2021. Rockhampton to Mackay includes; Kunwarara, Kooltandra, St Lawrence, and Koumala. Mackay to Townsville includes; Mt Ossa, Longford Creek, Guthalungra and Gumlu. Work at Gumlu has already begun.

Currently there are 24 loops between Rockhampton and Mackay, all RCS (CTC) controlled from Townsville, with Parkhurst, Yaamba and Mackay exceeding 800m, the remainder are mostly around 700m in length. Between Mackay and Townsville there's 27 loops, all RCS (CTC) controlled from Townsville, with Yalboroo, Longford Creek, Mookarra and Giru exceeding 800m. There are two double track sections - Durroburra to Kaili, north of Bowen, and Nome to Townsville.
Sulla1
Thanks
Whats the standard length of the NCL freights?

Amazing 52 passing loops, but only 47 +800m long.

Is 950m likely to be the new standard for NCL freights?
  Sulla1 Chief Commissioner

Most freights on the North Coast Line are limited to 650m. These crossing loop extensions will allow four 950m trains to run and cross each other per day while the rest of the trains will remain limited to 650m.

The earthworks I saw at Gumlu this morning suggests the loop is being extended to perhaps 1300-1400m.

If 950m is to become the standard, a lot more loops will have to be done, there's some very big gaps for the "big trains", and some of the most heavily used loops, like Parkhurst, have not been included in this current program.
  Jack Le Lievre Assistant Commissioner

Location: Moolap Station, Vic
Being unfamiliar with Qld N/G Operations, why do they only run "short" Intermodals? Is it simply a case of running shorter more frequent services? Or is it a hangover from the past and they haven't brought them up to a more modern standard?

I am just trying to learn a bit more about Qld.
  Sulla1 Chief Commissioner

Being unfamiliar with Qld N/G Operations, why do they only run "short" Intermodals? Is it simply a case of running shorter more frequent services? Or is it a hangover from the past and they haven't brought them up to a more modern standard?

I am just trying to learn a bit more about Qld.
Jack Le Lievre

Primarily it's the infrastructure and the cost of modifying it. The North Coast Line is 1681km long, has 129 crossing loops and 198km of double track. Crossing loop lengths were largely established by the late 1960s and early 1970s when doubleheaded "90-tonne" 1310hp-1800hp locomotives established maximum train tonnages of around 1600-tonnes and train lengths of around 650m. Crossing loops were lengthened to suit this size train - most to around 700m - throughout the 1970s.

CTC infrastructure (now called RCS by QR) was then installed across the 104 crossing loops between Caboolture and Townsville between 1979 and 1992. Despite the introduction to the corridor of much more powerful electric locomotives in 1989 and diesels in 1995, QR mostly kept with the previous maximum train lengths, preferring the economies of replacing multiple locomotives on one train with a single locomotive, rather than running longer trains.

In the 1990s when other state operators began upgrading their single track interstate mainlines for 1500m trains, they were largely improving much less sophisticated infrastructure than that already installed in Queensland. The NSW North Coast Line had much shorter crossing loops to the equivalent QR line, which was already electrified with CTC installed at every loop to Townsville.

With the arrival of Open Access and then PN in 2005, the tonnages out of each of the major railing points - Rockhampton, Mackay, Townsville and Cairns - were effectively split, with each operator running a daily 650m long domestic intermodal service out of each of Mackay, Townsville and Cairns. As result the "short train" continued to work for each operator. Plus, not all intermodal is created equal. Aurizon's and now Linfox's export container trains from Mackay and Rockhampton are particualarly heavy and use shorter two-slot 80-tonne wagons - these trains can gross up to 3000-tonnes despite being restricted to 650m.

Fast forward to today with loop extensions now underway, PN and Linfox will probably lengthen their Cairns trains - #C49/#798 for Linfox and #CP1/#7P2 for PN - to 950m, potentially detaching 300m of train in Townsville, and allowing their Mackay and remaining Townsville loading to be combined into one train instead of running two. Alternativelly, hopefully corridor traffic growth will require the status quo for current services to be retained and the Cairns trains simply run extra length to handle growing tonnages. Time will tell.
  neillfarmer Chief Train Controller

Sulla's explanation is spot on. To understand Queensland rail on the North Coast System you need to go back to the late 1980s. Light track, train control communications by QR telephone, trains stopping at every loop to report position and get an authority to continue and low level timber bridges across costal streams. It was a rail line that was stuck in the 1950s, all that had changed was the locomotive up the front.
In the 1990s the railway was rebuilt with heavy rail and concrete sleepers. CTC was installed. What did not change was the location and number of crossing loops. They were extended but not reduced in number. At that time the wisdom was that CTC and even longer loops should allow a reduction of around 1/3 in the number of loops but this did not happen. I think that would have increased costs too far.
There was even some rationalisations where QR told itself that more shorter trains was a better model than fewer longer trains.
It is good to see that the NCL is being improved, it is in some ways a forgotten gem. every bit as important as the more popular Transcontinental.
  Sunbird Station Master

In this discussion about why North Coast trains are so short no one has mentioned Denison Street.
I first heard about the loop extension project a few days ago from an ABC radio report. The story included a sound bite from someone in Rockhampton (can't remember who) saying the prospect of longer trains meant a bypass of Rockhampton was needed.
At the time I wondered if the whole project was just a ploy by the state government to pressure the feds to fund a rail bypass at the same time as the road bypass (current planning is for road and rail to use roughly the same corridor).
Regardless of wether that's the case surely the disruption caused by trains travelling through Rockhampton (and the expense of a fix) is a major reason why NCL trains are so short?
  james.au Chief Commissioner

Location: Sydney, NSW
Would there be any benefit in equipping the line to run 1500 or even 1800m trains?  Notwithstanding the volumes are perhaps not there but an 1800m train could offer some interesting economics no?
  Sulla1 Chief Commissioner

Would there be any benefit in equipping the line to run 1500 or even 1800m trains?  Notwithstanding the volumes are perhaps not there but an 1800m train could offer some interesting economics no?
james.au

The "Big Train effect" experienced by North American and Australian rail operators in recent years has been one where rail operators reduce cost at the expense of customer satisfaction. North Queensland businesses have been used to daily or multiple daily departures and arrivals for decades - and if trains don't run to suit these customers, they'll have trucks ready and waiting.

Beyond that, the issues of terminals having capacity to handle these trains and dwell times waiting in the few available crossing loops is likely to impact transit times and reliability. For example, the "little" 650m trains can transit the Mackay to Partington section of the NCL in as little as four and three quarter hours - that's an average speed of 77km/h and faster than the parallel highway. However if one of the "big" trains has to wait for two hours at Gumlu for an opposing "big" train to leave Townsville...well, efficiency has reduced the average train speed to 54km/h and the Driver Only crew member is starting to look like they might have to be releived before their shift ends - increasing the crewing costs the "big" train was supposed to reduce.

Ultimately train lengths are a juggle between keeping customers and minimising costs. Obviously there is a minimum length a train has to run to meet costs and make money. There are also plenty of circumstances, such as capacity and journey length that dictate the need for running fewer, longer trains. However attempting to push a one size fits all thinking to all rail operations can be a mistake if it costs customers. PN makes money running 650m trains in Queensland, and also makes money running 1500m trains in NSW and Victoria - on both corridors rail market share is estimated to be around 30%. Is there a wrong? Is there a right? Or is there a somewhere in between?
  james.au Chief Commissioner

Location: Sydney, NSW
Would there be any benefit in equipping the line to run 1500 or even 1800m trains?  Notwithstanding the volumes are perhaps not there but an 1800m train could offer some interesting economics no?

The "Big Train effect" experienced by North American and Australian rail operators in recent years has been one where rail operators reduce cost at the expense of customer satisfaction. North Queensland businesses have been used to daily or multiple daily departures and arrivals for decades - and if trains don't run to suit these customers, they'll have trucks ready and waiting.

Beyond that, the issues of terminals having capacity to handle these trains and dwell times waiting in the few available crossing loops is likely to impact transit times and reliability. For example, the "little" 650m trains can transit the Mackay to Partington section of the NCL in as little as four and three quarter hours - that's an average speed of 77km/h and faster than the parallel highway. However if one of the "big" trains has to wait for two hours at Gumlu for an opposing "big" train to leave Townsville...well, efficiency has reduced the average train speed to 54km/h and the Driver Only crew member is starting to look like they might have to be releived before their shift ends - increasing the crewing costs the "big" train was supposed to reduce.

Ultimately train lengths are a juggle between keeping customers and minimising costs. Obviously there is a minimum length a train has to run to meet costs and make money. There are also plenty of circumstances, such as capacity and journey length that dictate the need for running fewer, longer trains. However attempting to push a one size fits all thinking to all rail operations can be a mistake if it costs customers. PN makes money running 650m trains in Queensland, and also makes money running 1500m trains in NSW and Victoria - on both corridors rail market share is estimated to be around 30%. Is there a wrong? Is there a right? Or is there a somewhere in between?
Sulla1
Nope, there is no right or wrong way so long as it is a sustainable service.  Im more interested in understanding the why's and why nots.
  Sulla1 Chief Commissioner

Since at least Tuesday the 12-wagon SD side dump set has been running from Nightjar (north of Townsville) to Guthalungra, dumping ballast on the new formation for the loop extension. Earthmovers then level off the ballast ready for concrete sleepers. This morning 2804 and the SD set were unloading on the existing loop where the extension starts.

Presumably, when this work is completed at Guthalungra the same ballasting work will then be moved to Gumlu, the next loop to the north where levelling works were completed several weeks ago.

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