As proposals for a Melbourne to Brisbane freight railcorridor creep back into the headlines once again, an interesting article has appeared in the newsletter of the Railway Technical Society of Australia’s (RTSA) Sydney chapter suggesting that all is not quite so clear cut when it comes to selecting the optimum route for the railway, Mark Carter writes.
Behind the recent headlines has been the establishment latelast year by the Federal Government of an Inland Rail implementation group led by former transport minister John Anderson.
According to deputy prime minister Warren Truss, the group’sfirst priority will be to finally settle the alignment and reserve land for the route.
I was fortunate enough to be working in one of the EasternStates transport agencies at the time that ARTC was commissioned to undertake the 2010 study which in effect was effectively a review of the proposal of the predecessor organization to GATR promoting the original Inland Rail Corridor Proposal. It was evident to me that ARTCvery much had an attitude of wanting to maximize use of its existing network between Melbourne and Parkes via Cootamundra and then essentially string together an alignment north of there using existing “branch or secondary” lines to the Queensland border, partial use of some of the Queensland Rail narrow gauge alignments to the Toowoomba area and then of course new construction to cross the range before connecting to the existing standard gauge into Brisbane.
I found this very disturbing. Notwithstanding that if I were ARTC I wouldwant to make use of the investment already made in upgrading existing infrastructure but more because that attitude reflects a lack of vision and foresight in failing to recognize that projects of this scale are really very strategic and that whatever the type of railway you end up with is based on even their own experience will be railway you are going to live with for well over a hundred years or longer. (Just look atSydney to Melbourne). This inland railproject will not be competing with the road industry as we see it today but increasing a road system that will see B triples travelling at 100km/hr between capitals in not that many years as seen by the “trials” being proposed on the Hume Freeway.
There appeared then in 2010 as there appears now nounderstanding of any lessons learned about getting this right the very first time and just as importantly that the alignment ARTC proposes for the Inland Railway effectively being a 21st century version of the current goattruck they already have on the east coast being heavily compromised in so many ways.
Importantly whilst referenced in the 2010 report not enoughattention or value has been placed on the substantial freight flows the ARTC proposal by passes that the GATR option picks up. For example the Goulburn Valley currentlygenerates around 350,000 TEU per annum of product of which only a small proportion goes by rail. Routing theInland Rail Corridor via the Shepparton area taps that market and allows it to be sent both north and south by rail to ports for export as well as domestic markets to the north.
Export traffic out of the Griffith area gets both areduction in distance and transit time going via Shepparton increasing its viability for train operators and potentially freight rates to shippers. The article also refers to the overallBrisbane to Melbourne corridor being 140km less with the GATR route which has to be hugely significant in journey time savings and fuel and maintenance costs. Again if it’s not done with thisproject we end up with the same issue asSydney to Melbourne today – rail being a longer corridor than road. The references in the article from ProfessorLaird put it forward so simply. It’s a nobrainer but not it seems to ARTC.
The next key point are the standards ARTC might (more likelywill propose) versus GATR. Withoutdoubt ARTC will upgrade/build this most likely to its current standards, structures suited for long term 30 tonne axleload but operating as a 25 tonne axeload railway versus 32.5 tonne axleload which is the North American standard now also being rolled out in the Middle East and elsewhere. The GATR presentations I have viewed talkabout unconstrained operation of trains being able to operate at higher and more continuous track speed than the ARTC option would propose. This impacts on rail and vehicle wear, fuelconsumption and very critically the cycle time of locomotive, train sets and crews. ARTC seem to be able to mouth thatthey understand this this in their media speak but actually don’t get it in practice.
Given the extent of “branchlines” that need to be upgradedthere is absolutely no doubt there will be huge problems with formation condition, drainage and alignment that will compromise the potential of this line that the GATR (and its predecessors) have been very strong in ensuring doesn’t occur with their option. Justthis week ATSB released the findings of quite a major derailment between Stockinbingal and Parkes caused by the failure of the formation contributed to by poor drainage etc that was referenced to the fact that this section was classified and operated as a branchline for roundly 70 years prior to it being “upgraded”. Given this derailment was on relativelyundulating tangent track how capable will the corridor north of Parkes etc be with many more kilometres of “branchline/secondary” line trackage. Will ARTC again using its now infamous sideinsertion sleeper change out technique that destroys the capping layer, subgrade and compromises the formation further as it has so successfully done with long term consequences between Melbourne and Sydney and elsewhere. Without doubt it will.
Yes the GATR proposal might be more expensive upfront butwithout doubt it will be a far higher performing, lower operating cost, more competitive railway than what ARTC propose and or display evidence of today.
But alas I fear the ARTC option will get the tick simplybecause it will be cheaper up front, yes it will increase rail market share but it will NEVER deliver the same long term benefits for decades to come because to quote the old saying it was done on the cheap using that wonderful clause “fit for purpose” approach. Sadly there arejust not the power brokers with knowledge of rail to strongly push Government to spend more for a longer term better outcome and objectively demonstrate that the ARTC model is flawed.