The recent contributions to this thread since the announcement about a $1 billion replacement program have been very interesting to read and the experiences of those who have operated various test and regular trains and the capabilities of those trains versus timetables etc have been a great read.
Rather than be specifically focused on what particular traction package or train type that should be used my view is that there are some base requirements that are needed for any new train rather than specifying that it must be a new XPT type or a DMU (Prospector/V’Locity/Explorer) or locomotive hauled option.
My first perspective based on Australian and a lot of international reality is that whatever the fleet, it has to be recognized that its going to last roundly 30 to 35 years. That then leads to a view that we need to ensure that the “train” is designed and built from the outset with future proofing in mind. In other words don’t rule out a particular capability or feature today just because we don’t have that available to us right now.
From that perspective consider firstly traction performance. The development of fuel efficient, highly reliable and powerful high speed diesel engines for both DMU and locomotive applications has come a long way in the past 10-years and especially in the past 5-years. Railpagers have quoted the difference in performance between say Explorer units versus the Prospector and even that with its brutish performance is now 10 years old. So lets accept we need high power to weight ratio and similarly high performance electro –pneumatic braking systems so we can achieve the best performance over the twisty, windy and heavily graded NSW-Southern Queensland network.
Similarly we need tilt. There has been enough said in the forum already about the benefits of tilt that enable trains to take curves at the maximum speed possible without adversely affecting passenger comfort. That’s well evidenced in Queensland and of course Japan and Europe. While tilt adds to the cost the reality is that we are not going to see rail alignments rebuilt substantially to run a few passenger trains at considerably higher speeds so we will have to fully exploit the potential of what is out there.
So what maximum speed should the vehicles be capable off given their long life. Based on the Mid West USA experience of running higher speed passenger trains in a conventional railway environment the view seems to be that it is 176 km/hr (110 mph) as beyond that grade separation of road crossings is necessary (noting that UK and some other locations do have some level crossings in 200 km/hr territory.
This claim is likely to draw criticism from some rail pagers but the reality is that passenger vehicles like V’Locity, the Prospector, QR Tilt trains etc already have the capability of achieving those speeds even if the either the infrastructure or regulatory environment CURRENTLY precludes that. If we look at track standards, they have in fact been improving with concrete sleepered mainlines and ARTC for example undertaking mainline rail renewals using 60kg/m rail. It is therefore quite a reality that over 30 years, more rerailing will occur, level crossing warning protection equipment will be upgraded using train speed predictors that adjust LX protection operation based on the speed of the train (already utilized) and added safety/protection systems like ATP/TPWS and ATMS that will be available to ensure driver compliance with signals and speed restrictions for curves etc.
I have no doubt the reductions in journey time that were announced in association with the XPT fleet replacement piece were based on some form of computer modelling. What I can say based on my direct experience of running train performance tests with new trains relative to the model output is that trains like the Prospector and V’Locity units ALWAYS BETTERED the modelled output. (Happy to provide examples). So it is my view that if you have a train with good power to weight ratio, high performance braking and tilt, running over progressively upgraded track even with alignments as they are you have the potential in that sense to deliver something considerably better than we do today.
The next thing is designing a train to suit the market and the types of service to be provided. Based on a 30 year minimum life what you do need is flexibility. The ability for the train configurations to be adjusted to meet particular loading and patronage requirements. In Victoria the new fleet started out as 2 car V’Locity units. It was envisaged that 2 x 2 car sets would suffice in peak periods but now we see 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 car configurations and trials are currently being held to run 9 cars.
We have also seen the re-emegence and expansion of train sets splitting and combining like the Moree/Armadale Explorer service as V’Locity trains now split/combine at Bendigo, Ballarat, Traralgon to serve feeder routes.
Whilst some routes like the North Coast lend themselves to a larger fixed formation, there are opportunities to split and divide at Orange for Dubbo and Parkes or similarly at Albury/Wagga Wagga for Melbourne and even north of Casino/Grafton for Brisbane. This doesn’t preclude of course having two fleets but given in relative terms the small fleet it is, there is a lot to be gained at having a homogenous fleet that can be built up and broken down.
The other area we need to get smart with is more modular type interiors so that over the 30 plus year using internal rail and track systems it is possible to renew or reconfigure seating and other parts of the interior.
In terms of passenger amenity the announcement was fairly strong that there would be high standards of comfort and wifi etc. There are plenty of examples of good quality seat designs that should be able to provide a step change in comfort without the vehicles having to be gold plated. Similarly there are options around catering and refreshments instead of using the traditional buffet.
Trainplanner Thanks for your input & well thought out post, same as your post on the Bathurst Bullet thread.
In pretty well everything I have said in this debate, I have put the basis of the need for track upgrading that includes grade & curve replacements, without those two happening sadly we will perhaps be stuck with a repeat of the original XPT idea, that being the XPT was a leap forward for NSW rail but, again the sorrow was that it was at the same time, a disaster owing to the initial failures in planning that had not taken into account the difference in NSW compared to the HST & the lines it operated on.
It did not take long to reveal these deficiencies especially with the reduction in running times & associated reduction in the speed boards for general locomotive hauled trains, in other words the mail & other passenger trains operating over the major routes were speed downgraded especially on curves under 100Km/h with a general 5K reduction with several being reduced by 10k's. Not a lot indivdually but where the trains ran over heavy graded lines with low speed boards it was a substantial reduction to make the XPT look better with so called improved running times, however, in the main the XPT ended up running to the same speed boards as the old Loco hauled trains. So much for the advancement of the NSW rail passenger fleet, which incidently in many instances the XPT today runs a slower TT than back then.
One can argue & several have done that previously that the existing carriages are generally sound & therefore can withstand internal rebuilding, but would that be a better option even though it maybe a cheaper option in the short term, I actually doubt that. In some ways, while its a minor issue a bad design feature in the XPT for long distance day travel is the wide windows, meaning 1 row of seats has good viewing while 2 are generally poor & the seats are aligned at the mid sill, to me modern design should incouporate narrow windows that allow each seat to be fully set with the window alingment no matter the direction of travel.
You do mention how dated trains are & the improved technologies which is very evident around the world, here we expect 30 odd years wear in the trains, but is that realistic in view of how they are basically thrashed to death by having the cheapest option winning contracts, as against looking at the overall quality of the design in it? That really is something that whoever is involved in the decision making process, meaning how much will those in treasury or other areas who are no doubt against Rail services especially passenger fleets.
The concept of splitting trains does work well on the Northern line, & it was the XPT's introduction to the NT region that brought that to an end until the XPL's, a Robust modern splitting train would work on that service, & while the 4-3 combo is more than enough now, if new trains are built & allowed for this sort of work, then they should be robust enough to have them capable of 5-4 in future if not for capacity power.
One great problem that is had these days is the real inability to plan for holiday times & increasing trains to cater for the seasons, thus its imperative to look for sufficient spares of both locomotive/power units as well as carriages.