What is the point of the North Coast line?

 
  barryc Chief Train Controller

Location: Waiting for a train to Canungra
I just drove from Sydney to Murwillumbah yesterday and I was impressed by the latest Pacific Highway roadworks.  Not only is the entire road being duplicated, but hilly sections such as St Helena near Byron Bay and near Macksville have been or are being eliminated by the construction of deep cuttings and long bridges. In the case of St Helena, there is even a pair of tunnels.

My question is with this investment going on, why bother with the North Coast railway?  When the highway is fully upgraded it will be difficult for the road authorities to say no to vehicles larger than the B doubles currently allowed.

This is a serious question so does anyone have any idea why token amounts are spent on the railway at all rather than abandoning it and relying entirely on road which, after all, now carries 90% of the traffic and will probably increase its share as the highway is upgraded.

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  tazzer96 Deputy Commissioner

I just drove from Sydney to Murwillumbah yesterday and I was impressed by the latest Pacific Highway roadworks.  Not only is the entire road being duplicated, but hilly sections such as St Helena near Byron Bay and near Macksville have been or are being eliminated by the construction of deep cuttings and long bridges. In the case of St Helena, there is even a pair of tunnels.

My question is with this investment going on, why bother with the North Coast railway?  When the highway is fully upgraded it will be difficult for the road authorities to say no to vehicles larger than the B doubles currently allowed.

This is a serious question so does anyone have any idea why token amounts are spent on the railway at all rather than abandoning it and relying entirely on road which, after all, now carries 90% of the traffic and will probably increase its share as the highway is upgraded.
barryc
Because even the NCL's awful slow meandering route is more efficient for a lot of cargo.  Ever seen one of the 1500m steel trains?  Imagine the amount of trucks and road wear they would cause.  

Rail is still cheaper for most items if needed to be transported long distances (more than 400km).  

It will still be easy for nothing larger than a B-double because the road isn't good enough.  Too much traffic, lanes not wide enough and the biggest killer is everything off the highway can't support larger trucks.
  barryc Chief Train Controller

Location: Waiting for a train to Canungra
 
Because even the NCL's awful slow meandering route is more efficient for a lot of cargo.  Ever seen one of the 1500m steel trains?  Imagine the amount of trucks and road wear they would cause.

Rail is still cheaper for most items if needed to be transported long distances (more than 400km).  

It will still be easy for nothing larger than a B-double because the road isn't good enough.  Too much traffic, lanes not wide enough and the biggest killer is everything off the highway can't support larger trucks.
tazzer96
Given that rail is down to around 10% of the total freight on this corridor, it doesn't seem that it is cheaper or more efficient for almost all freight.

When the Pacific Highway upgrade is completed it will be well and truly suitable for the current B-doubles and bigger.

Just because railfans think that rail is better does not mean it is in the real world. This is demonstrated by rail's falling share of the market.

Any more ideas?
  simstrain Chief Commissioner

The road already has most of the traffic between Sydney and Melbourne now. Only 7-8% of freight between these 2 cities is carried by rail along the NCL now. Most of that is as Tazzer says stuff that can't really be transported by road.

This situation is unlikely to change any time soon except for when the inland rail line is built which will mean less freight traffic between Sydney and Brisbane. The ARTC doesn't really have any money to spend on the NCL and will likely be more forgotten once the inland becomes active.

The north coast line is a busy rural passenger line with 6 XPT rail services a day.
  simstrain Chief Commissioner

The ARTC doesn't have a direct route into Sydney for freight and the curfews on the Sydney metro also do not help rail freights cause.
  Sulla1 Chief Commissioner

It really is up to PN and Aurizon to increase their market share through meeting customer needs and more imaginative uses of the NCL's existing capacity. Running one big train a day timetabled to suit Sydney's peak hour instead of potential customers has done more damage to market share than the NCL's poor alignment. Both operators need to consider intermodal hubbing out of a Newcastle or Maitland location with road distribution to Sydney if they want to win more Sydney-Brisbane volume.
  james.au Chief Commissioner

Location: Sydney, NSW
SCT will begin running their own services on the line early next year from the Bromelton terminal.  It will be interesting to see what freight begins to generate after that.

Also, re Inland Rail, taking the Melbourne traffic may not be a bad thing.  It will allow operators to focus on the Sydney-Brisbane market instead of both markets.  When Qantas stopped flying to London through Asia, it retimed the flights into Singapore/Bangkok/Hong Kong to be better for the passengers flying to those markets.  By all accounts, this helped their Asia flying become more profitable.  I suspect a similar thing might happen on the Brisbane-Sydney market, with more paths available (and not used by MB/BM services, and therefore more scheduling flexibility.

Works to improve access at the Sydney end (and along the length) would be helpful, but freeing up the line to do the SB/BS work would also help.
  RTT_Rules Dr Beeching

Location: Dubai UAE
SCT will begin running their own services on the line early next year from the Bromelton terminal.  It will be interesting to see what freight begins to generate after that.

Also, re Inland Rail, taking the Melbourne traffic may not be a bad thing.  It will allow operators to focus on the Sydney-Brisbane market instead of both markets.  When Qantas stopped flying to London through Asia, it retimed the flights into Singapore/Bangkok/Hong Kong to be better for the passengers flying to those markets.  By all accounts, this helped their Asia flying become more profitable.  I suspect a similar thing might happen on the Brisbane-Sydney market, with more paths available (and not used by MB/BM services, and therefore more scheduling flexibility.

Works to improve access at the Sydney end (and along the length) would be helpful, but freeing up the line to do the SB/BS work would also help.
james.au
I tend to agree that some S-B traffic is being bumped for tight windows through Sydney and the Inland will see traffic switch to the Inland but longterm reductions on the NSW NCL is unlikely to be realised. The line also see's 3 return XPT trains a day, as many as Canberra, more than the Syd-Melbourne line and some regional lines in Vic.

It may have 10% of the freight, but what percentage of the contestable freight? I'm sure still low, but how low?

Overall an upgraded Pac Hwy I doubt will have a significant impact as the timings by road are already favorable compared to rail so rail is mostly moving the non-time sensitive stuff now anyway .
  brissim Chief Train Controller

I recall reading a story/news item/article probably about 15-20 years ago about someone who had plotted the decline in freight traffic between Sydney and Melbourne (and vis-versa) as each new section of the Hume Freeway was opened. Each time a new section of freeway was opened, there was - or so it was claimed - a measurable shift in percentage freight traffic from rail to road.

I can see the same thing happening on the Pacific Highway. By the end of 2017 there will be four-lane all the way up to Brisbane with the exception of the Coffs Harbour bypass and the final Grafton-Ballina section. This has got to impact on general freight. Sure the heavy non-time-dependent steel loads will continue to go by rail but I can certainly see more container traffic ending up on the road. Time is money and it will simply be cheaper to ship using road transport. And with the underlying problem of the North Coast Railway (too many low speed curves) I can't see any major investment in rail re-alignment.

Tony
  tazzer96 Deputy Commissioner

Even containers are often cheaper by rail.   But the problem with rail is that it is always slower than a truck.   Anything that isn't time sensitive goes by rail.  Its cheaper.   Eg, a container needs to go from sydney-brisbane to get a ship due to leave in 4 days time.   It will go by rail for the majority of the route.

Realignment and duplication of the maitland-dungog/gloucester section would likely see a shift back to rail, and that section is likely to have a serious upgrade due to heavy interstate passenger and freight, intrastate and local passenger trains and coal traffic.  That is already the worst section anyway.

Another reason why trucks are cheaper is because they are taxpayer subsidised.  $10000 a year in rego costs is not all that much, and much of that goes in admin costs, like log book enforcement.  The road is repaved using your taxes. Some companies get fuel rebates.  Insurance costs for a truck is also very low compared to rail vehicles.

Meanwhile maintenance of the NCL is fully recouped via access fees.   Imagine the uproar if a trucking company had to pay $100 everything it hit the road plus another $10 for every km it traveled.  Imagine if a trucking company wasn't allow to use the roads in and out of sydney for 6 hours a day.
  tazzer96 Deputy Commissioner

It really is up to PN and Aurizon to increase their market share through meeting customer needs and more imaginative uses of the NCL's existing capacity. Running one big train a day timetabled to suit Sydney's peak hour instead of potential customers has done more damage to market share than the NCL's poor alignment. Both operators need to consider intermodal hubbing out of a Newcastle or Maitland location with road distribution to Sydney if they want to win more Sydney-Brisbane volume.
Sulla1
The extension of this is most freight trains leave and arrive ACR from around midnight - 4am.  ACR then operates intensely during a time in which costs everyone the most money.  

Having all trains at 1500m also means they can't run standard gauge trains directly to the port of brisbane because the only S.G loop is only 700m. (and only having the 1 is limiting in itself.)

How useful would it be if if a train arrived at ACR, everything is unloaded but the stuff for the port.  Train then continues to the port, picks up containers, then returns.
  UpperQuad Locomotive Fireman

Location: 184.8 miles to Sydney
My question is with this investment going on, why bother with the North Coast railway?  
barryc
Once the Pacific Highway is dual carriageway right through, there will be no need for either the North Coast Line OR the Inland Rail.

Get your photographs, now!
  M636C Minister for Railways

I've posted this before on the similar thread in "Signalling and Infrastructure"

http://www.rms.nsw.gov.au/documents/projects/key-build-progr...

When the four lanes reach Woolgoolga, I think the need for the Inland Railway goes away.

That's due to happen at the end of next year.

M636C
  RTT_Rules Dr Beeching

Location: Dubai UAE
It really is up to PN and Aurizon to increase their market share through meeting customer needs and more imaginative uses of the NCL's existing capacity. Running one big train a day timetabled to suit Sydney's peak hour instead of potential customers has done more damage to market share than the NCL's poor alignment. Both operators need to consider intermodal hubbing out of a Newcastle or Maitland location with road distribution to Sydney if they want to win more Sydney-Brisbane volume.
The extension of this is most freight trains leave and arrive ACR from around midnight - 4am.  ACR then operates intensely during a time in which costs everyone the most money.  

Having all trains at 1500m also means they can't run standard gauge trains directly to the port of brisbane because the only S.G loop is only 700m. (and only having the 1 is limiting in itself.)

How useful would it be if if a train arrived at ACR, everything is unloaded but the stuff for the port.  Train then continues to the port, picks up containers, then returns.
tazzer96

I put the unloading pad alone at 925m the arrival loop at FI ~950m, Moorooka is yes barely 700m.

The assumption is also that there is a 1500m train to run from Syd or Mel direct to/from Brisbane port. I highly doubt there is 1500m worth of train combined every 24hr that is going Syd/Mel to/from Port of Brisbane.

During the boom there was some direct services, even trains split at Casino or Grafton for this purpose, however I believe this promptly stopped as we entered the GFC (open to correction).

The single loop is probably one too many for the numbers of SG traffic on offer, but its not a road block for a few trains a day as they can pass Moorooka and the Port arrival Loop.
  Transtopic Assistant Commissioner

With completion of the first stage of the Northern Sydney Freight Corridor Program (Epping to Thornleigh Third Track and North Strathfield Underpass), it was my understanding that the peak hour curfew for freight trains would be lifted.

Infrastructure Australia has allocated funding for preparation of a business case for Stage 2, being quadruplication of the missing link between Rhodes and West Ryde, including the John Whitton Bridge across the Parramatta River, and the Third Track from Thornleigh to Hornsby.
  simstrain Chief Commissioner

With completion of the first stage of the Northern Sydney Freight Corridor Program (Epping to Thornleigh Third Track and North Strathfield Underpass), it was my understanding that the peak hour curfew for freight trains would be lifted.

Infrastructure Australia has allocated funding for preparation of a business case for Stage 2, being quadruplication of the missing link between Rhodes and West Ryde, including the John Whitton Bridge across the Parramatta River, and the Third Track from Thornleigh to Hornsby.
Transtopic
All that the third track provided was somewhere to store freight trains going north if needed. Doesn't remove the need for the curfew.

The quading between Rhodes and Epping will also not remove the need for the curfew either.
  tazzer96 Deputy Commissioner

Except the Pacific motorway upgrades will have no effect on inland rail.  Brisbane - Melbourne is really where rail is better than trucks.    Truck drivers can't drive for 24 hours straight anymore.    One of the biggest points of inland rail is that it will take a container a very similar time to go from its origin in brisbane, to its destination in melbourne.  

Why would you use trucks if they are no longer faster, and they are more expensive.   Trucks going from brisbane/gold coast - melbourne do not go via the pacific highway.   They go inland very quickly and that route is about as fast as it will ever get.

(haven't the 4 lanes have already reached woolgoolga? )
  james.au Chief Commissioner

Location: Sydney, NSW
With completion of the first stage of the Northern Sydney Freight Corridor Program (Epping to Thornleigh Third Track and North Strathfield Underpass), it was my understanding that the peak hour curfew for freight trains would be lifted.

Infrastructure Australia has allocated funding for preparation of a business case for Stage 2, being quadruplication of the missing link between Rhodes and West Ryde, including the John Whitton Bridge across the Parramatta River, and the Third Track from Thornleigh to Hornsby.
Transtopic

Infrastructure Australia reviews business cases, not funds them.  Id suspect the business case would be funded by TfNSW (or related entity) or the ARTC.

Can you provide a link to the above so I can dig a little further?

Thanks
  tazzer96 Deputy Commissioner

With completion of the first stage of the Northern Sydney Freight Corridor Program (Epping to Thornleigh Third Track and North Strathfield Underpass), it was my understanding that the peak hour curfew for freight trains would be lifted.

Infrastructure Australia has allocated funding for preparation of a business case for Stage 2, being quadruplication of the missing link between Rhodes and West Ryde, including the John Whitton Bridge across the Parramatta River, and the Third Track from Thornleigh to Hornsby.
Transtopic
The quadding over the parramatta river needs to be completed, but mainly for express newcastle and Central coast services.

Epping - thornleigh is only for northbound trains as they are on a steep grade.  North strathfield underpass just needed to be done, was stupid having freights cross at grade at anytime of the day.

The amount of trains south of maitland haven't changed.  You still get XPT's and express newcastle trains catching up to freights.  You still have the choke points cowan bank, the ku-ring-gai area, and heavy congestion south of berowra.
  simstrain Chief Commissioner

It would be TfNSW in this case because unlike the SSFL this project is not a dedicated freight line and hence would have no actual ARTC involvement, but is rather an expansion of the Sydney network with overhead wires included. How would the ARTC get money for such a project anyway.
  a6et Minister for Railways

Except the Pacific motorway upgrades will have no effect on inland rail.  Brisbane - Melbourne is really where rail is better than trucks.    Truck drivers can't drive for 24 hours straight anymore.    One of the biggest points of inland rail is that it will take a container a very similar time to go from its origin in brisbane, to its destination in melbourne.  

Why would you use trucks if they are no longer faster, and they are more expensive.   Trucks going from brisbane/gold coast - melbourne do not go via the pacific highway.   They go inland very quickly and that route is about as fast as it will ever get.

(haven't the 4 lanes have already reached woolgoolga? )
tazzer96
One of, if not the biggest problem that rail still has against road is the point to point ability for road, pick up at transit point and delivery to the end user, the element of no double or really quad handling of freight is always going to be roads big selling point over rail.

The other aspect is that as I live on the Central Coast, the interstate freight trains coming through here are more often than not only halve loaded even on the long trains, including steel, usually the steelies are built up with other traffic on the down and even up they come through primarilly empty, with 3/4 NR's up front.

Aurizon services especially the one that has SCT loading is more often then not fully loaded in both directions. What is seen on them very frequently is containers that are removalist vans Kent in particular.

What does not help the freight task on the NCL is that there is all but nothing that is consigned to towns and locations along the line. Outside of the sugar from Grafton, cement and the like for Boambee, and coal south of Gloucester there is nothing. Unless traffic can be sourced along the line its going to stay the way it us for many a long day.

The other factor regarding the alingment etc. is a problem basically for the whole route, rather than as said by one to be on the lower end of the line Maitland - Gloucester, where in reality its like that for the majority of the line, some short to mid sections are not really found until you get up near Casino.

The crying shame really is that as bad as it is on the NCL, the same problem of no freight by rail is not unique to it, as its a case on each line in NSW, aside from some areas of logs from Bathurst, some grain types, cotton ore and coal. is about it.
  james.au Chief Commissioner

Location: Sydney, NSW
What does not help the freight task on the NCL is that there is all but nothing that is consigned to towns and locations along the line. Outside of the sugar from Grafton, cement and the like for Boambee, and coal south of Gloucester there is nothing. Unless traffic can be sourced along the line its going to stay the way it us for many a long day.
a6et
This is an interesting observation.  Every two bit town in Victoria and quite a few in Southern and Western NSW are wanting an intermodal.  But the large centres like Grafton, Coffs etc, which surely get a bit of port freight from Brisbane and/or Sydney look to speak nothing of one.  Why is that?
  Transtopic Assistant Commissioner

All that the third track provided was somewhere to store freight trains going north if needed. Doesn't remove the need for the curfew.

The quading between Rhodes and Epping will also not remove the need for the curfew either.
simstrain
The curfew may not currently have been removed completely, but it has now been eased.  The completion of the 1st stage of the NSFC program potentially allows an increase in freight trains from 29 to 44 per day, which includes during peak periods.  The Third Track is also used by northbound Intercity, Explorer and XPT trains allowing them to overtake all station suburbans on the main tracks.

The quading from Rhodes to West Ryde (West Ryde to Epping is already quaded) will allow even greater flexibility for separating freight, express passenger and suburban services.
  woodford Chief Commissioner

One thing that needs to be remembered in all this is that western society simply cannot maintain its current massive energy usage for much longer, while road transport is very convenient, rail uses around 16 to 20 percent of fuel per ton/kilometre. Comming high fuel cost will kill the road transport industry, pretending the current very high energy usage is not an issue will in the end turn into a real "achllies heal". This WILL occur, in 20 to 30 years from now society WILL be quite different we live on the doorstep of one of histories few great changes we do have our own futures in our hands.

I will not defend this, it being very well known in the scientific community.

woodford
  apw5910 Deputy Commissioner

Location: Location: Location.
One thing that needs to be remembered in all this is that western society simply cannot maintain its current massive energy usage for much longer, while road transport is very convenient, rail uses around 16 to 20 percent of fuel per ton/kilometre. Comming high fuel cost will kill the road transport industry, pretending the current very high energy usage is not an issue will in the end turn into a real "achllies heal". This WILL occur, in 20 to 30 years from now society WILL be quite different we live on the doorstep of one of histories few great changes we do have our own futures in our hands.

I will not defend this, it being very well known in the scientific community.

woodford
woodford
I've been hearing this for the past 50 years. Still waiting.

Look, obviously if you use up a finite resource at an exponentially increasing rate it doesn't last forever. eg even if the whole planet was just a sphere of oil we'd get through it. But predictions like the above invariably turn out to be embarrassingly wrong...

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