Prospector- THIS is how you do country passenger rail

 
  SinickleBird Chief Train Controller

Location: Qantas Club at Mudgee International Airport
Warning - long, ranting post follows.
——-
On 13 May, I rode the Prospector from Perth to Kalgoorlie on my way to some business meetings in Kal. And what an impressive ride it was - my comparison is with Sydney-Dubbo. A clear winner for Western Australia - even with 10+ year old rolling stock.

(And before the NSW folks get excited, yes I know that NSW is the ducks nuts for trains in Australia, as well as being the most difficult terrain in the world to build a railway - except for Switzerland. And Norway. And parts of USA, anywhere west of the Andes in South America, and Japan and Taiwan)

Dubbo - population approx 40,000. Distance to Sydney approx 460km.
Services - once daily
Fare - $39 economy, $54 first.
Journey time - 7 hours (implying average speed 75 km/hr

Kalgoorlie- population approx 32,000
Distance to Perth approx 650km
Services - 9 per week (daily plus extras Mon & Fri)
Fare - $91 single class
Journey time - 6 hours 50 min (implying average speed just shy of 100km/hr) yes, that’s the average over the whole journey. Similar number of stops.

Train actually caught up a 15 minute delay departing Merredin, arriving 3 minutes early at Kalgoorlie.

WA 1: East 0

What is the train like?

Amenities like an airliner, but with leg-room! Lots of leg room! Reversible seating means that everyone faces forward. Overhead lockers for hand luggage, comfortable economy-style seats, 240v power to each seat. Tray table. Video screen in seat-back, headset supplied. Coat hook, vents, reading light to each seat.

There is a “driver-cam” facility (delayed about 5 seconds in case of incident), and moving maps that show position and speed. Driver cam gave an interesting perspective on the double-stacked intermodal travelling towards Perth .

Buffet in car 1 offers a basic selection of food & drink. Pies, sandwiches, soft drinks, juice.

WA 2: East 0

Ride quality is very good. The train cruises at 160km/hr, slowing noticeably on some corners - to as slow as 105! Averaged about 80 while climbing the winding route of Avon Valley. Track quality clearly very stable - 60kg rail on concrete sleepers.

Almost every road crossing to Merredin had flashing lights - even gravel roads (note for Victoria, which seems prone to LX fatalities).

WA 3: East 0

Is it popular? sure is. 3 car DMU, full. 160 seats

Who travels? A good spread including perhaps 50% older tourists on concession fares. Young backpacker types. People returning from Perth or visiting family in Kal. A couple of guys in hi-vis got off at Koolyanobbing (no air service).

Comparison with air - Qlink and Virgin service Kalgoorlie 3x daily. The cheapest fare is almost four times the rail ticket. Anyone who values their time at $50+ per hour would fly. As time wasn’t my constraint, I thought the $91 fare was economical.

Issues/concerns? Overhead locker space slightly smaller than airliner. 2 pax worth of hand-carry don’t fit. Driver cam and maps app tended to freeze periodically.
——
My key learning - train can still compete with air to regional cities. Provided it is modern, quick (not necessarily high speed rail quick - see below), comfortable and reasonably priced. Note the fare to Kalgoorlie wasn’t as cheap as Dubbo.

Terminal doesn’t have to be in the CBD. East Perth terminal wasn’t a problem for 160 pax for a 7:10 departure on a Monday morning.

Two trains per day is adequate for a mid-sized regional city. There are only 3 flights (x 2 airlines). There is also a Merredin Link train (MWF day return trip) departing at 08:55. And a daily commuter connection from Northam.

Sydney to Griffith in 6-7 hours may well work, if done daily each way. Dubbo should be about a 5 1/2 hour trip.

Quick is achievable by getting other trains out of the way, and not stopping everywhere. Many “on request “ stops on the Prospector timetable (how many people alight at Guerie? Blayney?) The slowest part of the trip was following suburban to Midland. There’s only a double track to Midland (Sydney is quad to St Mary’s, so no excuses there, with options to pass up the mountains.)

I don’t understand how NSW Trains thinks an all stops bus from Coonabarabran that connects with an all-stops V-set at Lithgow is attractive. Why not run 3 services per day that go Lithgow-Penrith-Central. And connect the coaches to these 3. That should compete with 2 hours in the car from Lithgow. XPT is currently the fastest train to Lithgow - at 2 hours 10, way too slow - target 1:50 or less.

A straighter alignment sure helps. Supporting the notion that some investment in ironing out the bends on key routes (Southern Highlands, Short North) would have quick payback in patronage. Much quicker than building 800km of grade-separated perway between capital cities before you can run a single train. And it will help speed freight movements too!

One final observation- diesel tanker trains still used for Kalgoorlie route. Good for road safety and good economics- why run 100 semis of fuel every day?

Photos follow in a separate post.

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  SinickleBird Chief Train Controller

Location: Qantas Club at Mudgee International Airport
http://https://flic.kr/p/2eG7bLo
Prospector set.

https://flic.kr/p/2eG7bNN

Sets and amenities
  SinickleBird Chief Train Controller

Location: Qantas Club at Mudgee International Airport
Additional observation, East Perth terminal has an awesome collection of WAGR memorabilia, including an entire locomotive
http://https://flic.kr/p/S8kCre

and a wall sculpture made from loco parts
http://https://flic.kr/p/2euUXpH

Worthwhile visiting even if you’re not taking the train
  james.au Chief Commissioner

Location: Sydney, NSW
Great trip report.
One thing I would like to know which is probably not possible is how much this costs the taxpayer vs the NSW TrainLink service.  Id suspect it could even be less...
  SinickleBird Chief Train Controller

Location: Qantas Club at Mudgee International Airport
Admittedly old data:

http://http://www.parliament.wa.gov.au/Hansard/hansard.nsf/0/79ce35e2df4cf2dec82575c9004afeb3/$FILE/A37%20S1%2020080226%20p344b-345a.pdf

Given the perway is already in place for another (greater) purpose, I would be inclined to use the “operating costs only” figure quoted.

After all, I don’t think air-nav and airfield maintenance is fully charged out to the airlines.
And the road is free to all motorists.
  james.au Chief Commissioner

Location: Sydney, NSW
Old yes, but I would include capital cost as this would cover the cost of the train itself, which you would need to consider.  I think access charges in the operational lines would bring the track into the equation and so track wouldn't make up any of the capital cost.
  SinickleBird Chief Train Controller

Location: Qantas Club at Mudgee International Airport
Train is >10 years old. Would think it’s depreciated value is small.
  RTT_Rules Dr Beeching

Location: Dubai UAE
Train is >10 years old. Would think it’s depreciated value is small.
SinickleBird
Yep, somewhere between 30 and 50% of its cost.
.........................

Your original post is very good comparison with a few comments from me

- You didn't give East  1 : 0 West based on fare price   Smile

- Agree, East Perth is more than adequate so all those complaining about Townsville (Qld), Parklands (SA), Bunbury (WA), Bowen (Qld), Marybough (Qld), Gympie (Qld) etc etc need to get a grip, there are bigger issues.

- The NSW train is pushing 25 years old and as we can see in the OTHER WA DMU service using a 30 year old train is currently in disgrace so aging trains certainly have plenty of issues. NSW gets its new train in 4 years time.

- In Sydney the Dubbo train competes with Suburban traffic for the first 50km that makes Perth rail traffic look like a back water. This fast run out of Perth alone would save 30min. The slowest part for the Qld Tilt trains is the 45km run north of Brisbane through suburbia.

- Do not underestimate the cost to "some investment in ironing out the bends on key routes" . It is not insignificant and while I agree 100% more should have been done years ago, if not today. They are facing a humongous task/cost and basically committing to spending $10B on the Inland to avoid the much larger cost on the Coastal route (just think what the REAL price for the HSR will be?).

- Likewise the mountains do kill any reasonable speeds for the Dubbo service, Lithgow is 950m above sea level, which needs 50km at 1:50 to return to sea level, something the west never has to face.


Agree improved travel time, frequency and onboard comfort will see NSW rail again used by more than the great-unwashed and a few gunzels.

The Kalgoolie train is also a comparison for Mildura, which is very close in so many ways, far more so than Dubbo, but with less freight traffic to support the standard of the railway. So potentially if you could replicate the travel time, yes you'd expect 2 x trains per day to Mildura although I suspect there is far less FIFO demand.
  james.au Chief Commissioner

Location: Sydney, NSW
Re Dubbo, i recon a second daily frequency would probably change the market a fair degree too.  Caters for pax going the other way and gives more travel optionality for people to use more flexibly.

Dubbo also has Orange, Bathurst and Lithgow to draw on, (plus theParkes, Cowra etc connecting buses) which would all see benefits.
  RTT_Rules Dr Beeching

Location: Dubai UAE
Re Dubbo, i recon a second daily frequency would probably change the market a fair degree too.  Caters for pax going the other way and gives more travel optionality for people to use more flexibly.

Dubbo also has Orange, Bathurst and Lithgow to draw on, (plus theParkes, Cowra etc connecting buses) which would all see benefits.
james.au
Agree, the Bathurst Bullet, seems to have proven a success with fewer stops than the XPT and its sparrow fart running time. Likely that it would easily justify 2, maybe even 3 x 4 car trains a day from Dubbo.
  SinickleBird Chief Train Controller

Location: Qantas Club at Mudgee International Airport
Agree re Dubbo, but IMO proviso needs to be trip duration similar and to (preferably shorter than) driving. Sydney -Dubbo via Mudgee takes 5 hours in the car.

7 hours by train isn’t competitive at all. There’s time to stop for a counter lunch and a wine tasting and still beat the XPT.
  james.au Chief Commissioner

Location: Sydney, NSW
Maybe even one daily to Parkes could work. Especially with the growth expected with the Inland.

But agreed speed needs to increase.
  Bulbous Assistant Commissioner

The trip is great (I have done it a few times over the last couple of years full length, and loads of times from Northam to Perth), but the only issue is with the booking of the service.

Want to travel same day? Too bad, train will not be asked to stop at a station mid-service, best you can hope for is to show up and wave like hell to get the driver to stop. TransWA want 24 hours on bookings, without question. On-board staff will take cash for everything (have to, there is no eftpos service at all) except for the ticket if you do manage to get the train to stop, then it becomes a hassle they don't want to deal with.

Booking ahead? Great service, without doubt. Trying to travel same day (except from East Perth, Midland or Kalgoorlie)? They couldn't care less.

Cheers,

Matt
  RTT_Rules Dr Beeching

Location: Dubai UAE
The trip is great (I have done it a few times over the last couple of years full length, and loads of times from Northam to Perth), but the only issue is with the booking of the service.

Want to travel same day? Too bad, train will not be asked to stop at a station mid-service, best you can hope for is to show up and wave like hell to get the driver to stop. TransWA want 24 hours on bookings, without question. On-board staff will take cash for everything (have to, there is no eftpos service at all) except for the ticket if you do manage to get the train to stop, then it becomes a hassle they don't want to deal with.

Booking ahead? Great service, without doubt. Trying to travel same day (except from East Perth, Midland or Kalgoorlie)? They couldn't care less.

Cheers,

Matt
Bulbous
Interesting

When it comes to train travel, Australia sometimes lags even on the most basic. A few years ago now, but I remember booking the XPT to Brisbane in 1997 on the phone, then driving to Gosford station to pay and board the train. The ticket counter guy said the train has already left Central, I said so what that's 1.5h ago. Despite booking on the phone, the manual system back then couldn't cope with a booking after the train had left very well. Got on the train ok, just.

Move to Qld in mid 2000's, I used the RTT frequently for work. The lady on the phone even knew by details off by heart after a few months, but still felt like I was back in the 90's compared to OS travel.
  RTT_Rules Dr Beeching

Location: Dubai UAE
Maybe even one daily to Parkes could work. Especially with the growth expected with the Inland.

But agreed speed needs to increase.
james.au
Agree,
3 days a week
- Broken Hill
- Forbes the other two days via Parkes.
  james.au Chief Commissioner

Location: Sydney, NSW
Does Broken Hill really need a service??
  Big J Assistant Commissioner

Location: In Paradise
Thanks for the thread SinickleBird it is interesting to hear an actual passenger's perspective of a service.
  RTT_Rules Dr Beeching

Location: Dubai UAE
Does Broken Hill really need a service??
james.au
Yes, I believe its gets good patronage.

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