Pretty much true. The Cargo Sprinter was unlikely to ever be a great success due to its limited capacity but the comment on freight rates brings us back to my earlier post relating to - the only thing lacking being the 'entrepreneurial spirit' to try.
I am no economist but wonder whether rail would be better to reduce rates to say 80% of road costs and at least double their traffic then run 80km/h full engine load trains with as near 100% reliability as possible. We need to forget the smoke and mirrors 10 or 11 hours to Sydney as I think that it is mostly smoke!
Some of this in reply to MD...
Cost is crucial, but the cost that is relevant is the overall cost to the freight customer, which is rarely the same as the number that appears on the invoice from the rail operator (otherwise all Sydney - Melbourne freight would be on a ship). Depending on the customer, overall cost might be affected by the transit time and reliability of the service - for example because rail is slow, infrequent or unreliable they may need to maintain additional stock.
The overall cost felt by the customer also includes any pickup and delivery cost associated with getting the freight to/from the rail terminal and the ultimate origin/destination. This cost is not small.
Transit time also has a pretty direct impact on the actual costs of the operator in terms of the productivity of their equipment and labour.
So you cannot ignore transit time completely.
Rail's component of the cost is already probably 80% of that of road, on average, over that route. The question is how are you going to make it lower.
It might be a little out of date now (things that were planned haven't happened, or have happened differently), but the North-South freight corridor study from the 2004 timeframe has some useful data and analysis, if you can manage to navigate your way through the document.
It also has some background (but I don't think it is the source) on the 10:40 time for Sydney - Melbourne transit for a 1500 metre train (an average train speed of 90 km per hour). It appears to be based on there being no material speed restrictions, 115 km/h running in Victoria, some curve speed increases associated with resleepering, completed SSFL and perhaps some signalling improvements (not the full ATMS). It was also possibly based on four NR locomotives up the front (or perhaps three) for the entire trip. At the time of writing the report, the timetabled transit time was 12:50.
One of the things that study looked at was what you could achieve with "unconstrained" capital - basically get your cheque-book out and build whatever you think is reasonable - some cases considered over 10 billion or so of spend between Melbourne and Brisbane. Economically that sort of mega project didn't make sense. Financially they were complete disasters - the problem with all that spending is that the industry is expected to pay a fair chunk of it back
eventually. You can always argue about the assumptions used, but still... it didn't look pretty.
This study includes lists of projects along the existing alignment that could deliver time savings and an estimated cost for each project. Some are relatively small - perhaps $5 million to straighten a few curves and pick up a minute or two, some are monsters - $1.8 billion between Cootamundraw and Yass for a 23 minute saving.