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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.
“The group will also examine financing options and engagewith private sector investors and those with significant interests along the line that will benefit from its construction.”
“Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) will, under theguidance of the Implementation Group, work with interested parties to construct the Inland Rail project through a staged 10-year schedule,” Truss says - which is three elections hence just in case anyone was wondering.
The Inland Rail Symposium held in Moree just over a week agoalso brought the project into focus attracting 130, many high profile, delegates representing a wide range of interests.
At the symposium former CEO of Queensland Rail, VinceO’Rourke proposed an alternative project, the Great Australian Trunk Railway (GATR), which involves the most direct route possible between Melbourne and Brisbane.
The article in the RTSA Newsletter, authored by railconsultant Max Michell who attended the Moree symposium, provides some interesting statistics that put the GATR proposal route in context.
Michell makes reference to the work of Associate ProfessorPhilip Laird who is well known to Rail Express readers. In the past Laird has highlighted the poor curvature of many of our existing rail alignments to promote the need for upgrades to improve transit times and reliability.
In relation to the Inland Rail proposals, Laird found thatthe number of circles completed by a train travelling on the existing East Coast route between Melbourne and Brisbane (via Sydney) would be 267; on the alignment for an inland route based on the proposed alignment in the 2010 ARTC study, it would be 51 complete circles - a major improvement; but on the GATR it would equate to only 20 complete circles.
In addition, the existing route sees trains climbing a totalof 7600 metres throughout their journey, whereas with the ARTC route it would be more than halved to 3600 metres and with GATR’s proposal it drops to as low 2500 metres.
What this all means is that the proposed GATR would requireless hardware, in the form of additional locomotives, and consume a lot less fuel.
Current thinking is that GATR would deliver journey times of19 hours for 5000 tonne double stack intermodal services, about two hours faster than current truck times and 13 hours quicker than the existing coastal route.
In fact what transpired from O’Rourke’s presentation is thatthe GATR proposal at 1595km in length is also some 140 kilometres shorter than the 1731km 2010 route proposal and passes through some of Victoria's and southern NSW's most productive agricultural areas (Goulburn Valley and the MIA) ignored by the 2010 route.
GATR also questions the use of 20th century axle loadingstandards in the ARTC brief when it believes the additional cost of accommodating contemporary axle loadings that are used in North America for intermodal services, is negligible as a proportion of the project's overall cost.
I get the feeling that GATR, though having worked on theirproposal for several years now, may have turned up to the party just a little bit too late.
No-one likes change, even less so governments, and with theARTC 2010 study as their blueprint with the current administration having its implementation advisory group in place, it is hard to see them wanting to countenance something radically different.
What could well be in GATR’s favour though is that it isbeing driven by the private sector, with I believe at least one major construction group showing strong interest.
The government is still in a bind over how to pay for InlandRail. While it continues to spruik the benefits of the private sector interest in the project, history tells us that this is not an easy path to take, and to some extent this has previously been acknowledged by Truss.
If GATR can come up with some solid financial backing andcan back up their claims of a more economic and more efficient alignment for the route, we may yet to see at least one more twist in this tale.
This article first appeared on www.railexpress.com.au
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