Given that gauge conversion in the North East is going ahead, I thought it might be good to have a quick look at the prospects for making it faster than the planned 130kph line speed.
As I discussed in the previous post, rebuilding line to RFR standard costs around $1.5m/km. For the 200km North East project, that’s $300m. Of course, that cost doesn’t include upgrading the existing SG line beyond its current 130kph limit, but given the line is already getting concrete sleepers and other works, a signalling and level crossing upgrade may well be all that’s required to make the line 160kph ready (but then again much more work may be required). The same should apply for the SG line from Seymour to Melbourne.
Buying rollingstock to service the line would also be necessary. The original Vlocity contract put the cost of each motor car at $7.04m (525/ 76) in 2002 dollars – or $8.05m in 2007 dollars. The most recent contract extension put the cost of each motorised trailer at $4.75m (38/ 8 ) in 2007 dollars. The project will see 15 carriages converted, as I understand it to be marshalled into 3 5 car sets. In Vlocity terms, that’s 6 motors and 9 motorised trailers, at a total cost of $91.05m.
RFR infrastructure standards and trains (but not service standards) are achievable without a great deal of difficulty, but it doesn’t mean they are worth it. There’s still only 5 trains per day going beyond Seymour – hardly a lot of patronage to justify additional investment. The reality is that freight is driving the investment on the line, and the industry simply isn’t demanding line speeds above 130kph.
There is little point in investing money to get line speeds over what freight demands for a measly 5 trains per day to towns where air isn’t a serious competitor. The only reason to go above 130kph would be as part of a bigger strategy for frequent high speed rail from Melbourne to Sydney. But 160kph would be woefully inadequate for such a service if it is to compete with air. Line speeds of 200kph would be required at minimum, all the way to Sydney.
Whilst 200kph line speeds and diesel traction still wouldn’t deliver the requisite 4 hour journey times (as discussed a while ago on Riccardo’s blog) to beat air CBD to CBD, they might still be a good start. The Deutsche Bundesbahn upgraded many conventional mainlines to this standard in the 70s, which made the introduction of ICE services that bit easier. But it has to be part of a broader plan for high speed passenger rail between major cities (not one horse towns) – in absence of such a plan, I’d much rather have the money go to increasing freight capacity by double tracking Albury – Junee and Seymour – Melbourne.
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