This very week there has also been a report that suggests that another trench of $1 Billion in funding toward the project will be approved in this year’s Federal budget.
Gilead’s submission to the NSW Grain Freight Inquiry in March 2009 did endorse this project in the westerly-routed form subsequently selected by the Commonwealth government. We saw equal potential for the project to support growth of the NSW inland economy, but despite the project’s stakes rising, we should have recognised that there was trouble looming from the public service originated political sound-bites loosely framed along the lines that the government would be:
“Getting Trucks Off Our Roads”
“Getting the Australian Economy Moving”
Now, however, our take on this project for Inland Australia, as it is currently framed, is that is a “Walk-On-By” construct that stands in the way of economic growth in the inland, & for Australia as a whole.
We appear to have entered an arena where contemporary Federal government project development, as portrayed by ABC’s “Utopia” TV series, is more reality TV than it is political satire.
This Melbourne-to-Brisbane inland rail project, whose routed corridor might well have finally created an operative spine for the Australian rail network, is now oriented to access objectives that fail to support that end.
You may well ask, how could a projected investment of $10 Billion in extending a physical rail line of standard gauge, on the optimal route, not be expected provide a spine that served to promote growth of inland Australia’s economic base?
Upon detailed examination of this study & other reports in the intervening period, the conception for this inland rail line appears to have fallen into yet another tentacle-like construct. What has been presented, in a supposedly objective case, is a Dr Who portal for freight to disappear from Melbourne and subsequently quickly arrive in Brisbane, or the other way around. In the middle, NSW's Sydney interests suppose they benefit from lower road maintenance costs, while still effectively having protected their ports through the imposition of a non tariff barrier by way of the access regulation promulgated to favour through traffic on the corridor, rather than inland originating or destined traffic.
To see what the government has been up to we needed to look no further than Appendix G: “Train Operations” in the ARTC Melbourne-Brisbane Rail Alignment Study – Final Report July 2010.
We looked for the assumptions, and we found that a reference train had been specified. It was called a “Superfreighter”. They will run daily in 20.5 hours from end-to-end, and we found that:
Other train types such as grain and ore trains, were not modelled in this study. It was assumed that the schedules for these trains are flexible and that Superfreighter trains would have priority.
So, according to the study, by far the majority of the traffic, that which is unable to run in these “Superfreighter” train sets owing to it being restrained by higher axle weights to speeds 20km/h less than specified for the “Superfreighters”, will simply get out of the way (in itself not a very green or economically efficient solution, with all that extra accelerating and braking of the heaviest volumes on the line):
The problem, of coarse, with “getting out of the way” with trains that run “flexible schedules” is that it is difficult to predict, & hence model where they might be.
Moreover, we at Gilead having read this study, draw your specific attention to a lack of any citation or qualification from the authors in respect of modelling of regional originated or destined intermodal trains, or transhipment traffic, onto these “Superfreighter” services in this study. Going by the abridged train-set configuration there was no designed re-configuration or set-down/hook-up en-route outside of Parkes transhipment to the East West line.
Indeed, the above is confirmed in the report tucked away on Page 94:
In consideration of regional employment generated by Inland Rail, the superfreighters are expected to stop to refuel and/or exchange freight only in Parkes.
And so, my dear reader, by way of an admission on the limits of economic engagement by means of employment – our understanding that the prioritised train sets will not provide any transportation services to the other economic regions of inland Australia is confirmed.
Hence at Gilead, we are left imagining that regional originating or destined intermodal traffic serving inland industry, that which might seek to access this new infrastructure, in the project’s currently conceived form, may well be channelled into those unmapped “flexible schedule” trains; those that must get-out-of-the-way, and be non time-specific services.
We do recognise, however, that on page 18 of 115, we have this description of the author’s attention to the very separate issue of intra-regional traffic:
Freight to and from regions within the corridor
Freight between areas along the inland railway corridor is included in this category. Data regarding this freight are poor, but available information, including submissions from stakeholders, indicates relatively modest total freight volumes: currently 1 mtpa, growing to 1.9 mtpa in 2020 and 2.9 mtpa in 204
And finally today, I hope readers will now recognise why we have dragged them through the tangled morass of Australian Constitutional legal history earlier in this series. In this Inland Rail Development project, as it stands, we have an analogue of the Australian Constitution’s commanding free trade rhetoric, as compared to its dismal implementation and operating execution.
In our next post we will move onto the subject of actual market-based transport solutions, how they develop, and how they might compare to the survey based projections, assumptions, and omissions that we have waded through today.