Take $400 million, turn it into laying nearly 2,200,000 new concrete railway sleepers, inject economic benefits into local communities, use the Pony Express to speed everything up and the result is an upgraded rail track linking Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, which can make rail a more efficient competitor to road transport.
Overall, nearly 1,500 kilometres of new concrete sleepers will be laid along the main rail line between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane as well as along the main coal export line up the Hunter Valley in New South Wales.
Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) Chief Executive Officer, David Marchant, described the project, which has now reached the halfway point, as perhaps the biggest upgrade since the original track was laid.
“What we’ve set out to achieve is to get consistency in railway sleepers,” he said. “That may not sound significant but it is because by using concrete sleepers we can increase the efficiency of the track and reduce transit times between the major eastern capitals.
“When ARTC took over control of the track from government there were three types of sleepers holding down the rails – traditional timber, steel and concrete.
“Consistency increases efficiency but if there are different sorts of sleepers then it has the opposite effect and efficiency is reduced.
“So far, ARTC has laid well over 500 kilometres of new concrete sleepers and the project will be completed by February 2009,” Mr Marchant said.
“The Hunter Valley project was completed in September 2007 and led to increased capacity for coal exports.
“In Victoria, 114,000 sleepers have been laid and two sections between Wodonga and Chiltern are now underway with the total project on line to finish by February, 2009.
“The main line between Sydney and Albury has so far had 320,000 sleepers laid, including a 14day/24hour operation that saw 45,000 laid between Picton and Moss Vale, well ahead of schedule.
“Overall, this project is slated for completion in early February, 2009.
“Almost 300,000 have so far been laid on the Sydney to Brisbane line and even the recent floods didn’t hold up progress. ARTC is on line for completion in August this year,” Mr Marchant said.
“On the way through we developed what we call the Pony Express delivery system, which sees the Pony Express machine lay 11 sleepers every minute and that’s the world’s best installation record, something we’re proud of,” he added.
Mr Marchant said local communities near the work sites had benefited economically from ARTC’s presence.
“From work materials, equipment and right through to lunches and dinner there have been benefits spread through local communities.
“There have even been new employment opportunities created, which have gone beyond local communities as people employed at one site have had their employment extended as they move to another site along the rail line.
“As well, a new industry was created in Wagga Wagga as a special plant was built just to make the sleepers.”
Mr Marchant said the track efficiency improved by the new concrete sleepers would be enhanced as new passing loops and passing lanes were built as part of ARTC’s track upgrade.
“In the past, on single track sections, one train had to stand idle, waiting for a train travelling in the opposite direction to pass.
“This slowed the trains down and added to transit times between the major capitals.
“Once all the ARTC upgrades are completed, we can achieve transit times as low as 10 hours 40 minutes between Sydney and Melbourne and 15 hours 35 minutes between Sydney and Brisbane.
“This will make rail more competitive with road transport and as each 1500 metre lone train can take the cargo of 100 semi trailers we could see less trucks on our major roads,” Mr Marchant said.
Issued: February 27, 2008
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