RFI Comment on Sydney-Melbourne Rail Upgrade Announcements

Media release March 19, 2018: for immediate release

Sydney-Melbourne rail upgrades welcome … but broader vision needed for vital national corridor

Rail Futures Institute (RFI) welcomes Friday’s announcement of significant upgrades to track and rolling stock for Victoria’s north-east railway resulting from the joint Commonwealth/State announcement of agreed funding for Inland Rail and the Regional Rail Revival project, but calls for more ambition.

Rail users from Seymour, Benalla, Wangaratta and Wodonga in Victoria and Albury, Cootamundra, Wagga Wagga and Junee in NSW have been poor relations, with less frequent trains using aged equipment compared to other parts of their respective states. Under this announcement, the north- east mainline in Victoria is to be upgraded to Class 2 standard (130 km/h) and the Victorian Government has promised to acquire new trains once the trackwork is completed. NSW also plans new long-distance trains.

Rail Futures believes a wider vision and more ambitious targets are required. The Sydney-Melbourne rail corridor should be regarded as a primary national transport artery, as lines joining principal cities are designated in all developed countries.

Class 2 standard is an inadequate target, with its 130 km/h limit and restricted axle load. Class 1 track would allow trains to operate at 160 km/h – as is the case on other Victorian mainlines and on the NSW part of the Sydney-Melbourne route north of Albury. The immediate objective for the Sydney-Melbourne route should be a double track Class 1 railway, with 160 km/h running wherever practicable. Higher operating speeds will shrink journey times and improve access for citizens of all towns and cities on the line and in its catchment. Higher axle loads will certainly be needed when the Melbourne-Brisbane freight railway opens in 2025, as Inland Rail trains will use the existing Melbourne-Albury railway – not a new line.

The proposed new passenger trains should meet contemporary international standards. This means 160+ km/h capability, on-train catering, Business Class as well as Economy seating, wi-fi and charger at each seat, diesel-electric multiple unit configuration, and a bi-modal capability to operate on electric power in long tunnels, such as those that will be required for the proposed Melbourne Airport railway and RFI’ s proposal for north-east line trains to operate to Melbourne via the Airport. Such trains are currently being specified for new long-distance services in the UK.

The service level on the Sydney to Melbourne railway should be viewed as a national responsibility. We need to move forward from the present system whereby V/Line and XPT services are operated as separate entities with independently developed timetables, separate fares and ticketing and unrelated reservation systems. These remnants of our colonial past need to be replaced by simpler ticketing and better, more integrated train scheduling that gives priority to the needs of regional travellers – both to/from the capitals and between regional centres. RFI considers the MelbourneSydney line should be managed under a Commonwealth-NSW-Victoria long-term Memorandum of Understanding that recognises the unique national role of this vital passenger and freight link.

Media enquiries:

Dr Bill Russell Honorary Secretary, Rail Futures Institute Phone: 0408 005 558

About Rail Futures Institute
Rail Futures Institute Inc. is an independent non-partisan group formed to advocate cost effective rail and intermodal solutions for public transport and freight problems based on sound commercial, economic, environmental and social reasoning. Rail Futures members include experienced rail professionals, engineers, urban planners and economists.

PO Box 1257 Carlton VIC 3053 Website: www.railfutures.org.au