Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Mid-horsepower locomotives - is there a demand?

It might be all well and good there's over 500 second generation EMD locomotives out there that would be suitable for the new ECO rebuild program...but is there a demand for a low-emission fuel-efficient 2000-3000hp locomotive in the future? If Australian rail operators settle into a future of high speed intermodals and high tonnage bulk trains then it doesn't look good for lower horsepower locomotives, full stop. However, whether rail operators like it or not, there will always be some niche areas where 4300hp heavyweights will find it difficult to stack up. Axel load limitations or restrictive infrastructure will mean in some places, particularly South East Queensland and Tasmania, smaller locomotives will remain a standard for the foreseeable future. Without an alternative rail route or corridor modernisation between Brisbane and Toowoomba, QRN will need to maintain a fleet of forty or more 2000hp-2300hp locomotives for decades to come - and with the existing fleet likely to need to replacement within a decade, there are few cost competitive alternatives available for the operator other than an ECO-like program or to follow Tasrail's lead and purchase non-EMD low cost designs that have not yet been proven.

As for the 3000hp models, the biggest niche these locomotives will fulfil will be cost. Cheaper to run than a larger 4000hp alternative, they could well find their way into the lease fleets we see around Australia already or into the fleets of smaller players. No doubt primary roles in agricultural traffic will remain in Victoria while gauge remains an issue there - however the future for any line where existing 4000hp-4300hp models can already run is one where small locomotives may have no future at all - even in secondary roles. After all, further branchline retrenchments or renewals will allow 136-140-tonne locomotives to become the network standard eventually - and for an ECO 3000hp model to be needed in that environment it will have to be cheaper to use in an application than its larger alternative. What might that application be? Some yard work will still be needed in the future, as will lighter shuttle trains from ports to inland terminals. But I doubt we'll see many 3000hp rebuilds by the larger operators...unless they begin a return to basic 'railroading' and reintroduce car load deliveries to customers. If the latter did happen? Well, who knows. Maybe gensets would be the best option.


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