Monday, 29 April 2013

Can Australia sustain two competing parallel rail networks? The Warwick connection

So we've seen it is possible to build an alternate east coast corridor as far north as Warwick for as little as $200-million. But what about bulk traffics that will not be readily road convertible east of Warwick? Should this line's operator only be interested in intermodal or will realities demand a standard gauge rail connection between Warwick and Brisbane? In the end, the only reality is price. It is my belief that the 'Warwick' option will be viable for the outset as an intermodal corridor - however from the outset it will also experience a demand for use as a bulk commodity corridor as well.

As has been experience by other Inland Rail corridor proponents, there is no easy solution for moving standard gauge trains down the Great Dividing Range to Brisbane. A planned rail route via Toowoomba is already looking at a $1-billion price tag. But heading north from Warwick an often over-looked range crossing exists that could provide a lower cost, have no tunnelling and potentially achieve a one percent (1 in 100) ruling grade. This is the Ma Ma Creek corridor - a rail route diverging near Clifton and following Kings Creek towards the summit of the range and then following Ma Ma Creek all the way to the Toowoomba line at Grantham. It avoids national parks and the rapidly urbanising range faces further north and for the moment resumption costs will be relatively low.

This alternate rail route would be around 55km long, and with some heavy earthworks needed it will probably exceed the $500-million mark - and even with this route in place, revisions of the Little Liverpool Range to the east and development of a planned standard gauge rail corridor between Rosewood and Bromelton will also need cash. My best guess is a standard gauge rail corridor east of Warwick to Bromelton will cost at least $1.5-billion - a lot of money to replace a 'zero infrastructure cost' road haul from Warwick. Still demand is demand, if coal and grain from NSW's North West and Queensland's Darling Downs can be combined into tonnages exceeding 20-million tonnes, then this is still an option that will offer returns to the bravest of rail operator/providers.

Okay, so here's a corridor mapped out - but what's the point? With Open Access no one will ever bother will they? Well...they might if Government policy changes, and next time we'll see why.

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