Sunday, 28 April 2013

Can Australia sustain two parallel competing networks? The southern east coast corridor

So we've seen that an intermodal focused corridor between Warwick and Cootamundra could produce fundamental changes to the Melbourne-South East Queensland freight mix, and do it for just $200-million - but what about south of Cootamundra? A realistic alternative to the current Albury rail route does exist, but the rewards for rebuilding it remain far less than for the northern leg to Warwick. However since the point of this argument is to describe an alternative corridor to the existing open access route, then it does tick that box.

What I'm talking about is the Junee-Narrandera-Tocumwal-Seymour route. This corridor continues to exist in its entirety, but has many hurdles to overcome before it could be described as useful. For starters 189km of track has been out of use for more than two decades, and another 144km would need to be dual gauged or gauge converted. It's also a longer route, in it's current form it is 627km from Junee to Melbourne via Tocumwal, compared to 549km via Albury. However a 30km cut-off between Jerilderie and Finley would reduce the distance to 605km. The short section of shared gradient-restrained track between Cootamundra and Junee could also be replaced by another 61km cut-off between Temora and Coolamon, which would reduce the Tocumwal route to 587km. It would still be longer, but longer tangents and fewer grades could provide a competitive corridor nonetheless. But there's no denying the cost. Up to 91km of new track, and up to 333km of rail reconstruction won't come cheap - the low end cost would still be around $400-million, but it could easily exceed that figure.

So what advantages would it provide? Completed with the Temora cut-off, this southern leg could provide an entirely separate second rail corridor from Seymour to South East Queensland - should the question of open access being replaceable with parallel exclusive franchise corridors arise, this is the lowest cost answer.    The advantages of a north-south rail route linking the Goulburn and Murumbidgee Valleys with Queensland consumers and exporters shouldn't be understated either.

However there remains one more question - can a rail connection ending at Warwick survive on intermodal alone? Or will bulk freight demand a port connection between Warwick and Brisbane? Are there options? Well, we'll have to look at that next time.   

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