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RSF Down Under - Overview of a fortnight in and around Sydney and Melbourne

Published: 20/01/2020





















RSF Down Under - Overview of a fortnight in and around Sydney and Melbourne
- 14th to 25th October 2019
 
 
A group of CILT Railway Study Forum members and prospective members including participants from USA and local participation from Australia have recently enjoyed an interesting and privileged insight into Australia, its transport and particularly the current developments and plans in and around Sydney (New South Wales) and Melbourne (Victoria). The programme was centred on railway and metro development, but presentations and visits included traffic control, heavy road haulage, tramways and some tourist and recreational interest.
Vast areas of Australia are very sparsely populated but both Sydney and Melbourne are large city areas each with populations of around five million each and both rising rapidly.
The convention opened in Sydney with an all-day seminar. History and politics have not been kind to rail transport in Australia, not only are the distances huge but there are major complications from gauge differences; most lines are standard gauge but Melbourne and the state of Victoria is almost exclusively broad gauge with some mixed gauge infrastructure.
New South Wales is making a very significant investment in rail transport, both renewal of an aging fleet and new development. In developing Sydney the vision is of the half hour accessible city, the work in progress to support this in the city is metro development with conventional rail passing to metro and a through city tunnel being built plus the second tram route about to open. Longer term the planning aspirations are for three large population hubs and the vision here is to get the transport system into place to help drive it. This includes creating a future well linked
development at Parramatta and a new West Sydney Airport development; with Sydney, these developments are planned to create three focus points and meet the expected demand without saturating the city. We saw part of the expansion with the development of the metro recently opened to Tallawong and enabling development for both population and industry; the spacious new metro operations facilities at Tallawong show some of the opportunities created by developing into new locations.
A visit to Sydney traffic control centre gave an insight into what is required to keep a modern city traffic system flowing as effectively as possible - good coordinated data input from all traffic operators and extensive camera cover of all main routes coupled with interactive management of traffic light sequencing to help keep traffic moving. This is supported by standby response teams to get on site and resolve problems as soon as possible.
Newcastle (NSW) situated about 160km north of Sydney is the port for Hunter Valley coal export. Mining output and the competition to transport the coal have been increasing in recent years but the infrastructure is largely fixed. It was very interesting to visit the Hunter Valley Coal Chain Coordinator (HVCCC); this is an organisation which works on behalf of all parties, many in direct competition with each other, to optimise the collection of the various qualities of coal from the mines
and delivery for transhipment to the bulk carriers for export. With one infrastructure network being shared by four train operators and into two port terminal complexes, this was a strong demonstration of cooperation for the benefit of all.
After a filled week based in Sydney we spent a day travelling on an XPT train to Melbourne for the second week of the Study Visit. It was a leisurely day taking eleven hours to cover some 900km. Track standards left much to be desired and combined with this there were some bogie equipment problems which meant the train was run at reduced maximum speed. The day illustrated why air travel is the norm and it is difficult to see the commercial case yet for high speed rail.
Melbourne: again the serious side started with a day of presentations. The first presentation was mainly about road haulage and further illustrated the logistic challenge of the large land area and relatively small and distant populations. General freight transport is dominated by road haulage with a variety of heavy goods vehicle configurations specific to Australia and restricted by different state limitations; recent developments have been on performance based specifications to optimise efficiency of operation but the lasting image is of the mismatch between very high capacity combinations of trailers including ‘roadtrain’ versus what can be accommodated in the more populated states.
There is much work underway to develop the metro but much of what was presented was more about ideas than committed projects. Traffic control was again an important concern but less well integrated across the systems than Sydney. What Melbourne does have is the world’s largest tram system. There is a lot of ongoing investment but much of the system is street running and would benefit from some traffic prioritisation to improve passenger flow. We had a really good view behind the scenes of the tramway both in central control and at a large depot. Interestingly, the control had an open room where to give clear forward visibility they had avoided computer display systems and had easy-to-read monthly calendar boards around the walls giving a very straightforward display of coming events, disruptions and other challenges.
Presentations and information exchange went in both directions; from our side as visitors there were presentations about recent UK project experience from our LRT developments as well as a description of a journey to Australia without flying. There was also a presentation pointing out the complexity and some of the vagaries of the British ticketing system for rail travel - this latter caused disbelief, blank looks and amusement in equal measures.
To accompany the study content there was provision of some select tourist and general interest opportunities: A coach tour along the spectacular Great Ocean Road, a steam train run from Castlemaine (no XXXX in sight) to Maldon, a walk up to the tower viewing level on Sydney Harbour Bridge, an evening harbour tour and invitation dinner watching the sun set in Sydney Harbour, a closing dinner in the hallowed venue of Melbourne Cricket Club and for those prepared to tolerate a very late finish a memorable evening with the Newcastle branch of CILT Australia. This latter activity was an invitation to one of their evening dining events with a shared presentation given by three influential women talking about their transport careers.
Initially, the setting appeared ironic because it was a splendid club which in past times would have been best described as a gentleman’s retreat; on reflection a poignant illustration of how far equality has progressed but how much is still to be achieved in Australia (as at home).
Altogether a privileged visit to see, learn and share experience of a very welcoming country, its people present and past. Thanks to all in UK and Australia who contributed in so many ways to make the study tour such a success.

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