In a recent edition of King’s Counsel we argued for: a tunnel-based Toowoomba Range crossing from Gowrie to Grandchester (one that would allow double-stacked containers to enter and exit Queensland for the first time); the possibility of developing parts of the 520 hectare Purga Investigation Area, south of Ipswich, into a primary inter modal marshalling yard; and most importantly, standard gauge rail freight tracks from Purga to the Port of Brisbane via a southwest corridor in both directions, as well as along the existing Logan, Gateway and Port Motorways.
Since then, a number of bothersome questions have arisen and must be answered before there’s any further talk of the concept’s viability. For example, how do you counter the Queensland Government’s refusal to even consider a rail freight-only corridor to the port via Brisbane’s southern suburbs? Is the Acacia Ridge marshalling yard approaching a use-by date as this state’s primary rail interchange? What is it about Purga that makes it such a promising alternative to the Acacia Ridge yard? And finally, what other pieces of the inland rail network must be considered and how should the whole lot be financed?
The greatest obstacle for the inland link from Melbourne is the Queensland premier’s “cast iron guarantee” that his government would never consider allowing a dedicated standard gauge rail-freight corridor through Brisbane’s southern suburbs to Fisherman Islands.
While this is an understandable reaction to politically damaging "kerfuffles" with outraged residents over past rail corridor “improvement” proposals (for example, the so-called Gumdale line battle in the mid-1980s, and a more recent one over a new rail corridor from Yeerongpilly), none of us who care about nurturing a successful and efficient rail freight industry can hide from the fact that the existing dual-gauge freight/passenger line from Acacia Ridge via Dutton Park suffers from too much suburban encroachment along its borders to allow adequate speed, 24-hour usage, profitable train lengths and, therefore, the ability to meet enough “just in time” requirements to compete with road transport.
There’s also too little space for additional tracks or sound buffering and heavier duty sleepers would have to be installed to take on the higher axle loads when passenger tracks are used by freight trains, especially when carting double-stacked containers (if that becomes a possibility). In addition, passenger trains using that track are already at 90 per cent capacity during peak hours, meaning freight movements are impossibe during those times, or at best an afterthought.
This corridor might be improved by using passing loops at Murarrie and Wynnum North, and a gradient-reducing, curve-straightening tunnel could be built through the hill between Norman Park and Morningside, thereby reducing noise from straining diesel engines and lessening wheel screech, but, for a variety of reasons, including the high cost of resumptions, this is at best a stop gap measure, one that will satisfy nobody completely and, once again, undoubtedly stir up protest among the affected local people at a time when and where the state government can least afford it.
That being said, we can only assume the premier or transport minister haven’t seen our proposal to overcome any and all “deal breakers” relating to this issue, including: train noise, visual amenity, the economic and political price of resumption, the NIMBY’s with pitchforks and the handcuffs of past promises. This proposal has garnered positive interest from Queensland Transport and Queensland Rail bureaucrats and other rail transport professionals.
It’s actually quite simple: let Queensland Rail superimpose dedicated, standard- gauge rail-freight tracks going to and from the Larapinta junction to the Port of Brisbane leg of the inland rail link on readily available, state-owned, unimproved strips within or alongside the Logan, Gateway and Port Motorways.
This out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach would both obviate almost all resident disquiet, and provide rail freight operators with the possibility of 24-hour, 7-day haulage, the removal of speed constraints caused by track-sharing - presently a sub-optimum 80km/h, and the ability to run longer, more profitable trains now impeded by a lack of grade crossings.
Using these motorways as a template would also allow engineers to take advantage of the fact they employ horizontal curve radii similar to the ones used for tracks, therefore precluding a whole range of expensive engineering problems. Indeed, the only areas that might be “problematic” along this whole route is a smallish residential subdivision along the Gateway Motorway around Old Cleveland Road and at an industrial complex where the Gateway meets the Port Motorway, both of which can be side-stepped through minor resumption or tunnels. As an added bonus, construction could be incorporated into the Gateway Arterial upgrade and the Port of Brisbane’s 283 hectare reclamation project at Fisherman Islands, thereby sharing expenses as well as operational and planning processes.
In the meantime, should noise continue to be a problem through the corridor to the port, maybe Queensland Rail or other users should consider using much quieter shuttle trains like the CRT CargoSprinter. It’s made in Victoria, can go 120km/h and is reported to be “ideally suited for operations through urban networks”.
The next thing to consider is whether Acacia Ridge is approaching its use-by date as Queensland’s primary rail marshalling yard. The short answer is “Yes”. The yard is too small, awkwardly laid out and encroached upon by residential development to its west, to continue as Queensland’s primary inter-modal rail transit centre.