Firstly – let me put our current situation into context and say that this isn’t the first time Tasmanian Railways have nearly died – it is the third.
And Secondly – the jury is still out on the Long Term Survival aspect of the current re-capitalisation.
The Tasmanian Railway Dilemma:
Because of the small size of the market – the small population, the small tonnages on offer and the relatively small distances, railways in Tasmania have always struggled.
This is again not helped by the fact that Tasmanian is the most mountainous state of Australia – making construction and on-going infrastructure maintenance expensive.
Tasmanian has a total population of 512,000.
The current Tasrail operational system consists of 642 route km of single track.
The longest container route haul of Hobart to Burnie is 360 km.
We currently carry 2.5 million nett tonnes of freight for 366 m nett tonne km – and no passengers.
- Kiwi Rail – the system most like us in the region has 4000 route km and 4,000 million nett tonne km.
- Generally accepted minimum container route haul – 600 km (Auckland to Christchurch, Melbourne to Sydney, Brisbane to Rockhampton).
Where we have come from:
The first railways in Tasmania were built and operated by private companies.
- The Launceston and Deloraine – a 5 ft 3 in gauge railway of 1871.
- The Tasmanian Mainline Railway Company – a 3 ft 6 in railway of 1876 from Hobart to Launceston.
Both of these companies encountered financial difficulties with the Tasmanian government taking over the L & D in 1872 and the TMR in 1890.
The second failure is not necessarily popularly seen as such. However when the Whitlam government offered to take over the Tasmanian Government Railway (TGR) system, the system was deeply in debt and extremely run down, both from a rollingstock and a track and bridges infrastructure point of view.
The Commonwealth Government via its Australian National Railways Commission invested in more modern and efficient locomotives and resleepered and rerailed much of the key network. A number of major deviations were constructed and the rail in the key network was welded into continuous lengths.
In the effort to drive value for money, maximum use was made of part/worn materials from other Australian systems. Some of the compromises associated with the second hand rollingstock and material were to come back later to haunt the current management.
With the privatisation of AN in 1998 to the foreign owned consortium of Australian Transport Network (ATN), some recapitilisation continued. This new owner further emphasised the AN preference for North American railroad management and operations, the introduction of second hand EMD locomotives and a move to 18 tal on the core network.
International business far remote from Australia dictated the ultimate destiny of ATN as various companies rationalised, merged, failed or were sold off.
Finally ownership returned to “local” hands with the Toll Group’s Pacific National division acquired operational ownership in 2004.
Notable events in the PN years were the purchase of the Emu Bay Railway and the purchase of the refurbished MKA Class locomotives.
The business under PN struggled to generate sufficient funds to pay for its on-going infrastructure maintenance. This generated a downward spiral where differed maintenance impacted on reliability which in turn drove down traffic levels.
A series of derailments – at one point – more than once a week – sucked customer confidence and drove up operational costs.
PN had had enough and wanted out. Even this wasn’t easy as the Tasmanian government took some time to come to a decision.
The Concept of the Owner of Last Resort:
Again the railway was in a state of serious disrepair and another recapitalization would be necessary.
From 1978 until 2005, the Tasmanian government largely ignored the railway and it took some time for them to again relearn the concept of “Owner of Last Resort”.
It doesn’t matter who owns it, if you are the responsible government and you allow the railway to collapse, then there are serious financial and economic dis-benefits to the local economy – especially to the on-going maintenance costs of the parallel highway system.
Unfortunately, Tasmania was – as usual – rather cash strapped.
But there are always consequences. Our highway system is now still struggling to recover from the damage inflicted by the closedown of PN services.
A quick summary of the problems:
In using the phrase “condemned”, “life expired” or “in urgent need of repair”, the term when applied to the Tasmanian railway network generally described a condition that is well beyond normally accepted “condemnation” levels.
One major and several other medium sized timber bridges in urgent need of repair.
Transoms on all bridges seriously life expired.
Four major non-timber bridges in urgent need of replacement.
Rail wear exceeded the normally accepted understanding of Rail Wear Condemn Limits. Derailments were occurring due to excessive rail wear.
- Little ballast – especially on the shoulders – and the track is largely steel sleepers on Continuous Welded Rail that needs shoulder ballast.
- A remaining high proportion of timber sleepers in the network – nearly all life expired.
- Many early steel sleepers failing or failed.
- Interspersed timber and various steel sleeper types causing formation pumping due to uneven track stiffness.
- Poor formation – largely uncompacted original in-situ material – poorly drained.
- Most level crossings life expired. Both track and road surface.
- Level crossing protections systems life expired.
Drainage and Vegetation Control:
- Side drainage blocked or non-existent
- Vegetation cleared by passing traffic. Trees falling across the track a regular occurrence.
Staff and Contractor skills:
- No in-house technical expertise – in engineering or railway engineering
- All corporate engineering knowledge effectively lost
- Residual staff competent but technically isolated
- Local Contractors – mainly road based, with little railway understanding
- Specialist railway contractors – mainland imports working on a fly in fly out basis – often with very little understanding of the special needs of a lightly built marginal narrow gauge railway.
- No road or vehicle track access. All access for track maintenance by hi-rail vehicle
Past Compromises: The good intentions of the AN years now complicate matters:
AN acquired and transferred to Tasrail a vast quantity of rail and steel sleepers off the North Australia railway with its closure in 1976. The 80 CR rail was originally off the Trans Australia Railway and was rolled by varying manufacturers in 1913 – 1915.
The 80 CR rail is generally a poorer quality steel. It doesn’t perform nearly as well as the lighter 1940/50s 63 lb TGR rail. Wearability, rail breaks and web collapse.
- Interspersed sleepers – a random interspersed pattern of timber and 3 different types of steel sleeper – resulted in variable track stiffness and inevitably to a pumping track/formation.
- The NA sleepers are 6 mm tight for gauge in 1067 mm gauge track. Many were placed in tight radius curves with heavily side worn rail. (Nominal gauge 1067 mm + 12 mm). When the rail in the curves is replaced without resleepering – the curve is nominally 18 mm tight. This results in higher levels of both wheel and rail wear.
And Tasrail is Re-born – in December 2009:
The Tasmanian government resumed responsibility for the network in 2009 and together with extensive Commonwealth funding, set about rebuilding the network.
A new wholly Tasmanian government owned private company has been set up to manage the railway network.
So far the task list is as follows:
- Bridges replaced or upgraded – 38
- Bridge transoms replaced – 5,000
- Replaced sleepers – 300,000
- New rail – 52 km
- Welds – 5000
- Ballast – 62,000 tonnes
- Level crossings equipment upgrades – 124
- Replaced and/or repaired 4 major culverts.
- 3 major slips
This year Tasrail will replace 4 major bridges and install 60 km of concrete sleepers in the critical sections of the Brighton to Burnie corridor.
We have been fortunate in being able to access concrete sleepers and part/worn 47 kg rail at a reasonable price.
Drainage and vegetation is under control. The track is stabilising and the Track Condition is improving and the Temporary Speed Restrictions are reducing.
The first of our new locomotives and wagons will arrive. A momentous occasion for Rollingstock – the first new locomotives in Tasmania since the last of the ZA Class in 1976.
We are back to a normally functioning railway – but it is still a Work in Progress.
Our current locomotive and wagon fleet is 40 years old and made up of historic TGR stock and second-hand stock from other Australian railways, including Standard Gauge railways.
While the infrastructure work was primarily funded by Commonwealth monies, the Tasmanian Government has been largely responsible for funding the “above” rail portion.
- Hi-rail maintenance trucks – 15
- Tamping machine and Regulator – 1 +1
- Locomotives – 17
- The extensive system of 100 m reverse curves.
- The 1 in 40 grades – mainly associated with 100 m radius curves.
- 200 track km of life expired 80 CR rail
The present doesn’t ensure the future. And without sufficient investment funding – there will be no future. Our current tonnage – and the current prospects for tonnage, makes financial re-investment in infrastructure problematical. The par dyne has not changed. We can cover our short-term maintenance costs and with traffic growth – probably our full maintenance cycle costs.
We cannot rely on container traffic alone. We have two important small bulk traffics – cement from Railton to Devonport and mineral concentrates from the West Coast mines. The prospect for growth in the West Coast mines is good – but unlikely to exceed 2 m Nt.
Coal – the original railway commodity – there are good prospects of modest export tonnages.
This leaves investment by Infrastructure Australia. We are quietly confident of funding under NB2 to complete the concrete resleepering and rerailing from Brighton to Burnie.
While we are fighting – and fighting with a substantial chance – the jury is still out on the long term survival of Tasmanian Railways.