Skitube Alpine Railway
|Skitube Alpine Railway|
A skitube train commences its ascent just west of the Bullocks Flat terminus
|Opened||29 August 1988|
Kumagai Gumi (49%)
Ken Bilston 2%
|Line length||8.5 kilometres|
|Number of tracks||single track with passing loops|
|Track gauge||1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in)|
|Electrification||1.5 kV DC Overhead line|
The Skitube Alpine Railway is an Australian standard gauge electric rack railway in the Kosciuszko National Park in New South Wales. It provides access to the snowfields at Blue Cow Mountain and the Perisher Valley.
In the 1980s development of the Thredbo and Perisher Valley skifields was increasing, but the mountain road providing access to them was limited, and road and carparking expansion works were financially and environmentally unacceptable. In 1980 the National Parks & Wildlife Service proposed the establishment of a day visitors resort at Blue Cow Mountain, which would increase the traffic demands. A number of transport modes were examined, including a funicular railway, chairlift, and an aerial gondola, but all were of limited capacity, affected by weather, and would scar the mountainsides.
A rack and pinion railway was found to be the best option, running mostly underground. The Perisher Skitube Joint Venture was established, with Transfield and Kumagai Gumi each holding a 49% share. The main proponent of the scheme, Canberra engineer Ken Bilston, held the remaining 2% share and was technical manager for the project. Feasibility studies commenced in 1982 for a double track railway on the assumption that the road would close in winter, but this was altered to a single track line with passing loops when the closure was ruled out.
Construction commenced in October 1984, with tunnelling beginning in June 1985. The 3.3km Bilson Tunnel was constructed using a 5.5-metre (18 ft) tunnel boring machine, while the 2.6 kilometre Blue Cow tunnel was constructed using the traditional "drill and blast" method. A consortium of Swiss and Australian companies provided the rolling stock, overhead wiring, sub-stations, communications and signalling. The 5.9 kilometre line opened from Bullocks Flat to Perisher on 26 July 1987 with the entire line opened through to Blue Cow on 31 March 1988.
The Swiss designed railway provides easy access between the Alpine Way at Bullocks Flat and the Perisher Blue ski resort sites of Perisher Valley and Blue Cow Mountain. The Skitube passes through two tunnels and has three stations, two of which are underground. The terminal at Bullocks Flat has parking facilities for 3,500 cars and 250 coaches, as well as passenger, administrative and control facilities.
The line begins at an altitude of 1,125 metres and runs above ground for 2.6 kilometres, crossing a three span 150 metre long steel truss bridge. A passing loop is located before entering the tunnel, which climbs on a 12.5% gradient to the Perisher Valley terminal. A provision for a second 300 metre long passing loop has been made inside the tunnel. To Blue Cow the line first drops downgrade, then climbs 1.3 kilometres on a 3% gradient, then climbs at 12.5% to the terminus. The railway reaches a maximum altitude of 1,905 metres above sea level at Mount Blue Cow station.
An off-peak schedule is run in early to late June and mid to late September, either side of the peak July–September ski season. Trains run between 05:00 and 01:00, allowing for après-ski activities or night skiing. The Bullocks Flat terminus has a large, three-sided station with extensive parking, a pass office, a ski and snowboard school, information desk, kiosk, souvenir shop, and ski and snowboard hire shop. This allows day trippers to get tickets and equipment and be loaded for the 10-minute journey to the Perisher Valley station, and a further 7 minutes to Blue Cow. It is adjacent to the Lake Crackenback Resort.
The majority of the railway is underground, comprising the Bilston and Blue Cow tunnels, 3.3 km (2.1 mi) and 2.6 km (1.6 mi) long respectively. The depth of the tunnels varies from between 4 and 550 m (13 and 1,804 ft), and their diameter between 5 and 5.5 m (16 and 18 ft). 30 kg/m second hand rail from the State Rail Authority was used to build the line, and two electrical substations are fed with 33 kV power, and output 1.5 kV DC for the overhead wiring.
To operate the service 11 carriages were built by Comeng, Granville. Each is 16.8 m (55.1 ft) long and 3.8 m (12.5 ft) wide, and can carry 225 passengers. This provides for the movement of around 4,500 people per hour. Eleven passenger cars in total were built, 4 motor cars, 4 driving trailers and 3 non driving trailers. The motor cars each have four 301 kW traction motors, making them perhaps the most powerful rack railcars in the world. The braking system is mixed regenerative and rheostatic. The train is capable of 40 km/h (25 mph), however this is limited during the downhill journey to 21 km/h (13 mph).
Two four-wheel 'S' open wagons were acquired from the State Rail Authority for freight traffic, and have been cut down to flat wagons. These were replaced by a bogie NVMF wagon. A 1958 Tulloch Limited built locomotive was also purchased.
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