Sydney–Melbourne rail corridor
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The Sydney–Melbourne rail corridor is an approximately 960-kilometre (600 mi) standard gauge railway corridor that runs between Melbourne and Sydney, the two largest cities in Australia. Freight and passenger services operate along the route, such as the NSW TrainLink XPT passenger service. The XPT offers a day and night service in each direction.
The railway corridor consists of NSW's Main Southern railway line from Sydney's Central Station to Albury Station – 646 kilometres (401 mi) – together with Victoria's North East railway line – 316 kilometres (196 mi) – from Albury Station to Melbourne's Southern Cross station (via Tottenham).
In 1883, the Victorian Railways broad gauge line met the New South Wales Government Railways standard gauge line at Albury, New South Wales at a break-of-gauge. The two tracks were separated by a long island platform.
Current passenger services
The XPT service runs two return trips each day between Melbourne and Sydney, making scheduled stops at Broadmeadows, Seymour, Benalla, Wangaratta, Albury, Wagga Wagga, Junee, Cootamundra, Yass Junction, Goulburn, Moss Vale, Campbelltown and Strathfield with optional stops at Culcairn, Henty, The Rock, Harden and Gunning. The stops at Broadmeadows and Seymour were introduced on Sunday 25 November 2012. Prior to this date the XPT ran express from Melbourne to Benalla.
The day service from Melbourne to Sydney is the slowest scheduled trip of the 4 XPT services, with a travel time of 11.5 hours. The other three services are timetabled to take about 11 hours. This discrepancy is due to the northbound daylight service being scheduled to wait in a loop south of Junee for the southbound service to cross.
Infrastructure shortcomings and upgrades
While the standard gauge line is approximately 960 kilometres (600 mi) long, the shortest distance available by road between Melbourne and Sydney is approximately 870 kilometres (540 mi) as the Hume Highway now by-passes many of the towns on the rail route. There has been a significant disparity in investment between rail and road since World War II. Since 2013, the road equivalent of the corridor - the Hume Highway - has been completed to dual carriageway standard, whereas the rail line is still single track in some places, and contains over 50 level crossings in Victoria alone.
Sections of the line in NSW are signalled for a top speed of 65 kilometres per hour (40 mph) due to curves with small radii (some are 280 metres (920 ft)) and steep gradients (some are 1:38 or 2.6% adjusted for curvature).
Freight trains struggle to maintain this speed in places. The number of curves along the entire route have been calculated to be equivalent to rotating the train by 72 circles (36 circles to the right and 36 circles to the left). However, due to the Bethungra Spiral on the Sydney-bound track, there is an extra circle to the right for trains travelling from Melbourne to Sydney.
For a long time, the corridor was double track from Sydney to Junee, and single track from there on with a number of short crossing loops, but between 2008 and 2011 about 200 kilometres (120 mi) of the former broad gauge track between Seymour and Wodonga was standardised to form a double track section north of Seymour. There is a double crossover 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) further north, another one before Benalla, another before Wangaratta and another at Wodonga West. A 5-kilometre (3.1 mi) double track northern bypass of Wodonga has been constructed. The single track resumes just south of the Murray River and Albury.
A number of passing loops of about 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) length each have also been added between Junee and Albury and between Seymour and Craigieburn. As well, some broad gauge track between Jacana and Albion has been made dual gauge to facilitate a new passing loop.
More recently old 47 kg/m (94.7 lb/yd) rail is being replaced between Melbourne and Albury with new 60 kg/m (121 lb/yd).
Mudholes have appeared in numerous sections of track since the concrete re-sleepering. These cause rough riding which can cause damage to rolling stock, and has occasionally led to trains separating. It is a matter of controversy whether the method employed to do the re-sleepering has caused the problem, or if it is merely the result of wet weather. Speed restrictions have been placed on the affected track while work is done to enhance the drainage of water from the track and fresh ballast is applied.
As passenger trains get priority over freight trains, a freight-only track known as the Southern Sydney Freight Line was added in Sydney in 2012. This single track line (with two crossing loops) allows freight trains to travel in and out of the freight terminals during passenger peak times.
Some works have also been made in Melbourne to improve the flow of freight trains into the port.
A rail overpass has been constructed which connects the Standard Gauge line near Sunshine with the Standard Gauge line near Brooklyn. This allows trains to travel north–south (Brisbane–Sydney–Melbourne) and east–west (Melbourne–Adelaide) rail corridors without having to change direction at Tottenham. This additional track completes a Standard Gauge Sunshine–Brooklyn–Tottenham rail triangle. This track was commissioned mid-2010.
Based on the definition of a minimum top speed of 200 km/h in passenger service, High-speed rail in Australia does not yet exist, but there are proposals for high-speed rail (HSR) infrastructure in Australia (also known as very fast train projects) - several proposals have been investigated since the early 1980s.
Various combinations of the route between Melbourne, Canberra, Goulburn, Sydney, Newcastle, Coffs Harbour, Gold Coast and Brisbane have been the subject of detailed investigation by prospective operators, government departments and advocacy groups.
Phase 1 of the A$20m HSR study was released on 4 August 2011. It proposed a corridor similar to the 2001 study, with prospective stations located in Melbourne, Tullamarine, Albury, Canberra, Goulburn, Sydney, Newcastle, the Mid—North Coast, Gold Coast and Brisbane. The cost for this route was estimated at A$61 billion, but the adoption of more difficult alignments or cost blowouts could raise the cost to over A$100 billion. The report urged the authorities to acquire land on the corridor now to avoid further price escalations.
Work on phase 2 of the study started in late 2011 and culminated in the release of the High speed rail study phase 2 report on 11 April 2013. Building on the work of phase 1, it was more comprehensive in objectives and scope, and refined many of the phase 1 estimates, particularly demand and cost estimates.
Less ambitious proposals have included a minor 9.2-kilometre (5.7 mi) Jindalee Deviation mentioned in a 2006 Ernst and Young Report. Naturally a slow evolution consisting of many short deviations which can provide benefits sooner will not be equivalent to a few large deviations which could provide bigger bypasses and greater benefit. However more ambitious proposals come with greater risk of projects being delayed or cancelled.
Over the years a number of deviations have been proposed for the track between Junee and Sydney, including between Glenlee and Aylmerton (known as the Wentworth Deviation), Werai and Penrose, Goulburn and Yass (Centennial Deviation), Bowning and Frampton including a bypass of Cootamundra (Hoare Deviation), and Frampton and Bethungra (removal of the Bethungra Spiral). The proposals would replace 260 kilometres (160 mi) of winding track with 200 kilometres (120 mi) of straighter, higher-speed track, saving travel time, fuel, brake wear and track maintenance. However the Australian Rail Track Corporation have only documented plans for a handful of minor deviations to be completed by 2014.
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