Sunday, December 23, 2012

BlackBox Control - GPS Vehicle and Real-Time Business Intelligence Reporting for the Railway Industry

BlackBox Control provides integrated telematics solutions from field hardware through to dedicated software or web browser environment. We collaborate with clients to define their requirements and rapidly deploy a customised solution integrating hardware, firmware, data centre and reporting modules to meet real-time, near real-time or store and forward needs.
BlackBox Control is being embraced by astute businesses in the railway, mining and government sectors that need real-time information on their business operations.
A range of railway-related features have been developed for customers over the years. Leveraging hardware specifically for remote area based GPS tracking and telemetry applications, BlackBox has developed hardware specific to the needs of rail operators.
Our special projects division has assisted with purpose-engineered mounting brackets, housings, dual cab solutions, antenna and other cabling requirements to meet the needs for different locomotive types, track maintenance equipment, HiRails and work gangs.

Tracking reporting for the railway and transport industry

You can use the standard BlackBox features to access data, produce reports or send data into your existing management applications. Very little training is required to use BlackBox. BlackBox solutions can be personalised around your preferred communication options. This includes Telstra Next G cellular, GSM, satellite, and long and short range radio options.
You could even mix and match to meet challenging site conditions and requirements for duplication. Other options available include incident notification, asset utilisation, RAG reports, speed compliance, fatigue management, and job reporting applications.
BlackBox has options ideal for tracking, telemetry reporting and hour metre reporting. You can readily personalise the solutions to suit your needs and BlackBox can provide specialist consultation.
Once installed in your vehicles and assets you will receive a report at the nominated intervals that allows you to get your finger on the pulse of your business.
At your office the control centre software is used to produce reports and monitor your selected business rules. You can also view the asset's location and activity on detailed maps.

GPS tracking solutions for the railway industry

Key rail-related features include:
  • Live information
  • Monitor activity by asset or train ID
  • KM location display options to aid operators with location on track
  • On / off rail detection for HiRails, with auto-adjustment of reporting frequency
  • Permission to enter railway options
  • Status input options: e.g. locomotive needs fuel, maintenance equipment operating mode and HiRail driver is alert
  • Locomotive stopped detection with auto-reporting rate adjustment
  • Simple to use application
  • Proximity reporting
  • Proactive alerts through in-built events manager
  • Filtered access: display location to your users or customers by train number relevance
  • Flexible and adaptable to your evolving needs

Enterprise asset management solutions for the railway industry

In addition to the enterprise control centre software application, a browser module is also available for corporate deployment and this includes the following features:
  • Google maps
  • Personalised features
  • User-friendly
  • Reporter module
  • Local administrator control
BlackBox is positioned as an enterprise asset management solution provider in Australia. The company has specialised in the provision of personalised solutions that have been readily deployed across a large range of asset types. By controlling the entire solution from hardware to firmware, the company is able to readily adapt the solution to meet the needs of corporate and large business customers.
The solution's positioning as a platform for location requirements and telemetry has seen BlackBox secure large contracts with organisations with diverse fleet needs. Sub-fleets can be added at any desired rate as contracts and needs dictate. Subcontractors can operate through a simple Google Map based browser and can also deliver data to a corporate system if all parties are in agreement. By collaborating with a team of technology partners, BlackBox is able to introduce companies with experience and knowledge to expedite further development and integration requirements.

Contact Details

BlackBox Control (Pty) Ltd
2/12 Kewdale Road
WA, 6106
Western Australia
Tel:             +61 8 9365 3914      
Tel: 1300 766 764 (within Australia)
Fax: +61 8 9258 4222

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Rules ignored causing worst ever accident

The Kandy-Colombo Intercity Train follows Newton’s Law of Gravity


by D.C.Lelwela.

The Intercity Train service from Colombo to the provincial capitals of Kandy, and Anuradhapura were introduced by Sri Lanka Railways in the early 1980s as the new government thought it a long felt need to provide an improved service to the general public. It primarily served the business community and any other travelers of these main cities who could afford the highly priced ticket and wished to travel to the metropolitan city and back speedily in comfort and spending less time on the journey ( by virtue of the lesser number of stops on the way.)

The Kandy intercity, for example stopped only at the intermediate stations of Veyangoda and Peradeniya Junction. Piped music was provided in the train throughout the journey for passenger entertainment. Refreshments could be ordered to one’s seat. The train also occasionally carried families with children who were ‘served by nature’ with a panoramic view, from Rambukkana to Kadugannawa, of lush green hills on both sides of the railway track planted with tea, well kept by teams of women, who would be seen garbed in their special aprons, plucking the tender two leaves and bud of each shrub every morning, rain or sun. There were also the yonder mountain ranges cascading against the deep blue skyline providing a backdrop to the scenery. A train full of people therefore is, very often, certainty.

The two up and down intercity Express trains between Colombo and Kandy were timed to run on a schedule convenient to the people. Only experienced and competent crew members would be selectively ‘booked’ to work the train in order to ensure its reputation. The department was quite keen that no officer on board would make any error that would negate departmental efforts in achieving best results. They had to make sure that they gave of their best under all circumstances. But on this day the inThe railway track from Colombo to Kandy which is a part of the Main Line of the railway system consists of the section up to Rambukkana that permits a maximum speed of 55 mph on straight track in flat country. From Rambukkana to Kadigamuwa is the most treacherous section in the entire railway system- where the gradient is very steep – in fact the steepest (1 in 44) and the curvatures are continuous reverse curves of five and 10 chains all the way. Such track geometry between Rambukkana and Kadugannnawa cannot permit a maximum speed of more than 20 mph.

In the design stage of locomotives and rolling stock for special use on the upcountry beyond Rambukkana, the important features mentioned above have to be carefully gone into by the design engineers. And the manufacturer has to comply strictly with such specifications; and the driver, when ascending the slopes such as those mentioned must use extra power and special features have to be availed of as needed. The horse power of the locomotive had to be adequate. Slipping of the driving wheels of the locomotives should be reduced by using sand in the sand boxes provided above the rail wheel contact.

On the day of the journey, the crew have to report to the locomotive shed and go through a check list of the condition and the needs of the locomotive and rolling stock, bring any shortcomings to the notice of the Locomotive Foremen and not leave on the journey until and unless they are completely satisfied that defects if any are attended to. They should also familiarize themselves with the details of the track layout by having thorough ‘road learning’ over the area he will traverse and be aware of any information about temporary speed restrictions before they take charge and leave on the journey.

On January 13 2002, the intercity train started on schedule from Kandy with the hope of reaching Colombo safely and on time. It had left Kandy railway station at 6.30 am as scheduled. Everything on the check list was cleared by the crew and all seemed to be in order before they left Kandy. The train arrived at Peradeniya railway station at 6.42 am, and left after a minute’s stop on the next lap of its journey to run express all the way up to Kadugannawa which they passed non stop at 6.57 am and began the descent down to Balana reaching the down outer home signal of the Balana railway station at 7.05 am. with the train still in good control of the driver. This was however a non-scheduled stop.

It resumed its journey from the temporary stop at the down outer home signal at Balana, and passed the Balana railway station at 7.08 am. Having entered the section between Balana and Ihala Kotte, it was passing the village of Makehelwewa, when the driver noticed that the speed of the train was unusually high and the vacuum reading had dropped to zero. He began to worry that the permissible speed may have been exceeded already. However he was unable to determine the exact speed of the train since a speedometer was not available.

He has immediately instructed his assistant to apply the hand brake. The locomotive hand brake was applied by the driver’s assistant. The guard and the under guard have also duly applied their handbrakes in the two brake vans, with the hope of bringing the train speed under control. The panic stricken driver then had applied the hydro dynamic brakes as well. That too seemed ineffective. All attempts made to slow the train were of no avail. The train, by then, was running out of control and was galloping down the slopes. There was only one thing left for them to do. That was to pray.

This was the moment when the Kandy intercity train seemed to ‘defy’ the best efforts of the driver and his assistant at maintaining its speed within limits considered safe. Instead, the train seemed to have ‘opted’ to follow the Newtonian Laws of Gravitation, and rushed down the rail track along a very steep 1 in 44 gradient with increased acceleration. The only resistance acting against the speeding train was the wind, frictional resistance created by the application of the hand brakes, friction at the rail wheel contact and any resistance at the wheel bearings (negligible).

The train continued to ‘run away’ in this erratic manner until it passed the Kadigamuwa railway station at 7.22 am. The speed of the train then was so high that the train crew while passing Kadigamuwa railway station could only throw the tablet (with pouch) they had with them for the preceding section on to the platform and with the greatest of difficulty pick up the tablet for the section ahead from the station staff standing on the platform ready but with utmost care to see that he was standing at a safe distance from the speeding train.

The driver, fearing that a major calamity was awaiting in that tablet pouch bringing a message about an obstruction in forward section, could only breathe a sigh of relief when he got the tablet to proceed into the section with the best hopes so that the possibility of an obstruction ahead was totally eliminated.

Passing Kadigamuwa, whilst the momentum gathered so far up was pushing the train significantly, the situation did not seem to change. When it reached a point on the track where the track geometry could no longer sustain such a speed well beyond the permitted limit and hold its dynamic stability together. Thus, when negotiating a very sharp reverse curve of ten chain radius at 53 m 05 ch, near the village of Kirivallapitiya the train derailed at a speed far in excess of the permitted speed for the section. The point of derailment was 2 miles 37 chains away from the Kadigamuwa railway station

According to the details that emerged about the journey on this day from the moment the train crew took over the empty train set at Kandy up to the time of the derailment, the primary cause of the derailment was found to be over speeding at the point of derailment while there was evidence that the train was over speeding all the way from Balana railway station. Other contributory factors were the defects in the brake system in the locomotive and the passenger cars, the consequent inadequacy of the brake power on the train, and the lack of a speedometer in the cab of the locomotive for the guidance of the driver and the consequent inability of the driver to apply the brakes and use the available brake power in time so as to keep the speed under control.

The train formation consisted of a M6 Type Diesel Electric Locomotive, made by Henschell of West Germany suitable for use in the up country and imported in the nineteen eighties and six passenger cars along with two brake vans. All vehicles have been designed for special use with the rigid wheel base as specified and other requirements satisfied. However, four of the passenger cars used on the train had been `overdue’ for ‘heavy’ repairs. Of these, one car had been overdue for more than three years. The train set had not been ‘vacuum tested’ in the Kandy locomotive shed before the empty set left on the journey that morning. The brake system too has not been tested.

Among the wreckage were several twisted bogies and cars totally damaged beyond use. Brake blocks on several cars have been observed, soon after the accident, to be shattered and the surface of some others blackened showing that the brakes applied had not been sufficiently effective.

The derailment of this runaway train was one of the most serious accidents seen in the Sri Lanka railways since Independence. 15 passengers were killed while over 200 were injured, most of them very seriously. The accident was reported over a public telephone to the Rambukkana railway station by an outsider who saw it.

For the upkeep of the regular train services every day, it goes without saying that the various sub departments of the railway have to play their part in ensuring that they feed the necessary inputs such as carriages and locomotives that are repaired and in good order to the operating department to enable them to run the daily service efficiently and without the risk of accidents. That was possible only if these vehicles have gone through the repair schedules on due dates. If not either trains have to be cancelled for want of passenger cars or risks have to be taken in using such vehicles.

(The writer is a former General Manager of Railways)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

First container train despatched from China to Europe

6 November 2012

Russian Railways Logistics (RZDL), together with YuXinOu (Chongqing) Logistics, has despatched its first container train from China to Europe using the CIM/SMGS Common Consignment Note.
The train left Chongqing in China for Poland and Germany carrying 42 forty-foot containers for customers including Acer, ASUS and others.
Kazakhstan's Kaztransservice and Belarus-based firm Belintertrans have coordinated with RZDL in the forwarding project.
Russian Railways Logistics CEO Pavel Sokolov said that the introduction of CIM/SMGS Common Consignment Note is a result of work that has taken two years.
"Shippers save transit time due to container demurrage decrease at the border stations," Sokolov said.
"Kazakhstan's Kaztransservice and Belarus-based firm Belintertrans have coordinated with RZDL in the forwarding project."
The CIM/SMGS Common Consignment Note reduces extra costs on freight forwarding to shippers, who are usually charged for re-issuing the CIM consignment note in place of the SMGS note for each shipment at border stations.
According to RZDL, the common consignment note is a customs document provided in paper and electronic form based on the EU requirement concerning the previous authorisation.
RZDL is also working to accelerate traffic through the breaks of gauge at Dostyk Station in Kazakhstan and Malaszewicze in Poland.
The development of the Chongqing - Duisburg corridor will help speed-up the process by two days and further expand the potential client base along the route.
RZDL owns a 16.3% stake in the joint venture Chongqing Logistics, which was founded by the Transport Holding Chongqing (CQCT), China Railway International Multimodal Transport (CRIMT), JSC Russian Railways Logistics, Schenker China and JSC Kaztransservice.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

November 2012: Mr. Nimal Mangala Perera

During the recent research tour of Mr. Perera, he was interviewed and he was offered a cab ride  the Swiz Federal railways, which is very rear chance to any body traveling Switzerland  His interview was published in the Swiz Federal Railways Magazine and following images were extracted from it.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Alstom receives EU funding to expand HESOP energy recovery system

31 October 2012

Alstom has received funding from the European Commission for a research and development project to expand its HESOP braking energy recovery system.
The expansion will extend HESOP for use on metro networks and install it at a pilot site.
HESOP recovers 15% of the energy generated by trains during braking and re-injects it into the public grid, which reduces CO2 emissions by 15%.
The grant is part of the LIFE + Programme of the European Commission, which financially supports environmentally friendly initiatives.
"The expansion will extend HESOP for use on metro networks and install it at a pilot site."
The HESOP 750V system, which has been in operation in Paris, France, on the T1 tram line at Pablo Picasso station, will be developed into a 1,500-volt version for metro and suburban trains.
Following the development, the HESOP 1,500V will initially be installed on Subway Line 3 of the Milan metro in early 2015.
Usually in the braking phase, the electric engine in a train behaves like a generator, transforming movement into braking energy, 70%-75% of which is used by the train while the rest is lost.
HESOP is particularly suited for tram, metro and suburban trains, and allows for the recovery of around 99% of braking energy.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Passenger Information Display System for Railways Station

Wednesday, September 26, 2012 by Advantech
Passenger Information Systems (PIDS) are digital information systems that display real-time information for passengers. Train operating companies are constantly striving to improve passenger satisfaction by offering more than just arrival and departure times. They also offer news and entertainment content as well as safety and emergency announcements and much more.
These days, advertising is an important revenue stream for train operators and that's why PIDS are becoming more and more indispensable. A national train operator in Belgium was looking for an effective solution to upgrade their existing and outdated passenger information system, whilst providing extra value to their customer experience.

System requirements

  • Powerful image processing for graphic displays and various digital multimedia formats
  • Low power consumption and efficient cooling
  • Intel AMT / VPro technology for remote management
  • An excellent TCP / IP LAN solution through which the PIDS database, input terminals and displays all connect in real-time
  • Simple maintenance and great reliability, stability and connectivity
  • Compact form factor
  • Future-proof system

Project implementation

To provide passengers and visitors with up-to-date real-time information, Clear Channel International chose Advantech for its digital signage network in Belgian's railways and subway stations. This was just the first part of a much bigger project, which forecasted a five-year contract and a network of IP54 - 70in multimedia totems in different configurations and with different customisations.
The PIDS displays were integrated with AIMB-270 Mini-ITX motherboards inside. The 70in displays were installed indoors in the main station aisles and used to convey digital signage content and other information. In addition, 46in touch-screen totems were also installed from the SNCB railway company directly on to their outdoor train platforms.
The displays receive real-time train timetables as well as news, weather and advertising. Because of its highly compact design, the AIMB-270 was easily integrated into each display. Advantech developed customised APIs to support FHD (full high definition) resolutions for larger displays and provided dedicated programmes to run diagnostic applications.
Featuring real-time displays, the PIDS database, input terminals and display monitors are all connected via a TCP/IP compliant LAN. The AIMB-270 fanless and energy efficient design ensures utmost reliability, keeping passengers well informed and their travel experience easier, safer and more convenient.

Conclusion and benefits

AIMB-270 high performance Mini-ITX industrial motherboards proved to be the perfect solution for passenger information display systems in the Belgium railway stations. Dual independent displays, rich I/Os, support for DDR3 up to 4GB, and of course Advantech's renowned industrial reliability, made these compact boards the ideal fit for the train operator's current and future requirements.
Advantech technology created an intelligent PIDS display that showcases passenger information and entertainment news.
The system has been successful, with several key benefits:
  • Provide extra value to customer experience providing real time information
  • AIMB-270 was easily integrated into each display because of its highly compact design
  • Advantech developed customised APIs to support FHD (Full High Definition) resolutions for larger displays consumption
  • Energy efficient design of AIMB-270
  • Industrial reliability and efficiency

Friday, September 14, 2012

ඔහිය ගිනි ගනී - "මැණිකේ" නතර වෙයි!

කරුණාරත්න පල්ලේගම - බණ්‌ඩාරවෙල සහ හපුතලේ - එස්‌. බුවනෙක

හපුතලේ ඉදල්ගස්‌හින්න, ඔහිය රක්‍ෂිතයේ පෙරේදා (13 දා) රාත්‍රී ඇතිවූ හදිසි ගින්නක්‌ ඊයේ (14 දා) දහවල් වන විටත් පැතිරෙමින් තිබූ අතර මේ වන විට රක්‌ෂිතයේ අක්‌කර හයසියයක්‌ පමණ ගින්නෙන් විනාශ වී තිබේ.

මෙම ගින්න ඉදල්ගස්‌හින්න සහ ඔහිය අතර පැතිරෙමින් පවතී. ගින්න පැතිරීම නිසා ඊයේ (14 දා) උදෑසන බදුල්ල දුම්රිය ස්‌ථානයෙන් කොළඹ කොටුව බලා ධාවනය වූ උඩරට මැණිකේ දුම්රිය ඉදල්ගස්‌හින්න අංක 25 දුම්රිය බිංගය අසල නතර කර තැබීමටද දුම්රිය දෙපාර්තමේන්තුවේ දුම්රිය පාලක මැදිරිය කටයුතු යොදා තිබේ.
මේ වන විටත් ගින්න රක්‌ෂිතයේ තියුණු ලෙස පැතිරෙමින් තිබීම නිසා දුම්රිය මාර්ගයේ ආරක්‌ෂාව සඳහා දුම්රිය දෙපාර්තමේන්තුවේ සේවකයන් යොදවා ඇති බවත් ගින්න නිවාදැමීම සඳහා දියතලාව යුද හමුදා කඳවුරේ යුද හමුදා සෙබළුන් පිටත් කර ඇති බවත් ජාතික ආපදා කළමනාකරණ මධ්‍යස්‌ථානයේ බදුල්ල දිස්‌ත්‍රික්‌ සම්බන්ධීකාරක උදය බණ්‌ඩාර මහතා පැවසීය. මීට අමතරව දුම්රිය සේවකයන් 20 දෙනකුගෙන් පමණ යුත් කණ්‌ඩායමක්‌ද ගින්න මැඩ පැවැත්වීම සඳහා යොදවා ඇතැයි ඔහිය ස්‌ථිර මාර්ග පරීක්‌ෂක කාර්යාලයේ නිලධාරි අමිල රුවන් රත්නායක මහතා සඳහන් කළේය.

Saturday , 15 September 2012
Train services which were hampered along the Trincomalee route have now returned to normal.

Services along the route were hampered after a train bound from Trincomalee to Colombo derailed after it hit an elephant in Kekirawa.

Tag: Sri Lanka News, Newsfirst, Lankanews

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Intelligent technology sees cars, trains ‘talk to each other’

by Rail Express — last modified Aug 29, 2012 12:49 PM
— filed under: 
Victoria is in the final stages of the world’s largest trial of applying a groundbreaking technology, Dedicated Short Range Communication (DSRC), at railway level crossings which allows cars and trains to talk to each other.
Intelligent technology sees cars, trains ‘talk to each other’
DSRC is one of a class of technologies used for Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems (C-ITS) which allow vehicles to communicate with other vehicles and infrastructure and exchange information including their position, speed, direction, etc. The system is then able to calculate whether collisions are likely to occur and provides in-vehicle audible, visual and even tactile warnings to drivers in time to avoid the collision.
In the level crossing environment, The DSRC system delivers three levels of warning, graduating in urgency and volume. The first advises the driver of the vehicle of the presence of the crossing (‘there is a crossing ahead’), the second is similar to the conventional flashing light warning (‘there is a train in the vicinity’) and finally, when a collision is imminent and requires emergency action, an imperative ‘STOP - you are about to collide with a train!’ warning is emitted.
The trial’s third and final stage involves Metro Trains Melbourne, with approximately 100 road and rail vehicles (cars, trucks and trains) to be fitted with the DSRC system. The trials are occurring at two actively controlled sites on Victoria’s metropolitan Frankston line for a month.
Field trials have been designed to test the system for both active level crossings (those with train activated warnings such as flashing lights and boom gates) and passive level crossings (those with stop or give way signage) in both country and metropolitan locations.
Trials are designed to not only test the effectiveness of the technology but also drivers’ reactions to different messages. Human behavioural interviewing and evaluation of driver responses to the warnings are an integral part of the trial process.
Trial scenarios also aim to test for and minimise “false positive” warnings such as a warning being provided when a vehicle has passed the crossing, or when approaching the railway on a path which will not cross it.
The DSRC system has the potential to provide train activated warnings at nearly all level crossings, including those currently with only passive controls, but more extensive testing and the examination of wider issues around level crossing risk would need to be completed before the introduction of such a system.
Collision warning systems such as Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems and DSRC technology have been hailed by the motor vehicle industry as the next area of major road safety innovation, following in the footsteps of seat belts, airbags and ABS systems to save lives on the roads.
The use of DSRC in motor vehicles is already being developed in Europe and the US by vehicle manufacturers and government authorities as a collision avoidance technology. A US DOT report estimated that the technology has the potential to mitigate or prevent 81% of unimpaired road vehicle crashes (approximately 3.65 million crashes per annum).
However, the deployment of DSRC technology is still subject to a number of policy and funding decisions both overseas and in Australia and as such, there is no guaranteed time frame for its implementation, which may take a number of years. A US decision on the mandating of the technology in that country is due to be made in 2013.
AUtoCRC chief executive Dr Matthew Cuthbertson said the Australian automotive industry’s AA2020 Technology Roadmap recently identified wireless vehicle communication as a key opportunity for future competitiveness and exports.
“This trial is the first of its kind, teaming an Australian world-class project team and wireless technology to demonstrate its application and benefits,” Dr Cuthbertson said.
The $5.5m, three-year project is being undertaken by Public Transport Victoria (PTV), the Automotive Cooperative Research Centre (AutoCRC), and La Trobe University’s Centre for Technology Infusion
The findings of the Intelligent Transport Systems for Safer Rail Level Crossings project will be presented at the Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) World Congress in Vienna and the Global Level Crossing Symposium in London.
For enquiries regarding this project, please contact Peter Nelson-Furnell by email at

Rail’s role in Society

by Rail Express — last modified Aug 29, 2012 10:56 AM
— filed under: 
What role has rail played in Australia’s history and how will this change in times to come? Paul Bugler* provides an informed view on passenger and freight rail’s role in our nation’s past, present and future.
Rail’s role in Society
Courtesy RailGallery
“Rail’s Role in Society” is this year’s conference theme at Australasia’s largest rail event, AusRAIL, to be held on November 27-28 in Canberra.
Since its inception, rail has shown its ability to adapt to a changing environment. From its early dominance, rail’s role has gradually changed as roads and road vehicles have steadily improved.
The initial focus of transport needs in Australia was between the hinterland and the ports and coastal cities. It is striking how each state-based (originally colonial) rail system was oriented in this way. Interstate (inter-colony) connections were very much an after-thought and the trans-Australia connection between east and west wasn’t completed until 1917.  We also invented the world’s worst mixed gauge problem!
Over the last 50 years, rail has gradually retreated to those tasks where its strengths come to the fore. Rail’s role in passenger traffic is now effectively restricted to that of urban transit where the need is to move large volumes of people over modest distances relatively quickly.  With choked roads in our larger cities, it is rail that makes it possible to maintain our widely disbursed urban populations. But rail is no longer a substantial provider for long distance passenger movement, though state governments persist in providing expensive and poorly utilised services. Air, buses and private cars provide too many advantages for rail to compete except at the margins.
Similarly, rail struggles to compete with road vehicles for much of the general freight task.The recent BITRE/ARA publication TrainLine 1 estimates that for NSW-Victorian interstate freight movements, rail carries only around 8%. This is over a distance of 850km by road (950km by train – which tells its own story) where one would expect rail’s competitive advantage in long-haul would start to show. It is only on the very long east-west hauls, between the east coast and Perth, where rail really dominates the intermodal market with variously 60%-80% market share.
It is in the bulk freight area where rail really shines. Wherever product is relatively dense, in large volumes and amenable to flowing into and out of freight wagons, rail has generally been the preferred mode of land transport. It is in the movement of traffics like iron ore and coal where rail has shown substantial increases in traffic volumes. Rail is perfectly suited to the land-side task of moving these products to port. Rail is also a major carrier of grain though, unlike minerals, this traffic has seen a gradual reduction in the sites serviced, and the extensive grain branch line network throughout the country has been under significant pressure.
Governments have struggled in recent decades with what role they want regional rail to play, how it should be managed and funded. Generally, the state governments have allowed their regional networks to deteriorate. Lines have been closed and where kept open, spending has been kept to the minimum necessary to maintain existing operations. Little money has been spent on modernisation except where lines can be funded by minerals traffics. In contrast, governments have invested heavily in their urban passenger networks and the interstate network.
Coupled with the funding dilemma we have seen significant change in the ownership model for Australia’s railways.  Vertical separation between track and train operation has been implemented, allowing for competition between train operators. At the same time some governments have divested themselves of their rail networks and operations to the private sector – in two cases re-acquiring networks where private commercial returns could not sustain them. These reforms have given rise to substantial competition between train operators. The advent of vertical separation has also brought a complex mix of regulation with various state and federal bodies governing aspects of the rail system. The rail networks themselves are no longer strictly state based but are under a patchwork of ownership.
So where will Australian rail be 20 years from now? Several factors will work in rail’s favour, gradually over the years. Rail enjoys an environmental advantage over road transport with its more efficient use of diesel fuel. Both climate change and the increasing scarcity and hence price of oil mean that road will become less competitive for intermodal movements, particularly if rail can continue to improve service quality – something that it has struggled with in the past. I expect that rail will improve its inter-capital freight share, slowly but inexorably. This will need to be underpinned by substantial investment in terminals, rolling stock and track.
I think the proposed inland route between Melbourne and Brisbane will eventually happen, but I suspect this will come later rather than sooner. As volumes between those cities grow, the economics will improve, but it is a huge capital cost that cannot currently be justified.
Rail will continue to dominate the heavy haul transport sector. The prospects for Australia’s minerals industry suggest that rail will have a growing task for the foreseeable future.
The prospect for regional networks is less clear. Governments are unsure whether to retain their diverse grain networks. These are almost uniformly in need of major investment to allow for modern high axle-load operations. I expect that there will continue to be rationalisation with branch line closures and consolidation around a smaller group of more viable lines, but to keep even these going will require substantial investment.
The role of medium and long distance passenger is harder to predict. There is much interest high speed passenger links, but the economics are difficult. My view is that high speed passenger rail makes sense between large population centres that are not too far apart – say Sydney and Canberra. But the state capitals are too far apart to make high speed rail between them viable, unless there are substantial impediments in the future to air travel either through cost, environmental factors or congestion. I expect that governments will feel obliged to continue to provide the current level of country passenger services, but these will continue to struggle to be justified.
Finally, urban passenger rail will continue to be an integral part of our large cities. As fuel becomes increasingly more expensive, as congestion rises, rail will be the mode that can best provide transport from outer urban hubs to city centres.Rail is here to stay and it will thrive.

*Paul Bugler is director of Lacertus Verum, a company providing rail consultancy services across a broad range of strategic, planning, rolling stock and operational areas.  Lacertus Verum is also part of the Dawn Alliance, a group of specialist consultancies offering a wide range of transport advisory services. Phone:             0430 312 565      . Email: