Sir - You refer in RG 12.99 p753 to a proposed by-pass from Campbelltown to Hornsby for freight trains between Melbourne and Brisbane. The following issue mentions a shortlist of consultants to investigate an inland route for freight (RG 1.00 p13). This gives the impression that the future for rail freight in Australia is very positive, but it also suggests a lack of cohesive direction.

Australian government investment in transport infrastructure has been dominated by provision of better roads. On the main interstate routes, rail infrastructure is much the same as at the end of World War II, and rail has continued to lose market share. Prior to establishment of the National Rail Corp there was a proposal to improve access to Sydney by addition of a single track alongside existing lines that carry commuter traffic. This bold scheme envisaged sufficient clearance to allow double-stack container trains to operate between Melbourne and Sydney. The plan was not implemented, but an existing passing loop at Ingleburn was extended to form a 5 km by-pass to allow freight to run parallel to commuter trains. At the same time, work started on a loop past Macarthur station, but only the ground works were completed due to lack of funds. A bay for suburban trains terminating at Macarthur is now nearing completion, and this small addition to the infrastructure will reduce delays to freight whilst suburban trains turn back at this outer point of the electrified network.

The proposed freight by-pass through urban areas of Sydney would appear to be a significant infrastructure enhancement. However, the modest cost suggests that it will only be a third track alongside existing lines to eliminate delays at stations and junctions. It is also difficult to imagine how it will reduce transit time by 5h in the current distance of only 64 km.

The main function of the proposed by-pass is to reduce transit times between Melbourne and Brisbane, and this is also a primary aim of the inland route. This much more adventurous scheme would eliminate the need for any by-pass within Sydney and would save much more time than any patch applied to the existing line. These competing schemes give the impression that there is no clear direction, and we may see a continuation of the piecemeal approach to interstate rail infrastructure.

Colin Butcher

ACB Consulting Services

Sydney, NSW, Australia