INTRO: Last year Queensland Rail carried well over 100 million tonnes of freight on its 1067mm gauge network and is still investing heavily to meet surging demand. QR’s Chief Executive Vince O’Rourke discussed his plans with Murray Hughes in Australia

LOOKING back on a year when Queensland Rail carried record tonnages of coal and other mineral traffic, Chief Executive Vince O’Rourke is really proud of the achievements on QR’s 9458 route-km 1 067 mm gauge network. In the year to June 30 1997, ’we became Australia’s first government-owned railway to carry more than 100 million tonnes’.

The precise figure of 105 million tonnes outstripped the 1995-96 total of 96 million, and there is plenty more to come. New coal and mineral deposits are being opened up in Queensland’s rich hinterlands, prompting O’Rourke to remark that the future is ’extremely bright’. He expects QR to handle 113 million tonnes in 1997-98 and a massive 148 million tonnes by 2001-02. Around 91 million tonnes of last year’s traffic was coal, of which 82·4 million was carried to Queenland’s deep-water export harbours (p103).

To keep pace with the coal and mineral boom, QR is investing lavishly at the rate of A$650m to A$700m a year, or in O’Rourke’s words ’more than was spent on the One-Nation programme’. In the decade to 2001, QR will have spent A$6bn.

Apart from investing in track upgrades and capacity improvements, QR has called tenders for 38 diesel locomotives with three-phase AC drives and is seeking to add 2000 wagons to its fleet; O’Rourke says 600 of these will be built in QR’s own workshops, and the rest by private industry.

O’Rourke’s optimism is certainly borne out by last year’s performance. Labour productivity was up 21% - ’a tremendous credit to QR staff’. Since 1990, tonnage has risen by one-third, yet there are 5000 fewer wagons in the QR fleet.

Not surprisingly, there was a matching, healthy improvement in the accounts. After receiving A$659·3m for Community Service Obligations to cover passenger services and rural and regional freight operations, pre-tax profits amounted to A$403m, up from A$329·5m last year.

No sell-off in sight

With the financial situation looking increasingly attractive, and other Australian railways being moved by state governments into the private sector, was privatisation of QR be on the agenda? ’QR is an integrated wholly-owned corporation - there are no plans for privatisation in ownership terms’, came O’Rourke’s robust reply. ’We believe we are a successful government-owned corporation, and we see ourselves as transport and logistics specialists.’

While private ownership is clearly ruled out for the moment, QR is more than happy to work with the private sector in other ways. O’Rourke cites the Great South Pacific Express cruise train as an example. This luxury service intended for the tourist market (RG 1.98 p24) will be run as a joint venture with Venice Simplon-Orient-Express Ltd. O’Rourke says ’we went looking for them, and they had a good look at us, and they liked what they saw.’

Yet not all forms of private operation are welcome. Asked about TNT’s plans to run freight trains between Brisbane and Cairns, O’Rourke at first said that QR ’welcomed the competition policy - in fact there are a lot of opportunities for us.’ One of these is a plan to extend QR’s 1067mm gauge south to Moree, around 130 km inside New South Wales, to penetrate the grain and cotton markets.

Pressed on the idea of open access and TNT’s application, O’Rourke said that QR’s policy was to deal ’fairly and equally through a competition authority. Third party access is a fact of life ... and motivation for our railway to get to best practice as quickly as we can.’

On the specific question of TNT, O’Rourke said the newcomer saw it as ’a means to a whole bundle of services, including access to QR’s rolling stock; TNT wanted QR to be the operator, and we had difficulty with that.’ He said that ’if they had wanted to run their own trains on our tracks, we’d have dealt with it differently.’

Workshops stay in the fold

Whereas other Australian railways have hived off their workshops to private sector companies, QR takes a different view. Back in 1993 O’Rourke said that QR ’made a conscious decision’ to inject A$60m into its five workshops. These included the shops at Rockhampton and at Redbank, which is ’now one of the most modern shops in the world’.

Townsville received a cash shot of A$8m, and it was here that craftsmen produced the carriages for the Great South Pacific Express. O’Rourke says that the workshops are supporting the railway and extending its business, including building wagons for National Rail.

In terms of securing revenue, O’Rourke is keen to talk about QR’s consulting services. Providing advice to over 30 countries is ’a commercial venture’, with the emphasis firmly on near neighbours in Asia where ’export of expertise from a modern narrow gauge railway has good chances’.

In both the workshops and consultancy fields, O’Rourke sees ’the people issue’ as fundamental. ’Culture, quality and retaining intellectual capability are extremely important issues. We have a focus on teamwork and innovation, and we ensure that management can get on with the job, though there is still a long way to go.’ o

CAPTION: A pair of 160 km/h tilting trains will enter service later this year between Brisbane and Rockhampton; the inset shows a first class interior

CAPTION: One of QR’s Bo-Bo-Bo electric locos waits to leave Bundaberg with the Brisbane- bound Sunlander

CAPTION: Trains on QR’s Kuranda Scenic Railway carry around 700 passengers on each round trip from Cairns. Baron Falls will be a breakfast stop for the luxury Great South Pacific Express when it enters service next December

CAPTION: A shunter owned by private freight company QRX is marshalled in a southbound QR freight at Mackay. It is used only to shunt on QRX property at Brisbane and Cairns; open access is not permitted on the QR network

TABLE: QR in profile

1996-97 1995-96

Tonnes carried million 104·9 96·1

Tonne-km million 28754 26368

Export coal million tonnes 82·5 75·9

Domestic coal million tonnes 8·6 8·2

Minerals million tonnes 4·8 4·4

Other freight million tonnes 9·0 7·4

Passengers carried million 42·3 40·1

Passenger-km million 1093 1034

Operating staff 13546 14490

Locomotives 541 531

Freight wagons 11638 11882

Operating revenue* A$m 2009 1799

Operating costs A$m 1605 1469

*includes Community Service Obligation of A$595·3m in 1995-96 and A$659m in 1996-97

QR bâtit sur un trafic ferroviaire record

L’année dernière Queensland Rail a transporté bien plus de 100 millions de tonnes de marchandises sur son réseau de 1067mm d’écartement des voies et continue à investir pour répondre à la poussée de la demande. On développe la capacité des corridors de charbon et une importante modernisation de la ligne Brisbane - Cairns vient d’être terminée. Deux trains pendulaires de 160 km/h doivent entrer prochainement en service entre Brisbane et Rockhampton et les entrepreneurs travaillent actuellement à un prolongement de la route de la Gold Coast. Le directeur général de QR parle de ses projets avec Murray Hughes en AustralieQR baut auf Rekordverkehr

Im vergangenen Jahr bef