INTRO: Faster journey times, higher axleloads and lower maintenance costs will all follow from a A$590m upgrading programme between Brisbane and Cairns

AROUND 118 km of new alignment have been laid on QR’s 1681 km North Coast line from Brisbane to Cairns. A series of deviations has been built to ease curves and raise line speeds, allowing QR to cut 2h 50min in its most recent timetable from the timings of the Brisbane - Cairns Sunlander and Queenslander services.

More importantly perhaps, the A$590m Main Line Upgrade programme will allow axleloads to be increased to 20 tonnes over the whole route, while the cost of keeping the track in good condition should fall significantly. QR’s freight sales staff will be able to exploit the opportunities presented by running more and heavier trains, and among these will be a new flow of semi-processed sugar from Mareeba in the northern tablelands to Babinda on the coast.

Working north from Brisbane, QR first electrified and upgraded the 630 km route as far as Rockhampton in the late 1980s. Since then it has been steadily upgrading the line towards Cairns, and the huge programme of work is now virtually complete.

The electrified section south of Rockhampton had been relaid with concrete sleepers and CWR, but funds have not permitted work on the same scale further north. Instead, from Rockhampton to Townsville every third wooden sleeper has been replaced by steel. North of Townsville, the ratio of steel to wooden sleepers is 1:4. Altogether 415000 steel sleepers have been inserted.

Much of the track has ’new’ 53 kg/m rail, which in fact is finding another lease of life after heavy use on the coal lines where 60 kg/m is now laid as standard.

Cut-offs completed

Prior to the main line upgrade project, an extensive deviation near Mackay was completed. A 5·9 km cut-off with a long viaduct over the Pioneer river has replaced a loop passing through the town centre. The A$52m project has eliminated 18 level crossings, but the station has been moved to the edge of town. At the same time a new spur was completed in the early 1980s for freight trains to gain access to the sugar and grain terminals in Mackay harbour.

Many of the deviations include new pre-stressed concrete bridges with 50 kg/m CWR on concrete sleepers.

A second A$350m programme of upgrading termed MLUII will be proposed to the Queensland government, but this is unlikely to be accepted in its entirety. Instead, sharp radius curves will be relayed with concrete sleepers and heavier (53 kg/m) rail, and the steel sleepers released will be cascaded north between Townsville and Cairns.

Whether or not MLUII goes ahead, improvements to the track and formation are essential in some locations. John Pistak, Infrastructure Engineer, Mackay Freight, who is responsible for around 700 km of the North Coast line north and south of Mackay, highlights intervention planned for early next year at The Leap, about 20 km north of Mackay. Speeds here are at present limited to 25 km/h in one direction and 40 km/h in the other because of the condition of the track resulting from mud-pumping caused by poor drainage in the narrow cutting and threat of rockfalls.

In March or April QR will start trimming back the sides of the cutting before slewing the track to one side to give it better protection from landslides. The formation will be replaced, and speeds will be lifted to the line limit of 80 km/h. Other sites have already been treated as part of the MLU, but there is always going to be room for improvement.

Rolling stock and ATP

Purchase of new locomotives and wagons formed part of the MLU programme. Goninan supplied a fleet of 40 Class 2800 locomotives, and 250 container wagons. These included 80 Type PCZY bogie flats, which are able to carry 9ft 6in high boxes.

Westect automatic train protection has been installed on the section between Bowen and Mackay, where line speed is currently limited to 80 km/h. Once the equipment has bedded in, the ceiling will be raised to 100 km/h.

In due course it will be possible to lift speeds on many more sections of the long haul to Cairns. QR will be able to trim the schedules of its passenger trains further, cutting journey times and making rail more attractive for the many tourists who flock to see the Great Barrier Reef and Queensland’s other attractions. o

CAPTION: Left: One of 40 Class 2800 locomotives from Goninan purchased as part of the MLU pauses at Townsville en route from Cairns to Brisbane. The final unit was delivered last year

CAPTION: This crossing of the Pioneer river forming part of the a 5·9 km deviation at Mackay includes the longest prestressed concrete bridge in QR’s MLU programme. The track comprises 50 kg/m rail on concrete sleepers

CAPTION: This viaduct has been built south of Cairns to replace a trestle structure

CAPTION: Prestressed concrete bridge at Plane Creek on a 1·2 km deviation that finishes close to a sugar mill at Sarina

CAPTION: Right: Mackay Freight Infrastructure Engineer John Pistak checks track and signalling equipment on QR’s North Coast line at Marion Creek

TABLE: Brisbane - Bundaberg 32·9 km

Bundaberg - Gladstone 52·6 km

Rockhampton - Mackay 8·8 km

Mackay - Townsville 19·3 km

Townsville - Cairns 4·0 km