Home' Be : Be Issue 11 Contents “Steel wheel on steel rail
is at least four times more
energy efficient than the
rubber tyres of trucks”
than in resources strongholds such as Queensland and Western
Australia. “We’re seeing in the mining sector that rail offers a
bulk commodity transfer system that’s second to none,” Cole
says. Point-to-point distribution of resources such as coal and
iron ore is the key.
“In addition, rail is able to shift tonnages that quite frankly
would not look pretty on any sort of road network.”
According to Cole, steel wheel on steel rail is at least four
times more energy efficient than the rubber tyres of tr ucks.
It is a significant statistic in a world where sustainability is
in vogue, and where massive trains in the mining regions of
northwest Australia now stretch to more than 3km in length
and are hauling up to 50,000 gross tonnes at a time.
“The sheer size of these trains is quite amazing,” Cole says.
Staying on track
Through its research initiatives, CR E is a major supplier of
research to the Cooperative Research Centre for R ail Innovation
and is also forging strong par tnerships with railway owners
and peak bodies across Australia, including QR National,
Pacific National, the Australian Rail Track Corporation, Rail
Innovation Australia, the Australian Rail Association and
mining giants Fortescue Metals Group and Rio Tinto.
It is also playing a pivotal role in new rail initiatives.
From the development of an Intelligent Train Monitor to
crucial research around level-crossing safety and lifecycle
management and maintenance of rail bridges, CR E is at the
forefront of the latest rail thought leadership and technology.
Simulation studies of trains in crash scenarios; new projects
in technologies for track-worker protection; and, work on
locomotive adhesion and the problems associated with rail
damage – the work has the potential to save lives and money.
The scope of CR E’s projects is growing in line with the
resurgence of interest in rail. Cole notes that not only is freight
rail back in fashion, but suburban rail is taking its place in
society again because it offers a narrow transport cor ridor
that has the potential to reduce road traffic. “We are seeing
governments buying into this now and basically ensuring
that suburban networks are financed,” says Cole, citing state
administrations such as NSW and Tasmania.
The trend can also be seen overseas, with trams and light
rail gaining favour in Europe. In the Italian city of Milan, cars
are being shut out of sections of the CBD to free the way for
Cole says different forces are at play in the heavy-haul
freight and passenger rail spaces. In the for mer, private sector
operators see the potential for making significant profits. In
the latter, the financials are not so compelling. “Some rail
experts argue that passenger rail never makes any money,” he
says. “But what we are seeing is that governments are buying
in and saying ‘we can’t afford the gridlock from cars’. We have
to have good suburban systems.”
Speed to burn
High-speed rail is the other big story. Notwithstanding
breakthroughs, such as France’s TGV smashing the world
record for a train on conventional rails – reaching 574.8kmh in
2007 – this mode of transport is seen as the way forward for no
less a powerhouse than China and its 1.3 -billion populace.
“China has made a strong government commitment to
high-speed rail,” Cole says. “Again, it’s not an indication of the
profitability of the enterprise. It’s an indication that they’ve
decided gridlock will be terrible if they keep increasing the
number of cars on the roads. They’ve got a chance to try to
create a different transport culture.”
Europe and even car-mad America are also examining
more high-speed rail projects, while in Australia it is on
the agenda despite the conundr um of the country’s vast
distances and relatively small population. Cole says two of
the few genuine options are for the Melbourne-to-Sydney and
Sydney-to-Brisbane corridors. While politicians may be keen
on such initiatives as they address a carbon-constrained world,
economists may have the final say. ≫
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