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The ultimate in heavy transport

Each new continent around the planet has been opened up by railways.  Yet, rarely does a railway run at a profit.  By 2008, fuel costs had doubled since mid 2006, again decreasing margins and increasing running costs for freight haulage.  Within 2 years, they had halved.  The key to efficient freight haulage is a specialised service, in a niche market, which doesn’t compete with other freight services.

With rail, this could mean a few different services, but especially includes resources transport and ultra-long distance travel, such as transnational freight – either East-West, as in the Indian Pacific rail service, or North-South, as in The Ghan, between Adelaide and Darwin.  However, opportunities exist also for the long discussed route between Melbourne, North Queensland and Darwin, and if the Transport Hubs proposed as policy also were embraced as a concept, it would make the railways even more viable.

A specific high speed rail link between Melbourne and Townsville, was proposed again during the 2010 election pork barrelling show. If this was an express service, built west of the Great Dividing Range, with carriages dropped and picked up from the transport hubs through which the railway line would run, then we do really have a great potential link.  Passenger and freight carriages could be dropped at each terminal and taken from the transport hub via the local link to the capital city with stops along the way to distribute passengers and goods.  Mostly that would involve a journey down the range to the coastal city/port, and returning would be carriages brought up the ranges to the terminal at the transport hub - a feeder system.

Fuel is becoming a huge factor in all freight considerations.  The most difficult and expensive sections of a trip are the start and hill sections.  However, if boosts were available at those times, less fuel could be used on the rest of the journey.

Specifically, as with ships in port, if powerful pushing “Tug/Shunt” type locomotives were used to push larger trains to operating speed at the start of each journey, then lower powered and probably more fuel efficient units could be used to maintain speed on the remainder of the journey.

Technology for energy conservation and release is under development in many places around the world, where energy can be stored from normal operation and released when necessary on the journey.  In smaller vehicles, energy from braking or solar energy is used to supplement more conventional energy sources.  In railway locomotive sized vehicles, a completely different scale of economies is available and we have opportunities here to pioneer technology that can be proven and exported globally.

Whether it is from different fuel sources, different energy storage and release methods, or different load configuration methods, with the opportunities of hauling for thousands of kilometres in a straight lines may present excellent options for technology development.

One method that I haven’t seen exploited anywhere, is placing terminals at the crest of an incline, reducing braking effort to bring the load to a halt at the top of the incline, possibly with bulk gravity based unloading facilities, and a downhill run to restart the trains on the next or return leg of the journey for lower energy requirements and fuel needs and efficiencies.

However, removing competition and duplication could provide significant savings in some areas.  If the rail services knew they could invest with confidence into a specific market sector, they would be more inclined to do so, and the same for road transport, one servicing the other, with the interface at the transport hubs.

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