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Replacing loco-hauled long distance services with DMUs

Started by AOB, January 05, 2022, 22:45:34 PM

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AOB

As fun as loco-hauled services are from a railfan perspective, I think their time has come to an end for regular passenger service. Replacing QRs long haul passenger services (primarily the *Landers) with long-range DMUs in the same vein as the Vline Vlocity/CountryLink Xplorer units would have a fair few benefits, including:

- Potentially faster travel times (obviously depends on track conditions, but could gear purpose-built DMUs for 160km/hr or higher running speeds which allows them to take full advantage of potential track improvements)
- Cheaper operating costs (I'm not sure of the exact figures, but everything I've read/heard suggests that DMUs are far cheaper to operate than existing loco-hauled trains, particularly for smaller trains like the Westlander)
- Better passenger experience (newer rolling stock + improved amenities makes them more attractive for riders. In my opinion, QR is failing to capitalise on the fact that trains can have FAR nicer amenities than cars/buses for some of these routes)
- Better public perception (fancy modern DMUs just seem to appeal more to the general public than loco-hauled trains!)
- This all culminates in more ridership! (Look at the ridership increases in Victoria when loco-hauled trains there were replaced with Vlocity sets)

The only obvious con I can see with this is the initial cost outlay to actually get the units designed and built. Surely there's a good election promise to be made in a slow rollout of DMUs made in QLD. I can see the whole "100 new jobs for the next 15+ years, all made in Queensland" campaign ads now.

So here's the question: is there any reason (other than cost) why this isn't something that could happen? Or alternatively, is it already in the works and I've somehow missed it?
The best time to break car dependence was 30 years ago. The second best time is now.

ozbob

You are on the money AOB.  This is not the first time this has been raised, we have discussed many times.

About 2008 I had a meeting with a rep from Bombardier.  The company was making a pitch to Queensland Rail ( and presumably Government) for 1067mm gauge VLocity DMUs.  Similar to the broad and standard gauge VLocity DMUs in Victoria. It didn't get anywhere in the end. Sad shame as those units really would have given our regional rail a big lift.

Fast forward to today   ....

* "We've also got a $1 million for a business case to build replacement carriages for the iconic Westlander, Inlander and Spirit of the Outback long-distance services right here in Queensland."

* https://statements.qld.gov.au/statements/92416 16th June 2021

I am not entirely clear if this is keeping the status quo (DEL + carriages) or if they are looking at DMUs.  I think it is just upgraded carriages.
Not necessarily a bad thing if they put fast freight back on the Westy and the Inlander.
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Redrient

I also agree with this sentiment - surely there is a better alternative to new carriages and a continuing reliance on locomotive-hauled services.

That being said, the difference for Queensland is that the locomotive-hauled services are all overnight trains. I've never tried to sleep overnight on a train with a diesel motor/generator under the floor before, so would be keen to understand better what the sleeping experience is like on a DMU. My experience with DMUs during the daytime, including the NSW Xplorer sets and Japanese (JR Hokkaido) KiHa 183/261/281 sets is that most of them make a fair bit of noise/vibration which could be impactful on an overnight trip - but that being said, the few times I've been on the newer JR Hokkaido DMU sets out to Kushiro, the experience was much smoother than the older sets (or the NSW Xplorers), so maybe modern DMUs do a really good job of mitigating noise and vibration from underfloor engines.

Personally, I'd like to see dual-mode operation, where the new western-running Queensland trains can run under electric power where available - but I acknowledge this is really only relevant to the Spirit of the Outback, which could run under overhead power as far as Blackwater... but if you're building a new fleet for a few services, you might as well build them to the same standard. If the timetable was set such that overnight running was under overhead power, any potential noise issues while sleeping would essentially be eliminated anyway.

Given Inland Rail has the potential to cut hours off the Westlander journey (given the Brisbane to Toowoomba segment currently runs at over 4 hours), other improvements to bring the line speed up even modest amounts may have the potential to reduce the journey time to something achievable as a day service, rather than a night service - particularly so if certain aspirations for the Inland Rail link to Gladstone (presumably via Miles/Wandoan) are realised. I took the Westlander between Roma and Charleville in 2020 - a wonderful trip but also wonderfully slow. It took 5 1/2 hours for a ~250km trip... so clearly there is room for improvement from an average speed of ~50km/hr - but I am aware the limited freight haulage past Miles makes substantial upgrades a questionable value proposition. Some bridges though did appear in desperate need of replacement, and the installation of some automated signals at crossings on the edges of towns along the route would mean the train wouldn't need to trundle into towns at a snail's pace. Most if the track is relatively straight, so faster speeds are definitely achievable. If the journey time could be reduced to 12-ish hours, a daytime service may be realistic, which would again mitigate any potential noise/vibration issues on overnight running and also allow stop times at stations along the route to be far more convenient than they are now and the outback scenery could be enjoyed in the daylight, rather than obscured by darkness.

Overall, I think some sort of hybrid EMU/DMU as a standardised fleet would probably be the best choice, but I would love to see these trains better designed from the ground up to be an experience and to build tourism in the regions, and not just be an alternative to long distance buses or private car travel. The trains themselves have the potential to be something special - and having been on numerous Japanese overnight trains and regional specialty trains, there's so much more that can be done to make rail travel an experience on our more underutilised routes.

AOB

Quote from: Redrient on January 06, 2022, 13:48:22 PM

That being said, the difference for Queensland is that the locomotive-hauled services are all overnight trains. I've never tried to sleep overnight on a train with a diesel motor/generator under the floor before, so would be keen to understand better what the sleeping experience is like on a DMU. My experience with DMUs during the daytime, including the NSW Xplorer sets and Japanese (JR Hokkaido) KiHa 183/261/281 sets is that most of them make a fair bit of noise/vibration which could be impactful on an overnight trip - but that being said, the few times I've been on the newer JR Hokkaido DMU sets out to Kushiro, the experience was much smoother than the older sets (or the NSW Xplorers), so maybe modern DMUs do a really good job of mitigating noise and vibration from underfloor engines.


I hadn't even thought of possible noise issues with DMUs, but that does make a lot of sense. I'd assume you'd want to design these theoretical units with the long times in mind though - you don't see many DMUs with sleeping cabins either! I think for this very long travel time use case you'd design the units to be comfortable for sleeping. So noise insulation, one car with private cabins & railbeds, blinds, etc. I'm not sure what the actual state of noise and vibration mitigation is like for DMUs but like you said, modern day trip units can manage it so it's definitely possible.

Quote from: Redrient on January 06, 2022, 13:48:22 PM

Personally, I'd like to see dual-mode operation, where the new western-running Queensland trains can run under electric power where available - but I acknowledge this is really only relevant to the Spirit of the Outback, which could run under overhead power as far as Blackwater... but if you're building a new fleet for a few services, you might as well build them to the same standard. If the timetable was set such that overnight running was under overhead power, any potential noise issues while sleeping would essentially be eliminated anyway.


Agree with the standardisation, the less distinct types of vehicle that you need to maintain the better. The Westlander would get a little bit of use out of being dual mode (at least as far as Rosewood), and it does give a bit of motivation for continued electrification in the future. We can dream!
The best time to break car dependence was 30 years ago. The second best time is now.

HappyTrainGuy

DMUs have their own problems for long haul services especially when it comes to stabling, refueling and mtce. TMR for years have been trying to sell off Mayne and other assets to developers (for instance every rollingstock project since 2012 has had new facilities required by the builder).

This is also reflected in why tmr are perusing carriages as opposed to locomotive power rollingstock. They need to be replaced but there are other problems with moving to more rollingstock such as locomotive power rollingstock. Easier to replace the carriages than having to sort of other facility requirements for both stabling, refueling and mtce. The airline style beds aren't popular and many people forking out money expect more privacy no matter how much influencers try to claim them to be. Sleeping cabins on the inlander always exceeded the sales made from the seaters.

As has been mentioned ride quality suffers. Tilts already do 160kph. In fact they can easily exceed that with ease (the electric tilt set went 200 plus simply by turning the atp off :P). They also run at higher track speeds than present rollingstock on the slower sections on the NCL thanks to the tilting technology. While the SOTO is still limited to 100kph their advantage is power, range and operational ability/recovery. Since the freight split qr hasn't been allowed to run freight with passenger services (was a common sight on the outback, inlander, westlander however they have been whispers of this potentially starting up again with small goods Gympie-Longreach only but who knows - probably and most likely not). DMUs also lack fuel storage capacity combined with all the other bits and bobs that you find on them. There are only a handful of places that you can refuel trains now. To the north it's pretty much only mtce depots. To the west it's a similar problem. So while you might gain some time here and there that's then negated when you have to refuel (for reference the tilts refuel at Mackay and even then they aren't empty). Also another problem with DMUs are traction power and onboard facilities. Not a problem with electrics but you run higher weights with more components under the DMUs before you even jump into the tilting mechanisms.

While they are good in the short runs they are not ideal in the long runs compared to loco hauled services of the tilts and landers.

It should also be noted that QR are reclassing and upgrading older locos for use in the travel train fleet.

The tilt train locos in the push/pull are the way to move forward for long haul but are costly.

All comes down to cost. And with the good days of QR now in the history books like the original DMUs and providing community services at a cost don't expect to see too much as the bean counters within treasury hold all the power (which we saw with the tilt train cost cuts and random infrastructure/project changes).

ozbob

I am not suggesting replaceing  the long distance trains with DMUs, I rather enjoy trains with sleepers etc.

DMUs do have a role in Queensland for shorter regional journeys.  Toowoomba - Roma would be good one.

Local services around and between Cairns and Townsville. 
Other railway operators manage to deliver these sort of services, all seems just too hard in Queensland.

Queensland Rail needs to get back into the freight game too IMHO. 



^ note the fast freight wagons on the Westy.  This was a great service and very much appreciated and used by country folk.
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HappyTrainGuy

#6
Sorry, should have been a bit clearer. I agree that dmus do have a place but considering the expenditure required across the network required just to run them (upgrading rail, upgrading sleepers to cement, refueling facilities, stabling and mtce facilities, staff etc) I don't see that happening anytime soon. There are costings on projects to increase the speeds of tilts and freights on the ncl that still can't get off the table. Even the western line has costings in infrastructure upgrades to increase the speed of freights (mostly sleeper and rail upgrades) and still nothing gets done by treasury.

Indeed they do need to get back into freight but afaik they have no interest in doing so and since being merged into tmr aren't intergrated into providing any freight services with most of the freight side moving to aurizon in the split or being made redundant over the years. There's been consistent rumours for small goods fright being reintroduced on the upgraded westlander, soto and inlander consists (basically an extra baggage car) for regional areas only ie nothing to/from brisbane; but from what I know and have seen I don't expect to see that happening.

Until TMR/Treasury actually spend money on rail infrastructure such as the basic replacing of timber to cement sleepers and heavier rail you are still going to have slow speed track which negates the offset of having a dmu for fast speedy regional areas. In fact until any decent money is spent on rail don't expect too much. It's a bitch to say but that's the reality. You
Won't get dmus running at 160kph on timber/steel sleepers with light rails where the existing track speed is 50-60kph in a straight line. IIRC the tilts alone can be over an hour faster just from replacing the timber/steel sleepers with a bigger benefit of higher speeds in summer where temps bring in speed restrictions. Remember the timetable slow downs about a decade ago between petrie and caboolture because of the timber/cement sleepers. Even though it's cement timber cement sleepers because of the timber sleepers the track must be regarded as all being timber sleepers with speed restrictions coming heavily into force when the air temp hit 38 with cement sleepers having speed restrictions once it's above 45 degrees or something.

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