South Australia: a ‘missed opportunity’
The South Australian Government has missed a golden opportunity to upgrade Adelaide’s rail network signalling system following the “postponement” of a significant portion of the electrification project.
By Francis Dwornik*
“Saving” $372.9m in the 2012-13 budget by halting further electrification means the entire modernisation of the network is now in limbo, as a whole-of-network-approach is required to upgrade signalling systems – the heart of the rail modernisation program.
And Adelaide was in a perfect position to set the pace for the rest of Australia. With a total length of approximately 125 kilometres, the Adelaide Metro operated system (formerly TransAdelaide) could have installed the modern technology. It now seems doomed to suffer a “like for like” replacement of the existing signalling equipment with 25kV AC immune equipment.
The network was going to be the last city in Australian to electrify (25 kV AC), with funding approved in the 2008-09 budget for the electrification project. The Noarlunga line is still being progressed through to Seaford but work on the Gawler and Outer Harbor rail lines has stalled indefinitely.
The 10-year, $2.1bn Adelaide public transport development plan was to deliver modern, 25kV AC immune rail signalling with significant reliability and the potential for capacity enhancements. Procurement of new rolling stock was going to bring 50 new electric trains, 58 existing trains converted for electric use and 15 hybrid tram/trains into service.
This has been reduced to 22 cars and the diesel trains will not be converted in the immediate future and will keep running as they are on a substantial portion of the lines.
The current system is well behind technical standards and a signalling upgrade would have had major long term benefits for commuters.
Metropolitan Railway and its signalling system was neglected for many years after the first signal box with all-electric power frame, supplied by the General Railway Signal Co (of Rochester, New York), opened in May 1915.
Until 1988, signalling in the metropolitan area was three position speed signalling, comparable to the Victorian system. In 1988, the metropolitan lines were re-signalled with most of rail traffic coordinated through a centralised traffic control (CTC) system. The new system was based on modern UK route signalling systems, replacing most of the original speed signalling.
Delays to Adelaide’s current project mean a substantial amount of money will need to be spent replicating the existing signalling system to ensure the progressively electrified lines continue to operate.
There is a significant risk that this lack of a whole-of-network approach will have significant drawbacks into the long term as the rolling stock and trains ordered will not be able to take advantage of the efficiency benefits of a modern signalling system.
These benefits include safe passage of rolling stock with increased capacity on the tracks – without building additional infrastructure – which would have meant more services for the general public and a cost saving for the government.
In addition, the public is missing the social benefits associated with air and noise pollution from diesel locomotives, and the quantifiable long term lower operating costs need to be analysed when making investment decisions regarding the electrification of a rail line.
Electric trains don’t require heavy diesel engines or fuel loads as energy is supplied through overhead cables – and these trains emit 20%-30% less carbon monoxide.
Electric trains are also faster. As an example, these trains cut travel times on the proposed first UK electrified line – the 250 kilometre London to Swansea line – by 19 minutes compared to the previous network.
It is unfortunate that the South Australian public transport users will be missing out on the green, comfortable, efficient system they were promised. And given the costs associated with rail infrastructure – and the long term payback period for this very expensive process – they may not see the full benefits for a very long time.
* Francis Dwornik is general manager of Pacific Services Group Rail division and a regular contributor to Rail Express
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