Inland Rail CEO Richard Wankmuller has updated industry on the progress of the project and what it will tackle next now that Queensland has given the greenlight to construction.
“We’re moving over the next few months to the next section. This is much larger, at least double the size of what we’ve completed so far. Now that we’ve been given the green light, we can begin the economic stimulus of this area. We’re trying to accelerate that as much as possible for these vital areas that have been impacted by the drought,” Wankmuller said, speaking at the AusRail Plus conference.
This section comprises 28km of new dual gauge track between Gowrie (north-west of Toowoomba) and Helidon (east of Toowoomba).
“This is an engineering feat. It will be very challenging, and we have to make sure that we get it right,” according to Wankmuller.
“The centrepiece is a 6.2 km long tunnel to be constructed through the Great Dividing Range of Toowomba, a mountainous terrain which leads down into the Lockyer valley, creating topographical and geological challenges requiring eleven rail and two road bridge and viaduct structures totalling 6.7km in length between Gowrie and Helidon.
“The tunnel through the Toowomba Range and I will call it The Tunnel, because The Tunnel is the second largest great tunnel in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s going to be an engineering marvel not just because of its size and its length but because of all the challenges that are involved in designing a world class and efficient system.
“But we do have to attack some of the big challenges which include ventilation. When you put a diesel freight train through a tunnel like that you have a lot of heat and you have to make sure you’re ventilating it appropriately and making it safe. We are future proofing it so passenger rail can go through if needed in the future.
“The highest of the thirteen structures along this section is the Six Mile Creek Viaduct which is expected to be about 966 metres long and 49 metres high at its maximum. By comparison the total length of the Sydney Harbour Bridge is 1149 metres and the bridge’s height clearance for shipping is around 49 metres. The second viaduct is expected to extend to about 1.8km in length, and in addition to rail bridges there are three crossing loops posed between Gowrie and Helidon, each about 2.2 kms in length.”
The extensive geotechnical investigations have been carried out with extensive stakeholder consultation, according to Inland Rail.
“This is one of the more challenging sections and it is challenging on a world scale, so we had to put together a world class team and we’ve done that. We now have 400 or so of the world’s best working directly for Inland Rail, not to mention the 1000s of service providers helping us meet this challenge. But the challenge is real.
“But Inland Rail’s ingenuity isn’t just about these really difficult challenges it’s also about what we do every day. We’re very proud of what we do every day and safety is near and dear to our heart every day. We look at innovation in all industries and one of the interesting things we’ve adopted is one we stole from the mining industry where we’re electronically tagging our people so when they enter a danger zone with equipment, that equipment automatically shuts down before there can be any reaction to that person and their equipment.
“We’ve changed the steel rail profile itself, which for many years has been the same design. We’ve rounded it out so we don’t need to grind it to get our trains in operation, this is going to lead to less maintenance.
“In 1700km we’re going to have 2-3 million concrete sleepers. We’re going to have to get those fabricated, delivered and unloaded on site. We’ve found a way to do that efficiently, by designing hydraulic machinery we can use to unload it in the most efficient way possible and touch it the least amount of times. If we can save 10 minutes or even 2 minutes every time we unload it across all those millions of sleepers, it saves a lot of time and productivity gains.”
One of the reasons for the delay in Queensland getting on board with Inland Rail has been the controversy surrounding the Condamine floodplain, Wankmuller addressed this.
“It’s not just about having global technology capabilities, it is about having local knowledge. That’s how you make a truly world class flood model. You talk to the local people and see what they’ve seen in previous storm events. By working together with global expertise and the local knowledge of people that have been there for generations, you get a model that makes sense and replicates what actually happens. So now you know you can rely on it in the future, because if you can’t, everything you do from that point is wrong.
“It is all about safety and we’re committed to not making the situation any worse than it was going to be anyhow by us being there. Water has to flow, it has to flow around and through our structures, and there’s some engineering challenges in that that we’re geared up to meet, and we’re doing the work to get it right.”
Wankmuller wrapped up with a call to federal and state governments to accelerate their uptake of the project.
“We need the federal and state governments to work together and they’re doing that but there’s still a lot left to do. We don’t know where the intermodal tunnel rails are yet, in Melbourne or Brisbane. Hard to build a rail line when you’re storing your stock.”