Tilt trains seen as way to lure users to rural rail
The more expensive option ... "tilt trains" can negotiate curves at higher speeds.
THIRTY years after they were introduced, CountryLink's XPT trains have travelled more than three million kilometres more than they were designed to, and should be retired for ''premium'' trains offering faster travel times and better seating and entertainment options.
A confidential analysis into CountryLink reveals the state's ageing long-distance train fleet is suffering ''fatigue and corrosion issues'' and replacement parts are becoming difficult to obtain.
But the analysis, prepared for the director-general of Transport for NSW and obtained through a freedom of information request, points to a potentially bright future for regional rail if the state government was prepared to buy new and faster ''premium'' trains.
These new trains could shave travel times between Sydney and Canberra by more than an hour and, according to the analysis, attract 60 per cent more patronage than the state's regional train services do now.
The report was prepared last year at the request of the head of Transport for NSW, Les Wielinga. It says planning for a new fleet is urgent because it could take up to seven years to receive a new train.
''The existing XPT fleet requires either replacement or a significant upgrade by 2018 to ensure the continuation of reliable country rail services in NSW,'' the report says.
It lays out three options for CountryLink and its XPT trains, the bulk of which entered service in 1982 with a design life of 27 years and 6.25 million kilometres. They have now travelled more than 9.5 million kilometres on average.
The first option is to rebuild the fleet. The second is to buy a new fleet of similar trains. These options could increase patronage by between 11 per cent and 19 per cent, the report says.
But it warns: ''The lack of services and limited appeal to full-fare paying passengers potentially leads to a lower cost recovery, hence a higher ongoing operational subsidy. This option has no potential to improve journey times on the existing network alignment.''
The third option would be more expensive, and requires the purchase of ''tilt trains'' similar to those purchased in Queensland, which can negotiate curves at higher speeds. These trains could include in-seat video screens, internet access, lounge cars and upgraded first-class carriages.
''Although a more expensive capital investment, the train is more attractive to full fare-paying passengers, which could lead to a potentially higher cost recovery,'' the report says.
This option could increase patronage by more than 60 per cent, it says, and cut travel between Central and Canberra from four hours and 19 minutes to three hours 15 minutes.
The costs of the options have been redacted from the report. The opposition's transport spokeswoman, Penny Sharpe, said: ''We want the government to explain what its plans for regional public transport are, given that this report says the trains are going to be unworkable by around 2018.
''People in NSW want to see an enhanced regional CountryLink service - this report points to a way forward.'' The Transport Minister, Gladys Berejiklian, said: ''The Countrylink fleet will at some stage need to be replaced to maintain and improve services for regional and rural NSW, because Labor failed to buy, or plan to invest in new rolling stock.''