By Tess Macallan, Journalist, Infrastructure Magazine

In late July 2023, construction activities began to extend the existing rail siding at Coolamon, New South Wales. As part of the Fixing Country Rail Program, the project is aimed at removing freight bottlenecks, improving efficiency and making the state’s rail network safer for all services and customers.

Fixing Country Rail is a New South Wales Government program providing targeted infrastructure funding from Restart New South Wales for regional freight projects. With New South Wales’ regional freight volume expected to increase by 17 per cent to 311 million tonnes by 2036, improving the state’s supply chain network is critical.

As the largest regional contributor to agricultural production in New South Wales, the Riverina Murray region accounts foralmost 13 per cent of produce across the state. Rail freight is among the most efficient methods of transporting big loads over long distances, with one freight train wagon able to hold enough grain to produce more than 150,000 loaves of bread.

Through a series of upgrades, Fixing Country Rail is set to improve capacity, access, efficiency and reliability of the regional rail network.

The latest project under the program is a $11.7 million siding extension at Coolamon, west of Junee,which follows a successful business case completed as part of the 2020 round of the strategic freight program.

Improving rail line efficiency

As a single line track, there are limited opportunities on the Junee to Griffith rail line to program efficient freightoperations. Crossing delays occur during loading and shunting activities, particularly during the grain harvest and grain out loading seasons, impacting the main line.

Rail sidings, such as the one at Coolamon, serve a pivotal role in railway infrastructure by allowing trains to exit the main line temporarily. This creates a space for passenger and other freight services to continue their journey while a trainundergoes loading or unloading activities.

The siding at Coolamon has been extended from 920m to 1,530m, enabling access for modern and more efficient freight trains up to 1,500m in length, which will help alleviate bottlenecks and congestion on the single line track betweenJunee and Griffith.

It is estimated that the extension of the siding will reduce passenger service delays for 3,879 passengers per month during peak grain seasons. As a multi-user siding, the upgraded Coolamon siding will be available to all operators.

Beyond easing traffic and improving passenger services, this extension is set to improve loading capability for bulk grain operations at Coolamon, streamlining and expediting the transportation of grain throughout New South Wales.

Significant seasonal and ad hoc bulk grain trains result in total corridor operations of approximately 1,500 trains a year. The project is the latest endeavour aimed at improving the efficiency of the Junee to Griffith line.

It follows the completion of the upgrade from a maximum 21 Tonne Axle Load (TAL) line to a 25 TAL line in early 2022. This upgrade was designed to accommodate heavier freight trains with gross wagon weights of up to 100 tonnes, further enhancing the rail line’s capacity and adaptability to modern freight demands.

Smooth ride ahead

Transport for NSW’s Regional Strategic Contracts Senior Program Manager, Simon Bingham, said the Coolamon rail siding extension is a crucial addition to improve operational efficiency along the Junee to Griffith line.

“We’re really excited about the Coolamon rail siding extension. It’s a win-win project, as it benefits freight producers, operators and customers, as well as people using regional passenger trains,” Mr Bingham said.

“The project allows for improved scheduling of freight and passenger services on the line, as well as loading and shunting activities at the site. It will be more flexible and avoid conflicting paths, with trains able to use the new siding to load and unload while letting a train travelling on the main line to safely pass.”

Early site works on the Coolamon siding extension project were completed at the start of 2023, including material deliveries and project site set-up. Siding construction activities began in late July 2023 with Country Regional Network (CRN) Contractor UGL Regional Linx carrying out the works and up to30 workers involved in the delivery of the project.

With commissioning achieved in late September, the siding is expected to be fully operational by mid-October 2023. Several rail siding extensions and new rail siding projects have been delivered through Fixing Country Rail, including the $2.15 million rail siding in Temora West completed in mid-2020, and the new $14.4 million siding installed at the Riverina Intermodal Freight and Logistics Hub completed in late 2021.

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