The Orange Rail Action Group (ORAG) was established as a community-based committee by Orange City Council with the objective of improving access to faster and more efficient rail transport between Orange and the Central West region, and Sydney.
The aim is to improve travel between and within regions for family, tourist, business, educational and medical purposes. Improvements like this have happened in Regional Victoria following VicRail’s investment in both railway track upgrades and new efficient passenger rolling stock over the last decade.
Orange Rail Action Group (ORAG) was established by Orange City Council in October 2013 to:
- Improve road coach connections to existing rail services between Orange, Bathurst, Lithgow and Sydney, in particular, better access to the ‘Bathurst Bullet’ and electric train services between Lithgow and Sydney.
- Investigate the logistics of a daily ‘Bathurst Bullet’ service departing and returning to Orange.
- Seek support from Dubbo and Bathurst Councils for improved coach and rail services to the Central West.
In February 2014 the City Council also resolved to :
- Make an approach to NSW TrainLink to explore the suitability of the ‘OPR Bulk Loading’ structure (an historic covered area alongside the Orange Railway Station) for securely stabling the ‘Bathurst Bullet’ overnight before and after its daily return trip to Sydney.
- to further investigate improvements to passenger rail transport along the lines of the Bathurst / Orange / Dubbo regional alliance.
Goals: Topics for Discussion & Research
The group’s discussion and research has identified a blend of short-term and long-term projects for further research, discussion and future action. Topics on the table for research & discussion included:
- changes to timetables so that the existing coach services could better connect with the ‘Bathurst Bullet’ in Bathurst, and electric train services in Lithgow.
- a new mid-morning ‘express’ electric rail service from Lithgow to Sydney;
- a new 7.00 am diesel train out of Dubbo (XPT /Explorer replacement)
- improved train stabling facilities in Orange
- track realignment options between Orange and Lithgow to facilitate faster travel speeds.
- rail infrastructure and rolling stock upgrades.
Results: First runs on the board
In the time since ORAG began, there have been a number of significant improvements in rail services. These changes have come about with the goodwill, cooperation and hard work of a number of players including local MPs, government departments & agencies, council staff and ORAG members. These changes include:
- The launch of a daily coach service which leaves Orange each day in time to connect passengers with the departing ‘Bathurst Bullet’. Previously, the 5:20 am coach from Orange missed the 5:49 am train departure from Bathurst by 10 minutes. Similarly, the evening NSW TrainLink coach to Orange now connects with the returning ‘Bathurst Bullet’ from Sydney.
Improvements to rail and coach timetables would enable better connections for travellers and offer significant opportunities.
Orange and District residents are serviced by one passenger train service daily. This is the Western XPT train out of Sydney. It arrives at around 12 noon en-route to Dubbo and returns about 4 pm, arriving around at Sydney Central at 8:45 pm. Travel time is 4hrs 45 minutes.
The Dubbo community has been asking for a morning XPT leaving from Dubbo but without success. This train could service Orange and Bathurst residents as well.
NSW TrainLink provides 5 additional services from Orange throughout the day, using coaches via Bathurst Station to the Lithgow Station Interchange. The first of these coaches departs Orange at 5:20 am. Central West passengers then use the Blue Mountains electric Intercity service to Sydney, stopping 26 times en route. Travel time is extended to over 5 hours for a journey of 250 km. By contrast, the car travel time is around 3.5 – 4 hrs.
After the 2011 state election, a new daily return rail service leaving from Bathurst at 5:49 am was introduced. This 2 carriage diesel Explorer set goes non-stop to Lithgow and then limited stops (6) to Central. The return train arrives at Bathurst at 9:30 pm. This service has proved to be successful. In the first year of service (Oct 2012-13) the patronage was around 25,000.
Stabling the ‘Bathurst Bullet’ in Orange
The proposal to explore the feasibility of stabling a train such as the ‘Bathurst Bullet’ in Orange has also been raised.
Currently the ‘Bullet’ spends the night in Lithgow, and travels from there to Bathurst to start its daily return journey. If that return trip began after an overnight stay in Orange, there would be potential for significantly greater passenger numbers.
Additional Express Service:
The development of an additional (limited-stops) ‘express’ train between Lithgow and Sydney also offers significant opportunities for travellers using daily coach services from far western regions.
Rail Track Re-Alignment
The proposal to re-align sections of track between Blayney and Lithgow offers significant opportunities for improved travel times.
The original construction of the western railway line reached Orange in 1877. There were multiple steep inclines between Lithgow, Bathurst and Blayney. Between 1890 and 1910 these sections of the Western Line required several re-alignments and the replacement of the Lithgow Zig-Zag with tunnels.
Sections of track with the steepest inclines were replaced with longer sections of track with tight curves. Turn-of-the -century steam locomotives could then haul heavier loads up the steep hills. The routes, foundations and some bridges of the original, less-curved track remain in place in many instances, directly alongside the newer tracks.
These are marked on maps as ‘disused track’ and can be clearly seen on Google Maps.
These tight curves along the line between Lithgow and Blayney severely restrict speeds of existing XPT (introduced in the 1980s) and Explorer train fleets. Trains that can cruise at more than 100 kph are restricted to less than 60 kph on the tightly-curved track.
Studies commissioned by the NSW Government identify the poor track alignment, poor track condition and lack of passing loops as limiting factors when it comes to faster train speeds, improved scheduling and economical rail freight services to the Central West, Parkes and Broken Hill.
It’s acknowledged that any proposal to re-align sections of the track between Lithgow and Blayney would require a major investment from government.
Rail Re-alignment potential impact :
In the interests of promoting informed community discussion, this preliminary and brief proposal outlines the nature of the changes which could be made and their potential impact to travelling times.
It has been identified that at least 24.5 km of track that could be realigned. 15 kms of adjacent, disused route could be returned to service.
If an average speed along the realigned track is 100 km/h, a travel time reduction of at least 18.5 minutes is applicable to the Dubbo – Orange -Sydney journey. 9.2 minutes is saved on the Bathurst-Sydney journey.
More saving in travel time would result with XPT and Explorer fleet replacements. If tilt technology was combined with track realignment, travel time estimates are:
Sydney – Dubbo 5hr 32 min
Sydney – Orange 3hr 59 min
Sydney – Bathurst 3hr 4 min.
These are significant travel time reductions of 14 -16%
Rolling Stock Upgrades
The introduction of contemporary ’tilt-train’ technology when older rolling stock is replaced offers significant improvements to service.
The XPT fleet is due for replacement after 30 years of service. The Explorer train fleet will soon need replacement.
Tilt-Train technology is in widespread use in Europe. This technology can increase speeds on curved track by 10-15%.
Queensland Rail has had tilt-trains running successfully on the Brisbane-Rockhampton route for many years and is now extending the service to Cairns.
Modern replacement trains will still be restricted in speed, unless specific sections of track are realigned.
The Rail Action Groups’s research has identified a number of documents drafted by other agencies which shed light on similar public transport issues to those being faced in the central west.
The UK Government has recently carried out a review of rail fares and ticketing and considered a range of options to address the many issues raised by passengers. This review from October 2013 sets out a strategy for a modern, customer-focused fares and ticketing system aimed at allowing even more people to travel by rail.
Nothing new under the sun
‘To Sydney and Back in a Day’. This document outlines the proceedings of a conference held in Bathurst on 19th February 1979 to press for day-return public transport between the Bathurst-Orange Growth Centre and Sydney.
It is interesting to note that the current XPT trip SYD-ORANGE is 1 hour shorter than the 1979 Central West Express. There was also talk at the conference (Page 41) about stabling trains in Orange overnight
This article from the Sydney Morning Herald (15 August, 2012) reveals tilt-trains were one option being considered by a NSW Government review into replacing rolling stock.