The Norman Park Dual Gauge Line Scandal

Now that ex Treasurer and previous Transport Minister David Hamill MLA and Vince O'Rourke ex Chief Executive Officer of Queensland Rail (QR) have retired to their Super Annuated Paradise, perhaps QR can get on with straightening and levelling the Norman Park \ Morningside Corkscrewed rail line.

This Twisted Rail Line was allotted ,180,400 Pounds in the 1960's (by Queensland Parliament) at QR's request to straighten and level, long before the advent of long freight trains or Brisbane’s New Fisherman Island Port proposal.

A change of Government saw this money grabbed back because some inept politician described Wynnum as "3 people and a puddle". Completely missing the need to update this 19th century rail line.

The Railway Magazine (July 1964) of the time saw fit to publish a photo showing the twist (corkscrew) between Norman Park Station and the Agnew St Bridge. A huge 'S' over the 700 m between the Permanent Survey Markers 55561 on the Norman Park Station and 22506 on the Agnew St Bridge. Yet this Severe Twist doesn't adequately show on some maps? See attached map.

Time went by the old steam engines were replaced by diesel locos and eventually electric passenger trains introduced. But the premier of the time was asked about straightening the line, replied "Don’t You Worry About That". Thus missing another opportunity to correct this fault, flaw or defect.

Then along came a Rhodes (road not rail) Scholar, who knew everything about nothing in a moment of irrational madness (He called it inspiration) claimed he could build a third line with dual gauge abilities for half the price, by using existing old tracks, and leapfrogging where necessary, such as round the P,A, Hospital.

One letter to residents under his own hand suggested that, "The existing third rail line between Norman Park and Doboy would be convert or upgraded. And that there would be no new line along this section." Little did David realise or even know that there had never ever been a third rail line from Norman Park through Morningside to Cannon Hill. So much for his overpaid ministerial advisers.

 Hamill commissioned an Impact Assessment Study and community consultation for the proposed Dual Gauge Rail Line by 'Maunsell' with the understanding it was going ahead regardless. They ignored the existence of three houses between Buranda and Agnew St Bridge at Norman Park. The fact that they were the three closest houses to the rail line seemed to be of no importance. Hamill stood on the line at the Norman Park corkscrew and said he would straighten this section of the rail line, of course we all believed him.

So eventually a community group took the Transport Minister to the Supreme Court under the previsions of Judicial Review Act on the basis that the Impact Study was flawed. Mr Justice (Somebody) declared in his finding. 'That the Impact Study was only an advisory measure'.

Therefore it was the Transport Minister’s decision as to whether he paid any attention to this flawed study. But he awarded legal costs against the government, as he believed we were acting in the best interests of the community.

Molly Robson, at that time the Environment Minister, had already called our community group 'Rent A Crowd' so David took it a step further and tried to hit us with court costs of $5,000 a piece. Molly Robson lost the following state election because she supported Labor Party's new motorway through the largest remaining Koala area in Australia in her own electorate. So much for the Green Credentials of an Environment Minister!!!

Wayne Goss the then Premier would not allow the court action for cost against community members, so the action was dismissed.

Freight Rail Action Group, FRAG, continued weekly meetings at the Yeronga R.S.L. and fortnightly marches along the proposed route.

David took a half page ad to say ‘That All Resumptions Were Complete". But then realised that the line over or under the suburban tracks where they turned left into the city at Duttton Park had not been decided on. Without further ado he resumed even more properties along the railway line at Dutton Park.

We held a 6 am meeting at Dutton Park which stopped work on the project.

Doug Slack a National Party member attended, we thought he had come to help but all he did was get himself the job as Chairman of the Port of Brisbane Authority.

One of FRAG’s members, Harry Purcell, stood as a Brisbane City Council Candidate. It brought us publicity, but most people adopted a wait and see attitude which was of no consequence whatsoever.

Fitzel Acoustics were commissioned to carry out sound pressure measurements. One measure over 50 Hours at 49 Railway Parade, Norman Park took over one hundred readings, with the maximum reaching 99 dB.

This was before the new line was built. QR received a copy but denigrated it by saying that only one reading of 99 dB was worthless. Ignoring the fact that out of 150 readings 34 were over 90 dB.

QR did some noise readings where a residential street was between the noise meter and the rail line, but for some reason they continued to delay taking noise reading at the closest houses to the rail line. Houses such as at 49 Railway Parade Norman Park. Instead that house number was mysteriously changed to 51 and 51 became 51a. The new 51 was listed as 19 m from the railway track, but changing the number doesn't change the distance. Sounds a bit like old England's King Canute ordering the North Sea's tide to retreat.

FRAG’s Chairman, Dr Tim Florin, was constantly seeking meetings with politicians. When Labor lost government Feb 1996 he then prevailed on the new Transport Minister Hon Vauhan Johnson to take a ride on a passenger train from Coorparoo to Morningside.

Hon Vauhan Johnson MLA was quite shocked, but wasn't in power long enough to correct the situation.

About this time David must have realised the enormity of his error, so he jumped ship (portfolios) and moved sideways, leaving the noise and mess for someone else.

David said he opposed putting the Dual Gauge Rail Line through Karawatha Forrest because it would destroyed it. But shortly after the Dual gauge Rail Line was finished he approved a four lane Motorway (upgradeable to eight), through this very important Heritage Listed Bushland Reserve. So a new Motorway was built through this area, where a Dual Gauge rail line would have destroyed it. This certainly negated David’s argument and showed him up for what he was.

The original costing of the Dual Gauge Line had been divided between the Federal Government $39 Million, Port of Brisbane $19 million, with the Qld Government paying the balance of $? Of course this figure blew out to over $100 million.

The Federal Government funding had a requirement that noise would be within acceptable community limits. The opposite happened, and Rail Wheel Scream reached 110 dB on the outbound side at Morningside, which made headlines in the local South East Advertiser on Wed May 7 1997. On the Norman Park side where trains struggled to overcome the climb, engine roar was followed by wheel scream which in the case of grain trains was manifestly excessive. Residents were now complaining to the ‘Letters to the Editor’ section of the South East Advertiser every week. The Parliamentary Public Works Committee (PPW) now took an interest, and held a public inquiry in the Colmslie RSL. Which was attended by 150 People. Many of whom spoke on the subject. QR Executives were forced to admit they had not done noise readings at number 49 Railway Parade Norman Park . They further claimed that it would cost $50 m to straighten this small section of the line. Even then they claimed it would be easier to lift the line in a gradual rise from Coorparoo!

The PPW made an order instructing QR to mitigate the noise over the next two years, by lowering the speed; lubricating the wheels, and building the sound barriers which David had earlier declared as too expensive. QR distributed aerial photographs which claimed to be correct (the camera doesn't lie) but in many cases served to flatten the bends. particularly at the Norman Park climb.

In relation to speed, QR need a certain speed to climb the hill prior to the Agnew St Bridge at Norman Park. It would have been sensible to lower the cutting, and possible, without closing traffic. But instead QR were forced to keep an diesel locomotive on standby, with (polluting) motor running at Murarrie in case the extra horsepower was needed to overcome the climb!

It has been claimed that QR needed the twist to make the climb, but the extra friction caused by sideways pull just makes it harder for the engine to overcome the weight.

The Noise Barriers to be efficient should start at ground level. Out of 65 sections of noise barrier counted around the bends at Norman Park 60 were installed up to 50 mm above the concrete footings. QR claim this is necessary to avoid wood rot. It was suggested to them that a gravel filter would absorb noise of the wheel scream that emanates only 2 to 4 m away. But this simple solution is too sophisticated. I would remind QR that the Parliamentary Public Works Department ordered QR to mitigate their rail noise.

I have spoken to QR middle management engineers, who over the years have put in their own suggestions. Each time they have been told to shut up or move on.

Now we have the situation where this $104,000,000.00 Dual Gauge Line is unable to take the new double stacked two kilometre freight long trains. This purpose built disaster is just another one of David’s ‘White Elephants’.

The Everald Compton Syndicate (ATEC) have already completed a preliminary study on their Melbourne, Darwin Via Brisbane’s Port Rail Line. One of their requirements is that a straight and level line be built to accommodate these double stacked 2000 m trains. This modern freight efficient requirement should have been known to Mr Vince O'Rourke as CEO of QR, who in turn had an obligation to bring it to Hamill's attention. Isn't that what engineers are for? To shoot down politicians crackpot ideas?

In some places in Australia double stacked freight trains are up to 3,000m long for freight efficiency.

I suggest that the Port of Brisbane Corporation be now urgently requested/required to share in the capital outlay of this enormous noise mitigation project. There will be many costs that the private syndicate will not cover.

The ATEC have suggested the 'mitigation' of the Morningside Problem would cost a "provisional" $10,000,000. Would this amount cover the adjoining Norman Park section with similar problems? It would be Interesting to see all of ATEC, QT, QR and POBC's future Plans. The ATEC July 2000 report described the Morningside problem as "existing extensive noise problems associated with train movements."

We implore Queensland Rail and our elected parliamentarians to take notice of this most recent report highlighting the "existing extensive noise problems associated with train movements", at Morningside and Norman Park.

I thank you for taking the time to read this exposè. If nothing else it should give you an insight into the treachery of some past Politicians.

Jim Pross.

7 March 2001.

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