The idea behind this assumption was that diesels did not require water replenishment to work the engine nor did they require coal top ups as was the case with steam locomotives.
Electrics in turn, the claim was made, had quicker pick-up speeds from platforms and had sharper stoppage times when entering platform precincts.
All that has now been challenged by retired Brisbane train driver Larry Matters spent 20 years as a Brisbane train driver, before spending 10 years as the lead examiner for the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, as reported in the Brisbane Times. (www.brisbanetimes.com.au)
NZ Locomotives ahead
According to the report it now takes 11 minutes longer to catch an electric train from Ipswich to Brisbane Central than it did in late 1980 which were at that time hauled by labyrinth diesels.
Larry Matters initially details this in the March 2014 issue of Railway Digest, questioning why 11 minutes have been added to the journey over the past 34 years.
It took 49 minutes to travel from Brisbane Central to Ipswich in late 1980 and now it takes 60 minutes to complete this run. Moreover the permitted speeds are the same as in 1980, so the question needs to asked as to how and why 11 minutes could possibly be added in this Ipswich corridor?
Mr Matters has made the point that there were no new stations on the Ipswich line - the new Richlands station is on a spur line – so railway infrastructure has not altered, yet in 1980 the train speeds were faster.
This raises some interesting questions. Have this latest breed of electric train not got the pick-up ability as the previous diesels exhibited? The quick answer (forgive the pun) is no.
Are the electric trains restricted in the speeds for which they are designed, whereas the diesels were very capable of sneaking over the speed limits of the track if the driver wasn't paying close enough attention. Again, the answer is no.
Has there been such an increase in rail traffic in the past 34 years that demands adjustable time tables in order to accommodate the additional train running. That idea is not new but it doesn't ring true as these inter-urban trains are given high priority.
Are there political considerations in that it is important to have a high percentage of on train running for the press conference? Now we're getting closer to the truth.
John Grocott at Arthur's Pass
Larry Matters says that Queensland Rail is under pressure to retain government funding and one of the criteria is on-time running. It might also surprise the reader that Senior Queensland Rail executive's pay is also linked to "on time running".
In the article Mr Matters concedes that "dwell times" have increased – that is when trains stop to let passengers on and off - but this is not enough to explain an additional 11 minutes on the Brisbane – Ipswich journey.
Loadings have increased (weight of the train and additional passengers) but again not an additional 11 minutes.
He noted that the 2014 timetable allowed an extra three to four minutes to run from Central to Roma Street and out to South Brisbane, South Bank and Park Road. The late 1980 timetable allowed electric trains "eight to nine minutes" to cross the river, while the 2104 timetable allows 13 minutes.
A thousand bleats
Mr Matters said "extra padding" in the timetable was responsible for various transport ministers - Labor and LNP - making claims about improved "on time running". Better management of people on platforms and better maintenance of rail tracks had improved "on time running".
Queensland Rail said a number of issues had lengthened journeys - extra signals at level crossings, extra time allowed for people with disabilities to board, increased patronage and extra trains in peak hours.
And here's the rub, Transport Minister Scott Emerson in a recent statement outlined the LNP's record of having 95.8 per cent of peak hour trains running on time in March 2014. Before the election, under Labor's transport minister Annastacia Palaszczuk, trains had a had a three month average of 86.27 per cent "on time running" by March 2012.
Regardless of the capital city if you're a commuter on an inter-urban train getting to work on time and spending as least time as possible in public transport is of crucial concern.
Therefore timetables with safety and good speed are of the essence of the issue and to be running at 11 minutes slower than 34 years ago, regardless of whether it is Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Newcastle, Wollongong, Geelong ….
Perhaps we should go back to diesel locomotive hauled inter-urban trains, at least the passengers could hear the roar of the engine as it sped up to gain the ascendancy of speed, giving a sense of well-being and comfort that they were heading to their destination.
As the Footplate Padre when speaking with locomotive crews hauling such passenger trains the bane of their life is the drama associated with running late when issues out of their control such as red signals were against them.
The same drama cannot be said for those lethargic inter-state trains which are largely recognised today as the tourist experience. We can name The Ghan, The Indian Pacific, The Overland, The Brisbane Limited, the Sunlander, the Queenslander and the like.
These trains have timetables but leisure not speed is the essential ingredient. I recall being on The Ghan in 2010 between Darwin and Alice Springs and around 6.30am after the first night's sleep we were advised that the train would be standing for 90 minutes waiting for a freighter to cross (single line). Who cared?
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html