The total amount of freight in 2017-18 fell to 75m tonnes, the lowest since 1984-85, a 5.6% decrease on 2016-17. Additionally, since a ten-year high of 22.71b net tonne km in 2013-14, the amount of freight moved on the rail network has steadily declined by 25% to 16.95b net tonne km in 2017-18 . In part, this can be attributed to declining coal usage , which accounted for approx. 35% of the total amount of freight moved in 2013-14. Despite the overall decline, international, domestic intermodal and other commodities grew by approx. 21%, 4%, 8% and 25% between 2013-14 and 2017-18, respectively, and represent almost 80% of the total freight moved in 2017-18. Therefore, it can be observed that the landscape of the freight market is shifting from its traditional composition and a response is needed for the community to retain its competitiveness in comparison to other transport modes.
W7, W8, W9 (including W9Plus), W10 (including W10A) & W12 are the standard gauges used for container/ wagon combinations. However, it has been observed that these do not align with some common Load Unit/Wagon combinations that are used in various, and in some cases, expanding markets within the industry e.g. international and domestic intermodal. Consequently, many emerging traffic opportunities can only be authorised through the ‘out of gauge loads’ process. This entails the analysis of the Load Unit/Wagon combination against every structure along the route where the traffic is deemed to be out-of-gauge and can take several weeks to undertake. Furthermore, an out-of-gauge load can only be authorised for a maximum of one year, so the analysis must be repeated annually, regardless of whether the underlying data has changed. An assessment has identified that the existing container gauges could allow more traffic to use routes cleared to the gauge if they were defined differently.
Structures on the route are generally cleared to the top corner of the gauge, potentially leaving additional space adjacent to that corner unused. It is therefore possible that revised container gauges could be developed to make use of this additional space. In turn, this could facilitate a significant increase in the number of existing Load Unit/Wagon combinations that can be used on routes without needing to modify infrastructure.
For instance, it is estimated that there are about 200 Load Unit/Wagon (5 load unit widths, about 40 wagon types) combinations available in the current W7 Gauge which provides for only 14 of those 200 combinations (7% of all total combinations utilised). Revising the gauge would potentially provide for 146 combinations (73% of all total combinations utilised), that does not require infrastructure clearance work.