The Queensland Rail map.
With a speed of 170km/h and a gauge of 1,067mm, Queensland Rail claims the trainsets to be the fastest narrow-gauge trains in the world.
Queensland Rail's new tilting trains have cut seven hours off the journey time between Brisbane and Cairns.
The ABB Electric Intercity Express plies between Brisbane and Rockhampton (600km).

Tilt train technology has been introduced to eastern Australia in June 2003 following completion of Queensland Rail’s (QR) A$590m project to upgrade its 1,681km main line between Brisbane and Cairns, cutting journey times by seven hours, three times a week. It competes more aggressively with road and coastal shipping.

The project, which began in early 1992, has increased both the maximum speed and capacity on the 1,067mm-gauge route from the south of Queensland, linking several major cities and tourist centres. It is also a busy corridor for containerised freight.

The project

As part of a massive regeneration programme, Queensland Rail took a detailed look at how it could increase the attractiveness of its services and its own efficiency.

Increasing the cant on the curves of the entire route between Brisbane and Cairns was soon ruled out, as this would have been too expensive and would have been likely to have actually slowed down the freight trains. So, computer simulations were used to find the most appropriate track improvements to deliver an optimum balance between the two types of traffic.

With their 1,067mm gauge, the new electric trains were, at the time of their introduction, the fastest narrow-gauge trains in the world. Journey times for fast passenger trains have been cut by 30% to 24 hours 55 minutes and freight trains can run at new maximum speeds of 100km/h from Brisbane to Townsville and 80km/h between Townsville and Cairns.

Rolling stock

Two six-car tilting trains are being supplied by a consortium led by Evans Deakin Industries (EDI), Australia, that also included Hitachi, Japan, under an A$139m EDI subsidiary. Walkers has been responsible for design and construction with Hitachi supplying traction and active body tilting equipment.

The stainless steel-bodied trains have brought many new innovations to passenger travel in Australia. The spacious, air-conditioned coaches have video screens at each seat with individual audio control panels, which offer passengers a range of entertainment.

In-car video screens also show information about the journey and destination and give details of the train’s current speed and expected arrival times.

Each train seats 310 passengers, 30 in first class and 280 in economy. Other features include payphones, fax machines, baby changing facilities in all toilets and dedicated spaces for passengers in wheelchairs.

The first class seating is arranged in a more spacious 2+1 layout and each passenger has a personal call button, a power supply for laptops and at-seat food and drinks service. 50 diesel-electric locomotives worth A$115m have also been delivered by Goninan.


The Brisbane to Rockhampton section was electrified at 25kV AC in the late 1980s. The project included the construction of 118km of deviations, including 85km of electrified track, to ease curves and gradients.

“The major innovation in this field has been the already-mentioned level crossing activation system, which lowers barriers at different times according to whether a passenger or freight train is approaching.”

That the line between Brisbane and Rockhampton has 623 curves, covering 212km of its length, illustrates the demanding nature of the route and the scale of the natural obstacles, which the original developers of the line had to overcome.

The combination of the important role played by freight on the route and the difficult terrain through which it passes made the development of a completely new line, dedicated to high-speed passenger traffic, unfeasible.

So instead, a major portion of the entire project’s costs has been invested in improving the existing infrastructure to provide a line capable of accommodating a mixture of high-speed passenger and heavy freight traffic.

QR is also carrying out work to ensure the main line has unrestricted access to 3.05m high containers which are coming onto the network. This means upgrading regional container terminals in Bundaberg, Gladstone, Rockhampton and Townsville. New container facilities have been opened at Mackay and Cairns. Another in Ayr, south of Townsville, was fully operational from late 1997.

More than 670 bridges, mostly timber, have been replaced while steel spans and over 150 others have been strengthened to increase axle loads from 15.75t to a minimum of 20t.

With the higher track speeds came the need for improved safety measures. These have included the installation of a differential level crossing activation system so that the slower freight trains activate the barriers at the same time on their approach to a crossing as the high-speed trains.

Signalling and communications

The major innovation in this field has been the already-mentioned level crossing activation system, which lowers barriers at different times according to whether a passenger or freight train is approaching.

The route is controlled using traditional absolute block signalling, and multiple aspect colour lights. In addition, drivers are shown the condition of each signal on a cab display as the train passes and the on-board computers receive information for the journey displays which are shown to the passengers.

The future

The success of the new tilting trains has encouraged Government-owned Queensland Rail to reappraise its total transport strategy. It is one of the state’s biggest employers with around 13,700 staff and an operating revenue around A$2bn, with customers ranging from commuters, tourists and freight businesses to mining and agricultural industries.

Transport services are provided throughout Queensland, as well as interstate, with rail technology and expertise exported to overseas countries such as Hong Kong, India, Iran, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

There have recently been many changes for QR, from the 1991 introduction of legislation to establish a board of directors, to corporatisation.