Freight Rail, Passenger Rail, Rail Supply, Signalling & Communications

Davies calls on governments to boost productivity spending

Infrastructure Australia chief executive officer Philip Davies says governments are often too focused on greenfield projects, and should direct more funding to projects which get the most out of existing roads and railways.

Davies addressed delegates on the first morning of the Australasian Railway Association’s Rail Freight Conference in Sydney on August 17.

“The principle issue around maintaining our competitiveness is making sure we’re getting the most out of our existing infrastructure,” he said.

“Politically, this has never been that interesting. It’s much easier to cut a ribbon on a new railway, or a new road, and it’s much harder to get brownie points by making a railway more efficient.”

Davies said investments in signalling and technology should be a key focus.

“I think it’s fair to say we’re probably a long way behind some other countries in the use of these,” he said.

“It’s critically important that we make the most of what we’ve got, and I think what will be very important will be having that difficult conversation with the voters, and the consumers of services.

“It’s really hard, though, because the politicians don’t like it particularly, and therefore the people in [the rail industry], who are doing great work identifying those opportunities, often find it very hard to get the funding to actually implement some of those great short-term investments with a really good payback.”

Davies also addressed the fallout following Infrastructure Australia’s negative assessment of the Queensland Government’s business case for Cross River Rail.

The IA’s assessment effectively rules out federal funding for the Brisbane rail tunnel project under its current business case, and drew harsh criticism from Queensland’s transport minister Jackie Trad and federal shadow infrastructure minister Anthony Albanese.

Davies said federal, state and territory, and local governments were all “on board” when they worked with Infrastructure Australia to develop the initial Infrastructure Priority List in 2015, but said attitudes change quickly when projects fail to qualify.

“When we have to assess projects that come in – mostly from state and territory governments – for Commonwealth funding, then suddenly we’re between the state treasurer, and the Commonwealth,” he reasoned.

“So inevitably there’s going to be some tension during that process, even though we make no funding decisions.”