AusRAIL, Market Sectors

Getting our priorities right

<span class="" id="parent-fieldname-description"> Projects that did not make Infrastructure Australia’s latest priority infrastructure list for federal funding are of more interest than those that did, according to Mark Carter. </span> <p>By Mark Carter</p><p>Released last week, Infrastructure Australia’s (IA) latest report to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), <em>Getting the fundamentals right for Australia’s infrastructure, </em>sets out its recommendations and priorities for future national infrastructure investment, development and reform.</p><p>While we would always like rail to receive a larger slice of the infrastructure funding pie, in relation to its proportion of Australia’s overall transport task, rail fares reasonably well in the report, although worryingly only a few rail projects fall into IA’s highest priority “ready to proceed” category.</p><p>Space precludes covering all the rail projects mentioned, but it is perhaps worth taking a look at some of the winners and losers from the process, though it is what has not been included that provides the greater interest.</p><p>It is worth bearing in mind that just because a project makes it onto the IA list does not guarantee funding and vice versa. While IA deliberations take an overarching view for future infrastructure development, projects included and prioritised are merely recommendations made by IA largely based on the submissions it has received from key stakeholders in the planning and development process.</p><p>The Australasian Railway Association (ARA) will no doubt be happy to see its proposal for a $20m scoping study for an Australian Digital Train Control System (ADTCS) has been included after failing to make the list last year.</p><p>The study would include a national and international consultancy to determine the technical elements of the proposed ADTCS engineering studies to establish the implementation and application to the 22 rail communication networks around Australia and detailed costs and benefits of the project including the budget for such a roll-out over 10 to 15 years. The ARA would not be happy though, to see such a modest proposal fall under IA’s lowest priority “early stage” category.</p><p>Disappointingly, only two rail projects make it into the “ready to proceed” category.</p><p>For some time, plans have been in the drawer for grade separation at Goodwood and Torrens Junction in Adelaide to separate Australian Rail Track Corporation’s (ARTC) East West interstate main line from existing conflicts with the commuter network and the South Australian Government has put forward a $418m proposal to bring this to fruition.</p><p>Victorian Government plans for a $4.9bn suburban rail “Metro” upgrade also fall in this category. Melbourne Metro Stage 1 is a proposed rail tunnel under inner Melbourne aimed at allowing a segregated “metro-style” rail service to run from Sunbury (and Melton, once electrification is completed) to St Kilda Road via the CBD and increasing the capacity of the network.</p><p>Only two rail projects get a guernsey for New south Wales – the long anticipated South West and North West commuter rail links, the latter still languishing in the “early stage” category. The lack of any other substantial or definitive projects listed for NSW in the report suggests the current public transport planning malaise in that state continues unabated.</p><p>High-speed rail barely gets a mention in the report, despite some recent strong support and calls for funding for a detailed study on a potential East Coast high-speed network to follow on from the CRC for Rail Innovation’s preliminary report released late last year.</p><p>There is a fleeting mention under the chapter Transforming Our Cities where it is suggested as one way of increasing rail network capacity to meet travel demand between key regional cities and towns. This may be enough to see more detailed attention further down the line, though as mentioned previously, IA can only select and prioritise projects based on the submissions received and although Appendix D does show that the ACT Government put in a Very Fast Train submission, it obviously failed to meet IA’s criteria.</p><p>No one even bothered to put in a submission for the proposed Inland Rail Route between Melbourne and Brisbane, so this is an obvious omission from the priority list. It only receives scant mention in the report under the general heading relating to North South rail upgrades.</p><p>This could change over the next year during which time the final stage of the ARTC study into the Inland Route will be released.</p><p>Adelaide Hills residents <a href="http://plone.informa.com.au/rex/archive/2010/june/june-9-2010/public-perception-off-the-rails">(see report)</a> remain in their own little world and will be most disappointed that suggestions for a Hills rail bypass did not even rate a mention in the report.</p><p>One winner that has me scratching my head is a proposal from the Mildura Development Corporation for a Mildura to Menindee Transcontinental Rail link – a proposal to develop a 240km rail link from Mildura connecting to the East West Parkes to Broken Hill line at an estimated cost of $400m. The proponent is seeking financial support for a full feasibility study.</p><p>While it might benefit the mineral sands mining industry in the area it is being promoted based on its supposed interstate benefits, the latter includes the nonsensical assumption that “freight from Darwin and Perth arrives at Dry Creek (SA) double stacked…the Adelaide Hills and tunnels dictate that each single train must be broken down to six trains heading to Victoria. The delays are of up to 32 hours.”</p><p>The journey length for a Melbourne to Perth train is also increased by some 500 kilometres.</p><p>In general, as part of its brief to suggest improvements for an improved National Freight Network, IA suggests that some concepts for the future could include standardisation of more track on general freight railways (notably within Brisbane and further to the north), to Hastings in Victoria, and towards Bunbury in Western Australia separate management of task-specific railways (for example the Hunter coal chain) further development of longer train lengths on the national network and extension of the double stacking of containers.</p><p>Some of these concepts are likely to be raised when IA delivers its National Freight Network strategy to COAG in late 2010.<br />&nbsp</p>