Freight Rail, Intermodal, Major Projects & Infrastructure, Operations & Maintenance, Rollingstock & Manufacturing, Social Governance, Sustainability

PortConnex aims to launch by 2030


The Federal Government was elected on an ambitious commitment to transform the nation’s energy supply to net zero by 2050. The National Trunk Rail (NTR) consortium PortConnex project is aligned through its innovative approach to harness sustainable renewable solar energy to power autonomous, battery powered locomotives (shuttle), linking the Port of Brisbane to a southeast Queensland inland energy and distribution hub, located at Ebenezer.

National Trunk Rail chairman Martin Albrecht AC provides his thoughts on the issue.

This site was first recognised by Infrastructure Australia (IA) in February 2016 as the perfect location. More recently it also gained wider recognition from key potential stakeholders such as the SEQ Council of Mayors (representing one in seven Australians), as an alternative to Acacia Ridge for termination of the ARTC, Inland Rail line, linking Melbourne to Brisbane.

Importantly, the PortConnex proposal does not impact existing operations or limit competition from the Acacia Ridge terminal.

The undertaking given by Infrastructure minister Catherine Minister King, prior to the last elections, to commission an independent review of the massive overruns in time and cost of the Inland Rail project, has been completed and currently undergoing departmental reviews prior to any release of relevant information.

Martin Albrecht.

NTR, together with key industry stakeholders and the SEQ Council of Mayors, responded fulsomely to the review conducted by Dr Kerry Schott, late 2022.

PortConnex is ambitious and transformational in separation of passenger and freight rail services. The support and endorsement of all three levels of Government in 2019 for the SEQ City Deal was unprecedented.

PortConnex delivers the second of two transformational opportunities identified in this report, the first nearing completion.

The project will supercharge an SEQ trade and enterprise spine from Toowoomba to the coast. The Federal, State and Local Governments also came together to support the vision for a regional Olympics.

This vision is now destined to become a reality in 2032. The challenge to improve the connectivity of transport infrastructure, to successfully and efficiently stage the first ever regional event in the history of the Olympics, is accentuated by the prospect of an additional 2 million inhabitants in SEQ within the next two decades.

This is a monumental challenge. Only a partnership between all levels of Government, that transcends political cycles, will maximise and leverage private sector participation in risk and investment, to deliver this transformational infrastructure within this decade.

NTR is very pleased to welcome the St Baker Energy Innovation Fund as an equity investor in the NTR PortConnex project.

The recent visit of the SEQ Council of Mayors to Los Angeles was timely, as it enabled them to see first hand the investment of Tritium, a Brisbane-based company founded by Trevor St Baker, to manufacture fast-charging systems for operation in the Port of Los Angeles.

The successful delivery of PortConnex by 2030 will make a major contribution to creating Australia’s most prosperous and livable region – one that is connected locally and competing globally.

The PortConnex project is rich in engineering innovation, environmental sustainability and safety – both during construction and life cycle operations.

A Deloitte study commissioned by the Port of Brisbane to identify benefits for connecting Inland Rail to the Port of Brisbane via a dedicated freight rail access, forecast 2.4 million trucks off the road and over $800m annually in economic and community social benefits.

A do-nothing approach, with less than 1 per cent going to the port by rail, is unsustainable. Potential savings from moving the termination of the line to Ebenezer alone, with some initial deferral of expenditure beyond Gowrie, would result in immediate capital savings to the Federal Government, while maximising the private sector investment and risk mitigation.

The 42km shorter distance than any alternative solutions, will deliver significant life cycle operating savings for this century and beyond.

Major infrastructure projects require significant lead times for the implementation from initial concept design to operational performance – a challenge that requires a united commitment from all levels of Government and industry investors and constructors.

The ultimate game-changer for this opportunity is the application of next generation, battery-powered, autonomous locomotives which can deliver net zero emissions, operating through a 52km tunnel connecting the Port of Brisbane to an inland distribution hub.

PortConnex offers a unique opportunity to optimize Australia’s freight infrastructure for this century and beyond. This is worthy of our collective and immediate attention.

Time is of the essence. It will take bold and courageous thinking, multi- stakeholder engagement, innovative technology, and a commitment to long- term sustainability for the project to be operational by 2030, creating a legacy for future generations that addresses the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions to combat climate change.