Inland Rail to meet with community in regional NSW

Members of the community have the chance to learn more about the progress of planning for Inland Rail between Narromine to Narrabri (N2N).

Local community members, landowners, and businesses will be able to engage with the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) throughout five community sessions being hosted by Inland Rail across the alignment between March 9 and 13.

Inland Rail will share more about the work conducted to date to refine the proposed N2N route.

Rebecca Pickering, ARTC Inland Rail director community and environment said work is happening to help inform the build for the 300KM of new track.

“Our work to date to progress the future alignment between Narromine to Narrabri has included more than 12 months of engagement with the community, environmental and hydrology studies, and early engineering design work,” she said.

“Through these methods we have been able to refine the alignment study area from between 2-5 kilometres wide to around 150 metres to 400 metres wide.”

Pickering said the aim of the community drop-in sessions are to understand more about the environmental planning and consultation work and learn about the future opportunities for the community.

“Community consultation and engagement is vital to the success of Inland Rail. We are committed to leaving a positive legacy by ensuring the community benefits from the project through initiatives like jobs and local spend during the construction phase, the Community Sponsorships and Donations program and training and support of local businesses,” she said.

“Large-scale infrastructure projects such as Inland Rail are a catalyst for growth — they boost economic development and investment, bring jobs and opportunities to local businesses and communities, a hopefully welcome boost in challenging times of drought.”

Afternoon and evening sessions will be held between March 9 and 13 in Narrabri, Barradine, Gilganda, Curban and Narromine.

“This will provide an opportunity for everyone to stay informed and updated on the progress of the alignment to date. No registration is required for these sessions,” Pickering said.

Calls for Gladstone to be part of Inland Rail route

Gladstone Region Mayor Matt Burnett is calling on the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) and state and federal governments to review and invest in connecting the Inland Rail to the Port of Gladstone.

Gladstone Regional Council has provided its submission to the Senate Inquiry into the management of the Inland Rail Project by the ARTC and the Commonwealth government. 

Burnett told the senators via teleconference at the hearing in Brisbane on Thursday that extending inland rail to the Port of Gladstone was a “strategic priority”.

Burnett said it doesn’t have to be “Gladstone vs Brisbane,” because the route alignment “can be both, so there is no reason it can’t be both”.

“The Australian rail network is an important network, so why not include central Queensland as well,” he said.

“The Port of Brisbane has issues with capacity, costs, and efficiencies, which I believe strengthens our case for the line to come to the Port of Gladstone. The Toowoomba to Brisbane project is reported at an estimate of $6.7 billion, alternatively the route from Toowoomba to Gladstone is projected at $1.2 to $2.7 billion.”

The Gladstone mayor said “there is no doubt Brisbane is a distribution centre” but it’s “heavily congested”.

“Our port has the capacity to grow to more than 300 million tonnes per annum which is more than double the import and export tonnage currently experienced.”

Burnett said The Gladstone Regional Council is calling on the Australian government to finalise and release the study into the extension of the Inland Rail to the Port of Gladstone. 

“The Australian Government should work to align with regional councils and other key stakeholders to invest in the Inland Rail extension to the Port of Gladstone to advance the case for this important piece of regional enabling infrastructure,” he said. 

ARTC to modify reference design for Inland Rail route

John Fullerton, Australian Rail Track Corporation CEO, said “the current route is not locked in,” at a senate inquiry hearing of the management of the Inland Rail project, held on January 30 in Brisbane.

Richard Wankmuller CEO for the Inland Rail Programme said “we understand we need to improve.”

One senator called out “Mr Fullerton, there are pitchforks waiting for you,” as the CEO addressed “white hot anger” concerns of the proposed inland rail route from QLD senators.

Fullerton said the potential “fatal flaw” is floods. 

The ability to construct a public safety model that aligns with the proposed Inland Rail route through the McIntyre floodplain is the main area of concern, Fullerton stated in the hearing.

“There are a number of areas of concern that we’re looking at,” Wankmuller said.

“We’ve finished about 90 per cent of the reference design phase and we’re modifying the reference design.”

Fullerton said ARTC’s main priority is investigating floodplains and “increasing transparency”.

“I get people are scared, and it’s our obligation to [construct] something that is safe,” Wankmuller said.

“This is not just an ARTC program, that is a community program and there is no way we can be successful without community, council, and private sectors.”

Fullerton’s hearing follows criticism that the major freight rail corridor will go through one of Australia’s largest floodplains, raised from the rural Senate Committee meeting in Millmerran on Wednesday evening. 

Goondiwindi Mayor Graeme Scheu said the regional council is an advocate for the project, but object ARTC’s decision-making process.

Scheu stated to the committee that the decision to announce D1 as the preferred design option “came as a major surprise to everyone in our region”.

“From the minute D1 was announced, it has been the opinion of Goondiwindi Regional Council that if the route had to cross the floodplain (primarily to appease the time restraints), then the only acceptable solution would be an elevated bridge from the Queensland side to Wearne on the NSW side,” he said.

“I must reaffirm that Goondiwindi Regional Council is supportive of the Inland Rail Project and have been for many years but the decision making process of ARTC leaves a lot to be desired.”

Goondiwindi Regional Council stated they are advocating to overturn the D1 route design option and “believes the decision should be over turned to the alternative option of A”.

“The route directly crosses the floodplain, minimising the flood potential once the Whalan escape route is fully addressed.

Community consultation results and opinion will support Option A over D1.”

Fullerton said that “this is a complicated project that is important to people,” and recognises that engagement in the past “wasn’t up to speed”.

“We are looking where we have made the right decision or where a different decision should be made.

“There is government procedures in everything we do, we meet with the minister’s department for monthly and quarterly reporting to look at each issue.”

The Inland Rail route will be about 1,700km in length across Queensland, NSW, and Victoria and is scheduled to be completed by 2025.

Community projects spread the benefit of Inland Rail

Inland Rail’s impact on the communities it serves will not only come in the form of rail services.

The project announced 19 initiatives from laptops to Dolly Parton to improve the wellbeing of the communities which the project interacts with.

The announcement is the third round of the Inland Rail Community Sponsorships and Donations program, and includes over $55,000 for schools, community groups, and associations in regional Queensland, NSW, and Victoria.

Director of engagement, environment and property for Inland Rail, Rebecca Pickering outlined the project’s rationale.

“A key commitment of Inland Rail is to leave a positive legacy along the rail corridor and the Community Sponsorships and Donations program is just one example of how we seek to ensure regional communities benefit from this unique project,” she said.

Over $180,000 worth of grants covering events, projects, and activities, have been announced so far.

The next round of funding is now open, and groups can apply for funding of between $1,000 and $4,000 until Friday, January 31.

“These grants are in addition to the support Australian Rail Track Corporation is providing to bushfire impacted communities which includes raising funds for the Bushfire Crisis Appeal and encouraging volunteering by employees,” said Pickering.

Grants in this round went to projects including the Narromine Dolly Parton Festival, the purchase of tools for the Gundy Men’s Shed, five laptops for Forbes Public School, and the Mitchell Community Multicultural Festival.

Information sessions to be held for local involvement in N2N

Local suppliers in Narrabri and Moree can meet the shortlisted contractors for the Narrabri to North Star (N2N) leg of the Inland Rail project.

Inland Rail will hold two networking events in the two regional centres with the three shortlisted construction contractors. Local and Indigenous businesses can hear from the contracts and connect through one-on-one meetings.

According to chief executive of Inland Rail, Richard Wankmuller, the major contractors will be looking for local businesses to partner with.

“There are three excellent organisations bidding for this project including Lendlease Engineering Pty Ltd, RailFirst (a joint venture between Downer EDI and Seymour White) and Trans4m Rail (a joint venture between Rhomberg Rail Australia, John Holland and SEE Civil),” said Wankmuller.

“Each one will have representatives at this event to meet with local businesses and answer questions regarding potential supply opportunities on the N2NS project when construction starts.”

To make the most of the sessions, local contractors are encouraged to prepare and ‘elevator pitch’ and be able to showcase exactly what their business does and where it is located.

“I know there is excitement building along the N2NS alignment as we move towards construction and local businesses should be taking advantage of opportunities like these to promote their capabilities to the shortlisted contractors,” said Wankmuller.

According to Wankmuller, the successful primary contractor will be mandated to incorporate local industries.

“The successful contractor will be required to deliver significant local industry and workforce participation and training outcomes, and the Australian Rail Track Corporation will work very closely with them and other stakeholders to achieve these outcomes,” he said.

“We see Inland Rail as a way to create meaningful change in communities along the alignment by developing a pathway to support longer term economic development and employment outcomes.”

The sessions will be held on January 21, in Narrabri, and January 22, in Moree.

Moree Inland Rail regional office announces first Regional Liaison Officer

The first Inland Rail Regional Liaison Officer has been assigned to the lead the Moree Inland Rail regional office. 

The Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development appointed the position to long-time local resident Angela Doering.

Doering will work with communities and local businesses based from Narrabri in New South Wales to the Queensland border to help people benefit from Inland Rail. 

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, Michael McCormack said it’s vital that we have specialist expertise working with businesses and local communities. 

“Inland Rail is expected to support 5,000 jobs in New South Wales and provide a boost of more than $2.5 billion to the state economy,” McCormack said.

“This office will provide the opportunity for Moree and surrounding communities to talk directly to Government about regional development outcomes and economic opportunities available ahead of the construction of the next section of Inland Rail – the Narrabri to North Star (N2NS).” 

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said the opening of the Moree office will help build economic resilience in regional Australia.

“Investing in our national freight network will improve connections between our regional communities and important domestic and international markets, ensuring our producers and manufacturers remain globally competitive,” Cormann said.

Member for Parkes and Minister for Regional Services, Decentralisation and Local Government, Mark Coulton said Moree is one of the highest producing agricultural shires in Australia and the region is positioned to drive future freight productivity through road and rail connections to Inland Rail.

“Our investment through Inland Rail builds the essential connections that this region needs to further grow and strengthen their markets,” Coulton said.

He said he is thrilled Doering has been appointed to the Moree office.

“No one knows regional towns like the people who live there,” Coulton said.

Doering will support the implementation of Australian Government programs, including the Inland Rail Interface Improvement Program and expansion of the CSIRO’s Inland Rail TraNSIT study to model potential Inland Rail cost savings.

“The programs we’re delivering will better connect the region to far-reaching ports through an enhanced national network, creating new supply chains that build prosperity in the region – moving the wheat, barley and produce the region is famous for,” Coulton said.

She will also work with industry and community during Inland Rail’s planning and design for projects such as the Macintyre River crossing.

The Moree Office has joined a broader network of Inland Rail Regional Offices that will assist regional activities of Australian Government staff already established in Wodonga, Dubbo and Toowoomba offices.

AusRAIL: McCormack highlights rail spending, King calls for skills focus

Minister for infrastructure, transport and regional development Michael McCormack and shadow minister Catherine King have highlighted their parties’ distinct transport commitments at AusRAIL Plus 2019.

“It’s been a strong and positive year for rail. Since I last spoke to you, much has happened in two key areas over the past year. With a focus on freight, we are on track to deliver the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail, which is a world class infrastructure project,” McCormack said.

“With a focus on commuters, in the past year the government has made a significant commitment to faster rail and we are investing heavily in metropolitan rail with our state government partners, through projects such as the Sydney Metro Greater Western in NSW and Metronet in Perth, Western Australia. Over the year, we also saw the 20-year National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy and National Action Plan agreed by all governments.”

McCormack highlighted Inland Rail’s latest milestone.

“The first section of greenfield track, the North West connection, opened in August with the first trains already running on this track. This new link is scheduled to join up with the newly upgraded Parkes to Narramine line by mid next year.

“Almost 900 people worked on this section and local businesses are benefitting, in concrete, transport, fencing, earth moving, drainage, electrical and other suppliers to the tune of $41.2 million in local contracts, so we’re well on track with Inland Rail.”

In terms of passenger rail, McCormack highlighted government’s Faster Rail Plan which will be overseen by a new National Faster Rail Agency. There are business cases already underway.

“We’ve committed $2 billion to help deliver faster rail between Geelong and Melbourne, and we’re getting on with our $5 billion commitment to deliver the Melbourne Airport Rail Link,” McCormack said.

In response, King called on the government to use its current infrastructure spend to leverage better investments in training and new technology.

“Strong investment gives government as seat at the table in planning our cities and regions,” King said.

As part of this King says the opposition intends to identify and respond to the impacts of these investments on the workforce.

“With rapid change in technology deployed in transport networks, what is often overlooked is the impact of this change on the workforce. The pace of change can often be confronting. Technology can be our ally in achieving greater productivity, and it does not always have to come at a cost to jobs.

“Transitioning jobs in industries like transport doesn’t just happen, it has to be planned.

What’s why last month, Labour leader Anthony Albanese announced Labour in government will establish Jobs and Skills Australia.King described the party’s vision of a workforce forecasting and research under a similar model to Infrastructure Australia.

The body would assess the skills requirements for services where “government is the major funder and where demand is expected to change”, such as transport. It would undertake workforce and skills analysis, and conduct capacity studies. It would be expected to review the adequacy of the training and vocational system.

“This will include the manufacture, operation and maintenance of our public transport network,” said King.

AusRAIL: What’s next for Inland Rail

Inland Rail CEO Richard Wankmuller has updated industry on the progress of  the project and what it will tackle next now that Queensland has given the greenlight to construction.

“We’re moving over the next few months to the next section. This is much larger, at least double the size of what we’ve completed so far. Now that we’ve been given the green light, we can begin the economic stimulus of this area. We’re trying to accelerate that as much as possible for these vital areas that have been impacted by the drought,” Wankmuller said, speaking at the AusRail Plus conference.

This section comprises 28km of new dual gauge track between Gowrie (north-west of Toowoomba) and Helidon (east of Toowoomba).

“This is an engineering feat. It will be very challenging, and we have to make sure that we get it right,” according to Wankmuller.

“The centrepiece is a 6.2 km long tunnel to be constructed through the Great Dividing Range of Toowomba, a mountainous terrain which leads down into the Lockyer valley, creating topographical and geological challenges requiring eleven rail and two road bridge and viaduct structures totalling 6.7km in length between Gowrie and Helidon.

“The tunnel through the Toowomba Range and I will call it The Tunnel, because The Tunnel is the second largest great tunnel in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s going to be an engineering marvel not just because of its size and its length but because of all the challenges that are involved in designing a world class and efficient system.

“But we do have to attack some of the big challenges which include ventilation. When you put a diesel freight train through a tunnel like that you have a lot of heat and you have to make sure you’re ventilating it appropriately and making it safe. We are future proofing it so passenger rail can go through if needed in the future.

“The highest of the thirteen structures along this section is the Six Mile Creek Viaduct which is expected to be about 966 metres long and 49 metres high at its maximum. By comparison the total length of the Sydney Harbour Bridge is 1149 metres and the bridge’s height clearance for shipping is around 49 metres. The second viaduct is expected to extend to about 1.8km in length, and in addition to rail bridges there are three crossing loops posed between Gowrie and Helidon, each about 2.2 kms in length.”

The extensive geotechnical investigations have been carried out with extensive stakeholder consultation, according to Inland Rail.

“This is one of the more challenging sections and it is challenging on a world scale, so we had to put together a world class team and we’ve done that. We now have 400 or so of the world’s best working directly for Inland Rail, not to mention the 1000s of service providers helping us meet this challenge. But the challenge is real.

“But Inland Rail’s ingenuity isn’t just about these really difficult challenges it’s also about what we do every day. We’re very proud of what we do every day and safety is near and dear to our heart every day. We look at innovation in all industries and one of the interesting things we’ve adopted is one we stole from the mining industry where we’re electronically tagging our people so when they enter a danger zone with equipment, that equipment automatically shuts down before there can be any reaction to that person and their equipment.

“We’ve changed the steel rail profile itself, which for many years has been the same design. We’ve rounded it out so we don’t need to grind it to get our trains in operation, this is going to lead to less maintenance.

“In 1700km we’re going to have 2-3 million concrete sleepers. We’re going to have to get those fabricated, delivered and unloaded on site. We’ve found a way to do that efficiently, by designing hydraulic machinery we can use to unload it in the most efficient way possible and touch it the least amount of times. If we can save 10 minutes or even 2 minutes every time we unload it across all those millions of sleepers, it saves a lot of time and productivity gains.”

One of the reasons for the delay in Queensland getting on board with Inland Rail has been the controversy surrounding the Condamine floodplain, Wankmuller addressed this.

“It’s not just about having global technology capabilities, it is about having local knowledge. That’s how you make a truly world class flood model. You talk to the local people and see what they’ve seen in previous storm events. By working together with global expertise and the local knowledge of people that have been there for generations, you get a model that makes sense and replicates what actually happens. So now you know you can rely on it in the future, because if you can’t, everything you do from that point is wrong.

“It is all about safety and we’re committed to not making the situation any worse than it was going to be anyhow by us being there. Water has to flow, it has to flow around and through our structures, and there’s some engineering challenges in that that we’re geared up to meet, and we’re doing the work to get it right.”

Wankmuller wrapped up with a call to federal and state governments to accelerate their uptake of the project.

“We need the federal and state governments to work together and they’re doing that but there’s still a lot left to do. We don’t know where the intermodal tunnel rails are yet, in Melbourne or Brisbane. Hard to build a rail line when you’re storing your stock.”

Queensland signs onto Inland Rail

The Queensland and federal governments have reached an understanding regarding the $9.3 billion Inland Rail project, signing a bilateral agreement in Tooowoomba on Friday.

Labelled by government as “the most significant freight infrastructure project in the nation’s history”, the 1700km freight route will link Melbourne and Brisbane via regional Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.

“We are transforming the way freight is moved in Australia. For every dollar we are investing in Inland Rail, $2.62 will be returned to the national economy,” minister for infrastructure, transport and regional development Michael McCormack said on Friday.

“We’re already seeing the benefits in New South Wales with the first section of the new track between Parkes and Narromine now complete. For this 5.3 kilometre section, more than $46 million in contracts were committed to 84 local businesses employing almost 400 local people.”

With two thirds of the total investment towards Inland Rail to be delivered in Queensland, it is expected to create 7,000 jobs and a boost of over $7 billion for the state economy according to the government.

Finance minister Mathias Cormann said the signing of this Bilateral Agreement was a crucial step towards a more efficient freight network for the future.

“Long-haul rail is cheaper, safer and more reliable than moving freight by road over those distances. That is why the Australian Government has committed up to $9.3 billion to complete the national rail network through Inland Rail,” Minister Cormann said.

“The shift from road to rail is crucial to ensuring our freight network meets the needs of our growing population.

“It is great to have the Queensland Government on board now supporting our Inland Rail project. This project will improve the national freight rail network by connecting communities, creating jobs, reducing supply chain costs and making Australian business more competitive.”

In late 2016, farmers along some of the proposed route expressed concern that the Inglewood-Millmerran-Toowoomba route, which was selected by Australian Rail Track Corporation, was based on information gathered prior to 2010. This decision did not take into consideration that the route was along the 16km wide Condamine Floodplain.

“All parties have also agreed to establish an international panel to advise on the modelling of potential flood impacts and continuing community consultation along the project’s chosen route through Queensland,” Queensland’s transport and main roads minister Mark Bailey said on Friday.

“In addition to the expert hydrologists already engaged by the Australian Rail Track Corporation, an expert panel of international specialists will be established to advise on best practice flood structural integrity and report back to the Queensland and Australian Governments.

“Queenslanders can have confidence that a comprehensive and detailed approvals process for the project is being undertaken that includes rigorous environmental, planning and statutory approvals.”

Inland Rail CEO Richard Wankmuller said international experts had been engaged to work through structural solutions regarding putting the line across the Condamine Floodplain.

“We want to make sure everything that comes across those flood plains is safe,” he said.

McCormack pointed out that the Inland Rail project has been in the works since the 19th century, with plans first drawn up in the early 1900s. He said that, while final details needed to be worked through, he believed construction in Queensland should start in about 2022.

 

approvals

Inland Rail seeks improvement ideas

The federal government is seeking ideas on how to improve national connectivity and drive supply chain productivity from the 1,700km freight rail line, as part of a $44 million Inland Rail Interface Improvement Program.

Supply chain managers, local businesses, community representatives and freight and train operators are invited to submit projects for investigation under the program, according to a government statement on Tuesday.

Expressions of Interest (EOI) for the first round of business cases under the program are due by the end of October. Suitable projects will be matched with a service provider funded by the Australian Government under the program.

“The Australian Government has invested up to $9.3 billion in the construction of Inland Rail and we are committed to maximising the returns for our industries, cities and regional towns to benefit from the fast, reliable and joined-up freight network,” Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said.

Under the two-year Inland Rail II Program, there is funding for a $20 million Inland Rail Productivity Enhancement Program (PEP) to assess the costs and benefits of proposed improvements to the interface between supply chains and Inland Rail, with a view to improving supply chain and community resilience.

Another Inland Rail II program is the $24 million Inland Rail Country Lines Improvement Program (CLIP) to assess the costs and benefits of proposed improvements to country lines that intersect with Inland Rail, with a view to potentially accommodating longer, heavier and faster trains.

“A CSIRO pilot study from earlier this year demonstrated Inland Rail will bring average costs savings of $76 per tonne for key agricultural products,” Minister for Regional Services, Decentralisation and Local Government Mark Coulton said.

“We know every town and supply chain is different and a one-size-fits-all approach to connect communities to Inland Rail won’t work.

“Inland Rail will connect our regions to an enhanced national freight network, and no one knows better how to maximise these connections than regional producers and communities.

“We are encouraging local people to come forward with innovative ideas and are committed to testing value ideas through a rigorous business case process.

Under the programme, which was announced in the 2019 Budget, strategic business cases will investigate opportunities to upgrade the Gilgandra-Coonamble line, improve road/rail interface at Narrabri and enhance the connection at Baradine’s grain silo to facilitate better connections between local communities and Inland rail.

The local city council of Logan, in central Queensland, says it will provide submissions to the Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport – which is currently examining the project management of Inland Rail. The council says that the proposed route runs through what will become one of the city’s most populated areas, and that residents have raised concerns over it.