Final approvals passed for Narrabri to North Star Inland Rail

The environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Narrabri to North Star leg of Inland Rail has been approved, paving the way for construction to begin before the end of 2020.

The EIS is one of the final approvals required for the project, with the section already approved by NSW planning authorities.

The leg from Narrabri to North Star involves upgrading 186km of existing rail corridor and 2.3km of new track construction.

Inland Rail was one of 15 projects fast tracked under federal government regulation in June this year. This enabled the project to pass state and federal approvals quickly and be ready for construction sooner.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said that by passing this latest stage in approval, more benefits could flow to the communities along the alignment.

“Inland Rail will play a key role in getting our economy back on track because it means more people in jobs and it means more productivity for so many industries and local businesses,” he said.

“On the Parkes to Narromine section, 1,800 jobs were supported and more than $109 million was spent with 99 local businesses – we’re looking forward to seeing Northern New South Wales enjoy similar benefits soon with construction on this section starting later this year.”

Federal member for Parkes, Mark Coulton, said that the experience of the recently completed first stage, from Parkes to Narromine, would indicate how the next sections would play out.

“The first recently completed section – Parkes to Narromine – provided a significant boost to businesses across a range of industries, including concrete supply, transportation, fencing, earthmoving, accommodation, hospitality and security in what has been a difficult time for many rural businesses with drought, fires and now COVID-19,” he said.

“Northern NSW has a proud history of agricultural excellence – the long term benefits of this transformational project will better connect our region to east coast ports and create new supply chains to better move the produce and products we are famous for.”

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann highlighted that Inland Rail is one of the nationally significant infrastructure projects that hopes to restart the economy after COVID-19.

“Inland Rail will support more than 5,000 jobs in New South Wales during construction and as each section is completed, more fast and reliable rail services will become available to industry and regional producers across Australia,” Minister Cormann said.

“Large scale infrastructure projects are a key driver of growth – driving investment, boosting economic development, creating many news jobs and opportunities for local businesses.”

First section of Inland Rail complete

The first section of Inland Rail, linking Parkes and Narromine in the NSW Central West, has been completed.

A ceremonial opening of the line was held today, September 15, at Peak Hill, where the first shipment of steel was delivered to begin the project in January 2018.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said that today marked a historic point in the project.

“Inland Rail is nation-building and today recognises a great milestone in this transformational infrastructure,” he said.

“Inland Rail is an investment in Australia – in our economy, in our regions and in the capacity of our future freight network.”

Industry welcomed the breakthrough on this stage of the project, which when complete will link Melbourne and Brisbane by rail in under 24 hours. Chair of the Freight on Rail Group Dean Dalla Valle said this would improve the competitiveness of rail.

“In the past, trucks would do the ‘first and last mile’ between rail terminals and ports, warehouses, distribution centres and manufacturing plants. Today on some key transport corridors – notably between Sydney and Melbourne – trucks are doing every mile,” he said.

“A typical 1,500-metre interstate freight train can haul up to 220 shipping containers – equivalent to approximately 180 B-double return truck trips.”

CEO of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) Caroline Wilkie said that with this section complete, the rest of the project should soon follow.

“The promise of Inland Rail has already generated significant activity in the Parkes region as the community readies itself for the opportunities better rail freight connections will bring,” she said.

“It is now critical that the project’s swift progress across the rest of the route is supported so even more communities and businesses can benefit in this way.”

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said the 1,700km freight rail link would improve Australia’s entire freight network.

Long-haul rail is cheaper, safer and more reliable than road, that’s why the Australian Government is enhancing the national freight rail network through our investment in Inland Rail,” Cormann said.

“The shift from road to rail builds resilience in our freight network – not only will Inland Rail deliver a long-term freight solution for Australia to meet the needs of our growing population – it is also a critical investment supporting an efficient Australian economy.”

A focus for the Parkes to Narromine section has been the involvement of locals, with 760 contributing to the project and $110 million spent with local businesses. Work on the project included a rebuild of almost 100km of existing rail track and a new 5.3km connection between Inland Rail and the Broken Hill line.

Steel for the project came from South Australia, concrete sleepers were sourced from Mittagong and culverts came from Tamworth. The final ‘golden clip’ which McCormack hammered into place to signify the completion of the project was one of 365,000 sourced from a supplier in Blacktown, Sydney.

Construction is expected to commence on the Narrabri to North Star leg before the end of 2020 with a contractor to be confirmed soon.

The commemorative plaque marking the opening of the P2N section of Inland Rail. Credit: Amanda Lee.
Port Botany

Tender released for Port Botany Rail duplication

The design and construct tender for the Port Botany Rail duplication has been released to the three shortlisted contractors.

The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), which is leading the project, has released the documentation to CPB Contractors, Laing O’Rouke Construction Australia, and John Holland, who were shortlisted in January.

Once complete, the $400 million federally funded project will allow for more freight to be transported to and from Port Botany via rail, said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack.

“The Botany Rail Duplication will upgrade and duplicate the current single freight rail track between Mascot and Botany to increase the capacity of Sydney’s freight rail network while bolstering operational efficiency, flexibility and reliability for freight customers,” he said.

“This will create more than 400 jobs during construction and provide a welcome boost to all the hard-working local businesses who use the rail line to get their products to markets.”

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said the project would enable a reduction in trucks travelling through local roads in Sydney.

Australia’s freight requirements are set to grow significantly over the coming decades. While this is great news for the industry and the Australian economy, it will place increasing pressure on our roads,” he said.

“I look forward to this transformative project getting underway so that Sydney, New South Wales and our national supply chain can reap the benefits.”

The Cabramatta Loop Project tender, which will allow freight trains to pass each other on the Southern Sydney Freight Line, will be released separately.

The Port Botany Rail duplication project was recently approved by the NSW government in its fast track process.

The project was also added to the Infrastructure Australia Infrastructure Priority List in August, 2020, recognising the need for greater freight rail capacity to and from Port Botany.

EIS released for North Star to Border section of Inland Rail

The NSW government has released the environmental impact statement (EIS) for the North Star to Border (NS2B) section of Inland Rail.

With the EIS now on public exhibition, locals along the alignment are invited to make submissions to the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment.

The NSW component of the NS2B section will involve upgrading 25km of existing, non-operational track and the construction of 5km of new track.

There will also be civil works including the construction of bridges, viaducts and culverts, as well as improved level crossings, grade separations, and crossing loops.

Another 9km of the section runs through Queensland, and will be approved through a separate EIS process.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said the 30km leg was essential in ensuring freight efficiencies.

“We know how important Inland Rail is to the nation — reshaping how freight is moved across the nation while generating more than 16,000 jobs and providing a $16 billion boost to the national economy when and where it is needed most,” McCormack said.

“To deliver Inland Rail and realise these important regional jobs and economic benefits we must ensure the project complies with strict state and commonwealth legislation – the years of work that have informed the NS2B EIS will not be complete until communities have their say.”

The NS2B section crosses the Macintyre River floodplain and community feedback has been involved in the project’s reference design.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said that the project would have immediate and ongoing benefits.

“Inland Rail’s fast and efficient freight service will support national productivity and deliver local benefits through construction and operation, which is why I welcome this opportunity for communities along the alignment to engage with the planning and design.”

Local member and Minister for Regional Health, Regional Communications and Local Government Mark Coulton said that the project, once it has progressed through planning approvals, would have a positive impact on the local economy.

“Inland Rail will support around 5,000 jobs during construction across NSW and could support hundreds more for northern NSW by its 10th year of operation.”

Submissions can be made online and the EIS will be displayed at communities near the alignment.

Toowoomba

Toowoomba now home to project office for Inland Rail

The Toowoomba home of the Inland Rail project was officially opened today, July 30.

The new Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) project office increases the footprint of Inland Rail in the regional Queensland city and will provide an ongoing base as construction begins.

Local member John McVeigh opened the office, which can accommodate up to 40 people.

“The office will serve as a hub for ARTC’s community engagement for a number of sections of the project and will provide a basecamp for technical staff when in the field,” he said.

McVeigh said the office is one example of how Inland Rail will benefit local communities along the alignment, with the building constructed by a local company.

“More than 60 per cent of the Inland Rail investment will be made in Queensland and much of this will be in Toowoomba. As we fast become a northern freight and logistics hub – it’s fitting that ARTC increase their presence in town as they work to refine the design of Inland Rail.”

Inland Rail will pass by Toowoomba on the western and northern outskirts of the town, connecting the region to Brisbane at Acacia Ridge, and NSW and Victoria as well as the wider interstate freight network.

Discussions for an intermodal terminal between Pacific National and Wagner Corporation are underway  for the route at Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport, to enable freight to be transferred from the Inland Rail network to airborne freight and the local region.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said that the project would enable such connections between local and international markets.

“Regional Australia is a significant contributor to our economy and Inland Rail will facilitate our regions connecting to markets at home and abroad, providing a sustainable and long term benefit to these communities and Australia more broadly.”

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said that the location would provide an interface between the local community and project staff.

“No one understands regional towns better than the people who live and work there. Local knowledge and a connection to community improves the delivery of Government services and programs, such as Inland Rail.”

Re-railing projects improving freight productivity and commuter reliability

Two re-railing projects being carried out by the Australian Rail Track Corporation are almost complete, ensuring a smoother ride for passengers and a more reliable freight network.

A $40 million project to re-railing the line between Goulburn and Sydney through the Southern Highlands is almost complete, while a $252m re-railing of the line between Adelaide and Tarcoola almost finalised.

Both projects used Australian-made steel from Whyalla in the manufacturing of the rails.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said the benefits of the project from Goulburn to Sydney would be welcomed by businesses and passengers.

“The ARTC’s re-railing project has made improvements along the Southern Highlands line, meaning commuters and freight will have more reliable, better-quality journeys,” he said.

“This will provide a welcome productivity boost for our national supply chain at a time when it’s needed more than ever, particularly for the Australian businesses using the rail line to get their products to markets.”

The $28m Stage 2 of the project will be going to tender in the coming weeks.

The line from Goulburn to Sydney is part of the national freight route linking Melbourne and Brisbane, via Sydney.

The section of rail from Adelaide to Tarcoola is also an important link, tying the eastern states to Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said that works on these national links were vital.

“Safe and efficient freight networks are critical to the national economy and to all Australians, particularly as our hard-working freight operators continue to deliver our Australian goods to consumers and international markets,” he said.

On the Adelaide to Tarcoola section, all that remains of the project is the replacement of the old timber sleepers with concrete ones, with a final contract for this element of the project expected to be awarded this month.

Once complete, heavier interstate freight trains will be able to operate faster over the section of track. Moving from 47-kilogram per metre rail to 60-kilogram per metre rail will allow for 25 tonne axle load limits.

In total, for the 600 kilometres of track 70,000 tonnes of steel was needed, requiring 38,000 welds at the Port Augusta depot and almost 10,000 welds in the field. 3.5 million rail clips were required, along with 1.75 million rail pads. 440km of line was tamped, including 60 turnouts.

According to federal member for Grey Rowan Ramsey, the scale of the project from Adelaide to Tarcoola allowed Whyalla steel manufacturer Liberty to boost local steel manufacturing.

“The investments in staff and skills on this project ensured Liberty was able to secure further contracts with the ARTC to deliver steel rail to the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail Program and the Goulburn to Sydney re-railing program.”

Moorebank Intermodal Terminal. Graphic: MICL

New CEO appointed to manage Moorebank Intermodal Company

James Baulderstone will take over as the new CEO of the Moorebank Intermodal Company for a five year term.

Baulderstone most recently comes from GFG Alliance Australia, the owner of the Whyalla Steelworks, where he was strategic projects director. He has previously held executive roles at Santos and BlueScope Steel and has 30 years of experience in commercial, corporate, finance, and legal roles.

The Moorebank Intermodal Company is the federal government-owned entity which facilitates the development of an intermodal terminal at Moorebank. Sydney Intermodal Terminal Alliance, a wholly owned subsidiary of Qube, is developing and will operate the terminal.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann welcomed Baulderstone’s appointment.

“Baulderstone has extensive leadership experience and he will work with the Board to provide strong strategic direction to support the Moorebank Intermodal Terminal Precinct to progress from construction to a fully operational precinct,” said Cormann.

“The project is expected to deliver $11 billion in economic benefits over 30 years and to support 6,800 jobs in south-western Sydney once fully operational.”

Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure Alan Tudge said that Baulderstone will work to move more freight via rail.

“We look forward to working closely with Baulderstone to deliver the Moorebank Precinct which will increase warehousing capacity in south‑west Sydney and promote road to rail uptake so we can help stop future congestion on Sydney’s arterial roads.”

Previous CEO Erin Flaherty will continue as Chair of the Moorebank Intermodal Company board.

In June, Qube announced that Woolworths would be a major tenant at the Moorebank site and will utilise the site’s direct connection to Port Botany to remove freight from roads. Woolworths follows Target as a significant tenant.

ARTC

ARTC extends payment terms and defers price increase for freight operators

The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) has provided financial relief for rail freight operators to allow them to continue supply Australians with essential goods during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The ARTC has extended payment terms for existing access charges and deferred the consumer price index (CPI) increase that was scheduled for July.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack welcomed the ARTC’s decision.

“Rail freight companies have worked tirelessly to service the initial growth in consumer demand during the pandemic to keep Australia open for business by supplying the essential goods that have supported our nation through this global health crisis,” he said.

While demand initially peaked at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, a fall in consumer demand followed along with drops in production, which have put strain on some operators. Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said that the ARTC’s measures would enable freight operators to manage the uncertain environment.

“The government is very pleased to see ARTC working with its customers, government and industry to build resilience in our freight and supply chain network during what is a difficult period.”

Pacific National CEO Dean Dalla Valle said that the ARTC’s decision would support the rail freight sector.

“Pacific National very much welcomes the initiative by the Australian Government and ARTC board to extend payment terms for rail freight operators for ARTC access charges from 30 to 90 days, not to mention the freeze in CPI increase from 1 July to 1 October. It’s a great step in the right direction for interstate rail freight.”

Dalla Valle also highlighted that the move would increase the competitiveness of rail, as road transport had benefited from fixed user charges for the past four years.

“We do need to point out that in the last 12 years, rail access charges on the ARTC interstate network have increased annually by CPI. In comparison, for the last four years the Transport and Infrastructure Council of Australia have frozen heavy vehicle road user charges (2015-16 to 2019-20). This pricing setting has now been extended for another financial year (2020-21),” said Dalla Valle.

“The lack of competitive neutrality in pricing between rail and road freight has created an uneven playing field. It has been a large contributing factor in perverse outcomes like 98 percent of containerised and palletised freight now being transported by truck between Sydney and Melbourne (equivalent to more than 700,000 B-double truck return trips on the Hume Highway each year).”

Dalla Valle said that the current decision reconfirmed the need to review freight transport pricing arrangements.

“Pacific National understands and appreciates ARTC is a ‘wholly-owned Commonwealth company’ and, as such, must earn a rate of return for the Australian taxpayer. However, when the focus on delivering government dividends becomes all-consuming to the point of making interstate and regional rail freight uncompetitive with road (and increasingly coastal shipping) and ignoring the many beneficial externalities of rail freight, then current pricing models must be seriously looked at.

“This is happening at a time when Australians want less traffic congestion, reduced road accidents and fatalities (of which we have seen a spate of terrible incidents recently), lower vehicle emissions, and less ‘wear and tear’ on roads.”

CEO of the Australian Logistics Council, Kirk Coningham, welcomed the ARTC’s decision.

“This is a positive move that provides practical support for freight rail operators at a challenging time as they keep our supply chains moving. ALC applauds this proactive approach from ARTC,” he said.

“This practical relief is a useful reminder of the incredible job freight and logistics operators are doing as they continue to deliver for Australian communities, despite the significant economic hurdles many are now facing.”

Both McCormack and Cormann highlighted how vital the freight network is to Australia.

“Our efficient freight network is critical to ensuring our supermarket shelves are stocked and our valuable export commodities can reach overseas markets – both of which have been vital during this pandemic,” said McCormack.

“Each year, Australia’s freight and supply chain networks deliver billions of tonnes of goods across the country,” said Cormann.

“ARTC plays a significant role in making this possible through its management of national rail infrastructure. We welcome its response to the COVID-19 crisis, which has ensured freight rail operators are able to continue providing an important service Australians and the Australian economy rely on.”

Industry-government group to accelerate ATMS delivery

An industry-government oversight group has been formed for the introduction of the Advanced Train Management System (ATMS) on Australia’s interstate freight rail network.

With the system now operational between Port August and Whyalla and ready to be deployed between Tarcoola and Kalgoorlie, the industry-government reference group will streamline implementation between the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) and nine major rail freight businesses.

“I meet and consult with industry regularly and following discussions in March, the Australian government has agreed to support the establishment of the group to explore opportunities to accelerate the deployment of ATMS,” said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack.

The federal government has provided $110.8 in funding for the development of ATMS, which alleviates the reliance on trackside signalling infrastructure by using GPS navigation systems and mobile internet. The system was developed by Lockheed Martin on behalf of ARTC.

“It has been custom-engineered and tested under Australian conditions and has proven both its safety and capability required for a staged deployment across the wider national interstate rail network operated by ARTC,” said McCormack.

“The system is in the final stage of being certified as the primary safe working system between Port Augusta and Whyalla with the next section for deployment to be between Tarcoola and Kalgoorlie from next year.”

The industry-government oversight group will provide industry engagement and agreement on the approach, roll-out, staging strategy, and funding for ATMS. In mid-2020 the group is expected to provide advice on the broader rollout of ATMS.

Chair of the Freight on Rail Group, which represents the nine major freight businesses involved in the oversight group, Dean Dalla Valle, said that the system will improve Australia’s rail freight network.

“ATMS will vastly improve rail safety by allowing freight trains to be remotely controlled during an emergency, including automatic braking, and boost efficiency of services on both dedicated freight lines and shared rail networks.

“ARTC has ensured industry was at the forefront of consultation over the ten years of development of the new technology and FORG will continue that collegiate-approach through this working group to help fast-track the roll-out of ATMS,” said Dalla Valle.

By allowing for more efficient use of the freight rail network, ATMS is expected to increase rail capacity, as well as reliability and safety.

“To help recover from the deep economic shocks of the coronavirus pandemic, Australia must embrace and leverage new and improved technologies throughout its national supply chains,” said Dalla Valle.

“Its home grown, state-of-the-art technology which our sector and the Australian people should be very proud of.”

Caroline Wilkie, CEO of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA), said that the group has been formed at the right time.

“The creation of the oversight group will bring significant industry knowledge to the table to guide this important next phase of the project.”

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said that improvements to the rail network will deliver benefits for the wider community.

“A well-developed rail network will help better connect our regions with our cities, our ports and beyond, ensuring that Australian businesses can sell as many products and services as possible into markets around the world while also making sure that domestically we are in the strongest possible position,” said Cormann.

“Our government looks forward to engaging with industry to drive improvements and further strengthen our rail sector.”