National protocol to reduce cross-border freight confusion

A joint national protocol to enable smooth freight movement over closed borders has been agreed upon by state and territory governments and the Commonwealth.

The national Protocol for Domestic Border Controls – Freight Movements establishes a common set of agreements for freight operators that are transporting goods across state borders that have been closed due to coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreaks.

The national protocol outlines that rail crew will not be required to quarantine or self-isolate for two weeks, unless they develop symptoms of COVID-19 or were in close contact with a case.

Rail crew who are crossing borders or travelling through hotspots should be required to keep a record of close contacts and should minimise non-essential contacts.

Freight operators are encouraged to have a COVIDsafe workplan which will be mutually recognised by state and territory governments.

If further changes are necessary, state and territory governments are encouraged to consult with industry to understand the impact of potential changes.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said that the protocol was the result of collaboration between government and industry.

“This is a great demonstration of how governments and industry are working together to ensure much-needed goods keep making their way to communities during the pandemic whilst keeping the health and safety of all Australians front and centre.”

Assistant Minister for Road Safety and Freight Transport Scott Buchholz said that with various and rapidly changing requirements, the protocol would enable the efficient operation of supply chains across Australia.

“We know this has been tough a time for the industry, with our freight operators often required to cross multiple internal borders in a single trip – facing the critical domestic border controls state and territory governments have had to operate to stem the spread of COVID-19,” he said.

“Aligning state and territory measures through this protocol will ensure smoother inter-state journeys for our freight operators and reduce delays in the supply chain.”

Australian Logistics Council (ALC) CEO Kirk Coningham said the organisation had been working to ensure that freight continues to move when border restrictions were put in place.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has underlined just how vital efficient, safe and resilient supply chain operations are to Australia. Yet the closure of state borders and imposition of restrictions during the pandemic has added complexity and duplication of processes associated with freight transport,” said Coningham.
Interstate border closures were a feature of the first wave of COVID-19 shutdowns in March, with freight operators required to fill out arrival forms.

In early July, when NSW closed its border for the first time with Victoria due to the outbreak in Melbourne, permits were required for rail freight staff crossing the border. This initially also required rail staff to self-isolate, however this was then overturned.

Coningham said the new protocol will reduce future confusion.

“The protocol’s explicit acknowledgement that authorities should consult with industry to understand the effect and impacts of potential changes ahead of any new directions being been put place is significant. Adherence to this commitment will be essential to avoid some of the confusion that has been witnessed throughout the pandemic, as border requirements were changed with inadequate notice to industry,” he said.

“ALC is pleased that these principles are all enshrined in the protocol that has been agreed to today. We also welcome the protocol’s commitment to mutual recognition of COVIDsafe workplans developed in other jurisdictions, and to standardising the duration and conditions of border permits.”

Beerburrum

Tender details for stage one of Beerburrum to Nambour works released

The tender for the first stage of the Beerburrum to Nambour Rail upgrade will be released next month.

The move is a step forward for the long-awaited Sunshine Coast rail project with a call for tenders on early works released in June.

While the early works tender focused on improvements to roads and surrounding infrastructure, the Stage 1 tender includes line duplication, station upgrades, parking facilities and rail passing loops.

Specifically the works include: the duplication of the track north of Beerburrum to Glass House Maintains on an improved alignment and duplication between Glass House Maintains and Beerwah within the existing corridor; road over rail bridges at Beerburrum Road, Barrs Road, and Burgess Street; parking at Beerburrum, Landsborough, and Nambour; a bus interchange at Landsborough; and the relocation of utilities.

Early works will begin in 2021 with major construction to commence from 2022.

The upgrade is jointly funded by the Queensland and federal governments, with each contributing $390 million and $160.8m respectively.

Queensland Minister for Transport and Main Roads Mark Bailey said the project would create 333 jobs in stage one.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said the upgrade would entice more commuters to travel by train.

“Reduced travel times, greater service reliability and increased parking at stations will attract more travellers to rail, between the Sunshine Coast region and Brisbane in particular,” he said.

The Beerburrum to Nambour upgrade was listed by Infrastructure Australia as a priority project in June 2018, and detailed planning followed in 2019.

Federal member for Fisher Andrew Wallace said that early industry briefings hoped to garner involvement from local businesses.

“The industry briefing was a good opportunity to give local businesses some indication on what kind of work was coming down the line and allow the project team to get early feedback that will help as they develop the final scope for the upgrade,” he said.

Rail Back on Track administrator Robert Dow welcomed the commitment from both governments to get the project underway, however noted that further works could be included in the package.

“The planned commencement of Beerburrum to Nambour is very welcome but we would have like to have the track duplication through to Landsborough.”

Further duplication would improve train frequency for passenger as well as freight on the heavily-used North Coast Line.

Inland Rail independent flood panel members announced

The federal and Queensland governments have announced the members of the independent Inland Rail flood modelling review panel.

The five members are Mark Babister, Tina O’Connell, Ferdinand Diermanse, Steve Clark, and Martin Giles.

The panel will analyse flood modelling done by the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), after local landholders on the Condamine River floodplain raised concerns with the modelling.

Babister will chair the panel and is the managing director of specialist water engineering firm WMAwater. O’Connell, Clark, and Giles are also from independent water engineering consultancy businesses. Diermanse is an expert researcher at Dutch applied research institute Deltares.

“We have now finalised the members of the independent panel of international experts and their terms of reference,” said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack.

“Collectively they have more than 130 years’ of experience and will use their knowledge to analyse existing flood modelling and the proposed engineering solutions against national and state guidelines and industry best practice. This process is independent of the ARTC.”

The review by the independent panel follows a comprehensive design process for the section from the Border to Gowrie. AECOM and Aurecon provided an analysis of corridor options in 2016-2017 which was overseen by an independent project reference group. Arup and SMEC reviewed compliance of the flood modelling and hydrology reports against industry standards.

The Southern Darling Downs Community Consultative Committee had John Macintosh from Water Solutions provide quality assurance of the already undertaken work.

“The rigorous approvals process put in place by the Australian and Queensland governments means that before a sod is turned the project has undergone robust and transparent analysis, including independent community feedback and multiple layers of expert peer review,” said McCormack.

“The panel will test and provide expert advice on all existing flood models to ensure that they are fit-for-purpose while the ARTC continues to progress the design, consultation and approvals processes required to get construction underway. The panel is not tasked with reviewing alignment options.”

The independent panel was a precondition of the agreement between the federal and Queensland government signed in 2019. Queensland Transport Minister Mark Bailey said that the final results and evaluation will ensure that floodplain and river crossings meet state and national engineering requirements.

“The panel members’ conclusions will also inform the Queensland Coordinator General’s assessment of ARTC’s draft Environmental Impact Statements for this state. The findings of the panel will be publicly released once their work has been completed.”

Membership of national freight industry reference panel announced

The new Freight Industry Reference Panel will provide Australian federal, state, and territory transport and infrastructure ministers with an industry perspective on the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy.

Chaired by John Fullerton, who recently stepped down as the managing director and chief executive officer of the Australian Rail Track Corporation, the body will provide input onto decision-making at the highest level.

“The new panel will provide industry a clear line of sight on implementation of the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy and annually report to Transport and Infrastructure Ministers its independent view on progress made,” said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack.

McCormack highlighted Fullerton’s 35 years of experience in the transport industry.

Fullerton is a leading figure in Australia’s infrastructure and transport industry and consistently promotes the value of rail and freight supply chains to the national economy.”

Other members of the reference panel include Nicole Lockwood, who is the chair of the Westport Taskforce Steering Committee and is on the board of Infrastructure WA.

“As a member of the Expert Panel which led the Inquiry into National Freight and Supply Chain Priorities in 2017 and 2018, Lockwood is uniquely placed to bring both continuity and fresh perspectives in overseeing the Strategy,” said McCormack.

Sophie Finemore will also be a member of the panel. Finemore was senior manager – government relations at Toll Group before joining KPMG in January 2020.

“Finemore’s practical experience in navigating supply chain issues in her role with the Toll Group and her recent involvement in transport market reform will make her a valued member of the Panel,” said McCormack.

Other members include Peter Garske, chief executive of the Queensland Trucking Association and Brett Charlton, general manager of Tasmanian-based Agility Logistics and chairman of the Tasmanian Logistics Committee.

With membership now announced the panel will work with government to suggest areas for reform and the implementation of the National Freight and Supply Chain strategy.

Working groups to address skills, standards to improve safety, productivity

Three working groups have been formed to improve the productivity and safety of the rail industry, and address key issue facing the sector.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack announced the working groups, which were agreed upon by Commonwealth, state, and territory government as part of the National Rail Action Plan.

“We are improving Australia’s rail system by continuing to align and harmonise operating rules, infrastructure and operational standards and systems across the national network.,” said McCormack.

The three groups cover skills and labour, interoperability, and harmonising national standards.

“The Australian government is committed to delivering critical rail infrastructure and improving the safety and productivity of rail operations and we are overseeing a major wave of investment in rail,” said McCormack.

The National Rail Action Plan was agreed upon by state and federal transport ministers as part of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Transport and Infrastructure Council, and is implemented by the National Transport Commission.

The leadership of each of the working groups includes government and industry representatives. CEO of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) Caroline Wilkie will co-chair the skills and labour working group with Tony Braxton-Smith, CEO of the South Australian Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure. Simon Ormsby, group executive strategy at the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), will co-chair a group on interoperability with the NTC Chair, Carolyn Walsh. Deb Spring, CEO of the Rail Industry Safety and Standards Board (RISSB), will co-chair a working group on harmonising national standards with Ben Phyland from the Victorian Department of Transport.

“The National Rail Action Plan will complement the 10-year $10 billion National Rail Program, which is designed to help make our cities more liveable and efficient as they grow. The plan also aims to reduce the burden on our roads, provide more reliable transport networks and support our efforts to decentralise our economy and grow regional Australia,” said McCormack.

Wilkie said that the formation of these groups will tackle ongoing challenges in the rail sector, and encourage broader economic growth.

“We have long known that a national focus is crucial to ensuring the rail industry can continue to deliver the efficiency and productivity needed to drive Australia’s economic growth. These working groups will promote collaboration and support a truly national vision for rail.”

The National Rail Action Plan notes that the large pipeline of rail investment has created challenges in terms of critical skills in construction, operations, and manufacturing.

“There is no question we will need more skilled people in rail in the coming years. The working group will be looking at how we can collectively promote the industry as a great place to work. There is a real diversity of careers available in the industry and we need to make sure there are clear pathways to encourage the best and brightest to join us,” said Wilkie.

The Plan also sets out that the multiplicity of standards for infrastructure, rollingstock and components, safe work, and communications and control systems have presented a regulatory barrier to the rail industry. Addressing this will be one of the tasks of the working groups.

“The ARA also looks forward to engaging with the working groups on interoperability and harmonising national standards. Greater national consistency would allow us to get more value out of investment in rail and further streamline passenger and freight operations,” said Wilkie. “The calibre of industry representatives taking part in these groups really highlights how important the focus on these issues is.”

Pacific National

Rail showcasing what’s possible in regional Australia

Smart thinking between Pacific National and Wagner Corporation highlights the many possibilities of rail freight.

News broke in early March that two powerhouses of regional transport and logistics were coming together for potentially Australia’s only rail-air intermodal terminal.

Pacific National and Wagner Corporation are now deep into discussions for a major logistics hub at Wellcamp Business Park, just outside of Toowoomba.

The two companies are looking to build a 250ha logistics hub at the site next to the Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport, said Pacific National CEO, Dean Dalla Valle.

“The proposed 250-hectare Wellcamp Logistics Hub also has frontage to the future Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail project, allowing extensive future intermodal operations for freight to be transferred between trains, planes and trucks,” he said.

The future Wellcamp Logistics Hub would include 2.7 kilometres of frontage to the rail corridor, allowing for 1,800m long freight trains to operate.

Daily cargo jet flights operate from a fully licensed and bonded international air cargo terminal next door, and the site has the potential to process up to 350,000 shipping containers by 2030, and up to half a million by 2040. The airport in question, the Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport, is owned by the Wagner Corporation, and is an example of how that company has pedigree when it comes to innovative investing in regional logistics.

The family-owned property and infrastructure developer was behind the first, privately funded major airport, built on an old quarry site owned by the Wagner family. Today, the airport connects Toowoomba and the surrounding Darling Downs region not only to domestic jet services, but also direct freight connections to Hong Kong with weekly flights operated by Cathay Pacific Cargo.

Building and operating an intermodal terminal next door, at the connected Wellcamp Business Park, allows for rail freight services along in the Inland Rail corridor to connect to global freight and logistics supply chains.

While such a connection between rail and freight would be new for Australia, it has been successfully adopted elsewhere. In Germany, the Leipzig-Halle airport forms logistics company DHL’s European hub, with plans for a network of high-speed rail spanning from the airport. Despite being the 11th largest airport in Germany for passengers, the regional airport is the second largest in the country in terms of freight, and the 5th busiest in Europe.

Similarly, at the Paris Charles de Gaulle airport in France, two air-rail cargo interchanges allow for air cargo to be seamlessly transported from air to a high- speed rail network connecting France, Belgium, and the UK.

Although both these projects have had a focus on moving mail and parcels, rather than bulk cargos, there is potential for rail to air freight playing a role in the movement of food and produce. Here, the Darling Downs can play its part as the food bowl of South- East Queensland, and a producer of foodstuffs intended for export to growing markets in Hong Kong and Asia. As Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) CEO John Fullerton outlined, locating intermodal freight and expert facilities close to where the food is being produced, allows for value adding in terms of advanced processing and packaging occurring locally, ensuring these benefits remain in the community.

“Inland Rail is a once in a lifetime project which will better link regional businesses to our fast-growing capital cities, farmers and producers to national and global markets, generate new opportunities for industries and regions and reduce large truck congestion on our roads.”

Inland rail leads to spark
The initial idea for the project came from another transformative Pacific National intermodal terminal, 800 kilometres south. The idea of being the private developer behind an intermodal terminal came to John Wagner, non-executive chairman of the Wagner Corporation, when he saw what other projects were underway in Parkes.

“When Wagner Corporation attended the October 2019 opening of Pacific National’s logistics terminal in Parkes – also located on the Inland Rail alignment – it gave us an exciting picture of what could be achieved with future rail freight services at Wellcamp,” he said.

The potential for rail to improve communities was also highlighted by Fullerton.

“The growth opportunities are endless, with Inland Rail unlocking job security potential not seen in decades through strategic industry investment.”

Partly due to the region’s topography, Toowoomba and the Darling Downs region had lacked interstate rail freight connections and was thus unable to access the benefits of rail transportation. Not only will the future hub improve supply chains, but lead to community benefits, highlighted Dalla Valle.

“Integrated with Inland Rail, a future Wellcamp Logistics Hub would help reduce road accidents and fatalities, traffic congestion, vehicle emissions, and road ‘wear and tear’,” he said.

“Picture this – at a minimum, a 1,800-metre- long freight train hauling shipping containers is equivalent to removing 140 B-double return truck trips from our roads.”

Freight rail delivering community benefits
The Wellcamp Logistics Hub announcement is tangible evidence of the $13.3 billion in benefits that a new report estimates that Inland Rail will bring to regional communities along the alignment.

Prepared by consultancy EY on behalf of the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, the report identified the key role that intermodal hubs would play in Inland Rail’s delivery of billions of dollars of economic benefit back to regional communities over the next 50 years.

The report found two key growth pathways as a result of Inland Rail, Supply Chain Efficiencies and Value Chain Growth.

Prepared in 2019, the report accurately predicted the kinds of outcomes that the Wellcamp Business Park could deliver.

“Inland Rail may lead to a reorganisation of supply chains and fundamentally change how freight is moved in Australia,” write the authors of the report.

The findings, spread across the four regions of South-East Queensland, northern NSW, southern NSW and Victoria, point to how greater connectivity can benefit regional communities, said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack.

“Inland Rail gives these communities new ways to grow and rebuild with better connections to interstate and international markets, new jobs and a stronger case for attracting public and private investment.”

Fullerton reiterated the importance of rail in exporting Australia’s commodities.

“Without freight trains, bulk exports like grain, meat, fresh and dry produce, cotton and coal cannot be efficiently hauled to ports, the gateways to global markets.”

While the Inland Rail project itself may be focused on ensuring that the rail corridor is built, to access the benefits of such a major infrastructure project, the links between Inland Rail and the communities it serves will be essential. Demonstrating this, the EY report found that in each of the regions studied, intermodal terminals opening from 0-10 years after the completion of the Inland Rail project will be part of the first wave of investment.

As nodes within the network, Fullerton highlighted the role that intermodal hubs will play.

“Intermodal freight hubs drive increased investment, growth and more jobs across regional Australia the added safety and environmental benefits of shifting more freight volumes from trucks to trains.”

These are then expected to lead to the development of industry hubs, which take advantage of the supply chain efficiencies offered by Inland Rail and congregate complementary businesses. In the case of the Darling Downs and South East Queensland, this could see grain and cotton being transported to the Wellcamp Logistics Hub, manufactured at the Wellcamp Business Park and then shipped by Pacific National on rail to other locations in Australia or via air to the globe.

As a comparative example, EY looked to the Santa Teresa Intermodal Facility in New Mexico, as an example of how an intermodal terminal can lead to the aggregation of businesses, not only in the transport and logistics sectors, but manufacturing and professional services.

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.”

Chinese high speed train. Photo: Bombardier

Albanese puts high speed rail at the centre of COVID-19 recovery

Anthony Albanese will argue for high-speed rail to be a central part of the rebuilding of Australia’s economy following coronavirus (COVID-19), according to reports.

In a speech to be delivered to the shadow cabinet on May 11, Albanese will say that a high-speed rail project along with decentralisation should be pursued by the federal government as a way to recover and create a more resilient nation.

In a draft of the speech, Albanese is expected to combine a commitment to high-speed rail with local train manufacturing.

“We must invest in nation-building infrastructure including iconic projects like high-speed rail and we should be building trains here,” Albanese is expected to say.

“Government procurement policy in rail manufacturing has produced superior outcomes to imports and created regional jobs in Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia.”

In 2019, Labor took a $1 billion land acquisition policy for high-speed rail to the federal election, however the Coalition has not pursued high speed rail during its time in office.

The speech by the federal opposition comes after Treasurer Josh Frydenberg outlined his plans for post-COVID-19 recovery. In a speech to the National Press Club on May 5, Frydenberg said that the government would maintain its $100 billion ten year infrastructure pipeline, but did not nominate particular projects. Frydenberg did, however, note that the current pandemic should not lead to protectionist policies.

In April, shadow transport spokeswoman Catherine King had nominated high speed rail as a “economic game changer” and indicated federal Labor’s continuing support for a high speed rail network linking population centres down the Eastern seaboard. King also noted that investment in high-speed rail would encourage economic growth in regional communities.

At the time, federal Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said that the government’s focus is building the Inland Rail project and pursuing faster rail projects.