Parkes

$185m investment to build on Parkes rail links

The NSW government has announced $185 million investment to build on rail infrastructure delivery in Parkes.

The future site of the intersection of Australia’s major freight lines, Parkes is expected to play a central role in Australia’s logistics networks and supply chains.

Inland Rail will pass through Parkes, connecting Melbourne and Brisbane via regional NSW, Queensland, and Victoria, and will intersect in the Central West town with the rail line linking Sydney to Perth.

The NSW government’s current investment will fund the Parkes Special Activation Precinct, which will leverage these links to develop a logistics and intermodal hub. Parkes also has the advantage of being much more affordable than metropolitan cities, with land values at just 5 per cent of the capitals.

NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro said the investment in roads, sewer, and water connections will help grow regional NSW.

“This precinct is all about attracting money, economic growth and jobs to regional NSW,” he said.

“We know that where there is significant government investment, it attracts private investment ten-fold. This precinct could attract up to $1 billion in private investment over the next 10 years.”

The precinct will be developed by the Regional Growth NSW Development Corporation, who will lead design and construction, applications and approvals, and provide assistance for those businesses looking to set up in the regions.

The precinct stretches over 4,800 hectares of land, and can be used for purposes such as freight and logistics, food processing, warehousing, plastic and e-waste recycling, and cold chain storage.

The precinct will also focus on sustainability, as it will be Australia’s first UNIDO Eco Industrial zone. The initiative of the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation seeks to enhance the environmental, economic and social performance of industrial businesses through collaboration.

Work is now complete on the link between Inland Rail at Parkes and the Broken Hill rail line to Perth.

Inland rail continues major construction with added safety measures

Inland Rail’s construction is continuing along with other major construction projects, with the safe delivery of freight and transport infrastructure a high priority.

The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) has implemented additional public health and safety measures on national rail infrastructure projects during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Michael McCormack, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development said he has the confidence that all necessary precautions are being taken to protect workers and the communities in which they operate.

“Now more than ever, we need these essential construction services and the economic stimulus to continue, not just to keep people in work, but to ensure we’re in the best place possible to build momentum when we see through this global health crisis,” he said.

“Additional measures put in place by the ARTC and its contractors to protect the health and safety of workers and the local community mean we can continue to deliver projects, such as the transformational Inland Rail.”

McCormack said everyone relies on the freight network to deliver the essential supplies such as food, medicine, and medical equipment, which are critical now more than ever.

“I thank the freight and construction workers who are essential to maintaining our supply chains and laying the ground work for Australia’s freight future,” he said.

More than 1,700 people have worked on Inland Rail since construction began, including 667 locals on the Parkes to Narromine project.

McCormack said the economic injection from this project has been immense with $89 million spent with local businesses and 97 local businesses engaged as suppliers.

More than 165,000 tonnes of ballast has been laid and one million tonnes of earthworks completed since the first sod was turned in Parkes in December 2018.

A total 70km of the 103-kilometre Parkes to Narromine section of Inland Rail is now complete, with final ancillary work under way.

Mathias Cormann, finance minister, said Inland Rail will deliver a $16 billion boost to gross domestic product during construction and the first 50 years of operation.

“Inland Rail will support 5,000 jobs in New South Wales and we are already seeing the benefits of this in Parkes and the surrounding region, with a boost to employment and supplier contracts flowing from construction,” he said.

Cormann said the government is committed to Inland Rail to build Australia’s freight capability and meet increasing demands.

“We are very happy that this vital work can continue safely,” he said.

“It is important that we progress these long-term infrastructure projects to create jobs for Australians, sustain economic activity and to support the recovery on the other side of the COVID-19 crisis.”

Australia’s faster rail future

Faster rail forms part of the federal government’s strategy to deal with population growth and congestion. The National Faster Rail Agency’s acting CEO Malcolm Southwell discusses his agency’s work at AusRAIL Plus 2019.

Australia’s major cities are a key driver of the nation’s economic success and support the majority of the population in employment and economic growth. They are also growing, exponentially.

“Our population is expected to reach 33 million people by 2040, and most of those 6.6 new Australians will settle in our major capital cities,” acting CEO of the National Faster Rail Agency (NFRA), Malcolm Southwell, said at the AusRAIL Plus 2019 event held in Sydney.

“Around 64 per cent of us live in cities and we’re one of the most urbanised nations in the world. As such, we have issues with congestion, housing supply and affordability.”

Congestion costs are also expected to rise. According to Infrastructure Australia’s estimates, road and public transport congestion in the major cities will cost almost $40 billion by 2031, more than doubling from around $19bn in 2016.

Over 80 per cent of the estimated $21bn increase will occur in Greater Sydney, Greater Melbourne and south east Queensland.

A faster rail solution will go some way to alleviating population pressure in the cities. In comparison to other countries around the world, Australia has a relatively large land mass but low population density. While Australia has 3.2 persons per square kilometre, the US has 36. The UK has 275 persons per square kilometre, and Japan has 347.

“We’re not just about building fast rail in the hopes that it works, we’re taking an evidence-based approach,” Southwell said.

“Professor Andrew McNaughton of the UK, who is working with the NSW government on their faster rail plans, has publicly noted that reducing transit times to one hour or less is a particular sweet spot for improved access to higher paying jobs in capital city CBDs and increased economic development in regional centres.”

The Faster Rail Plan, which the NFRA is tasked with delivering, intends to better align future population growth by linking major cities and growing regional cities in order to take pressure off the cities and strengthen economic ties with regional areas.

With the December 2019 appointment of Barry Broe as inaugural chief executive officer of the NFRA, the agency is expected to ramp up its operations this year.

Southwell was acting CEO from the agency’s creation in July 2019 until January 2020. He spoke at AusRAIL to update the rail industry on the NFRA’s work to date and what to expect in the future.

So far, eight faster rail corridors have been identified, including: Sydney to Newcastle, Sydney to Wollongong, Sydney to Parkes (via Bathurst and Orange), Melbourne to Greater Shepparton, Melbourne to Albury-Wodonga, Melbourne to Taralgon, Brisbane to the Gold Coast, and Brisbane to the Sunshine Coast.

The NFRA will work in partnership with state and territory governments and private industry to develop the rail infrastructure necessary to accommodate a faster rail solution between major cities and key regional centres. It will develop proposals, examine routes and begin the process of corridor planning, acquisition and protection.

“We’ve started a conversation with states on the east coast about interoperability and standards of faster rail projects to avoid a repeat of issues around passenger services between jurisdictions,” Southwell said.

An expert panel will provide advice to government on faster rail related matters including existing business cases, new potential faster rail corridors, future developments across networks and infrastructure requirements and priorities. The panel will advise on staging and delivery options.

The NSW government has appointed Professor Andrew McNaughton to lead the panel. He has more than 45 years’ experience working on rail infrastructure projects, including the UK’s High Speed project.

The first three of the overall eight faster rail business cases have now been completed, the agency confirmed in January. The business cases for Sydney to Newcastle, Melbourne to Greater Shepparton and Brisbane to the regions of Moreton Bay and the Sunshine Coast are now being reviewed by the agency. NFRA will provide advice to government on the findings and its recommendations for next steps in the coming months.

These corridors and the remaining five, which are “progressing well” according to the agency, were identified based on the intention to support growing population movements.

For example, the agency’s first priority, to deliver faster rail between Geelong and Melbourne, will have major benefits for those living along the corridor, including quicker access to work and services in both locations, as well as greater choice around housing and less congestion.

“Geelong is one of the fastest growing regions, growing at a rate of around 2.7 per annum,” Southwell said.

“Transport connectivity between Melbourne and Geelong is constrained by existing infrastructure and rail investment has not kept up with population growth. These constraints have a range of flow on effects, including hampering regional development and increasing road congestion.

The agency acknowledges, however, that better connectivity could, in some circumstances, result in regional towns becoming dormitory suburbs for larger cities.

“We’re very much aware of these concerns and as part of our work we’ll look for the opportunities where faster rail can actually work for the economy and job markets in these regional towns. We’re actively talking to regional centres about the challenges and opportunities faster rail will bring to their economy.”

Southwell is adamant that faster rail will resolve population pressures if regional centres are made attractive.

“For example, lowering operating costs for enterprises in regional towns will attract businesses to the area. Faster rail will provide these businesses will labour markets in the capital cities and provide opportunities for economic development in regional towns.

“That effect is evidenced here in Australia. In Geelong, rail was instrumental in maintaining the attractiveness of the city following the large and sudden downturn in the manufacturing sector. Research and modelling work have shown that the emergence of strong employment centres has been able to attract service jobs, and that was greatly facilitated by an increase in efficient rail services.”

Faster rail services are capable of reducing travel time in the corridor even further, from an hour to closer to half an hour, and thus enable more commuters to travel along the rail corridor.

Another challenge the agency will need to soon resolve is cost.

“Studies conducted between 2010 and 2013 on a high-speed rail between Melbourne and Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane found that it would have an estimated construction cost of around $114bn in 2012-dollar terms.

“Noting current construction market pressures and inflation impacts, this figure will increase significantly in today’s terms and could be as high as $150 to $200bn.

“Whatever the amount, this is a significant cost, and obviously needs to be considered against all the other projects making up a core share of taxpayer’s funds.”

The Australasian Rail Association says that it supports the utilisation of innovative financing and funding mechanisms such as “value capture” development opportunities along rail corridors to help fund faster rail infrastructure.

“It will be critical that the Agency, under Mr Broe’s leadership, recognises the need to invest in existing and new lines to stretch government dollars and provide a faster rail service offering that meets the needs of the Australian population,” ARA chair Danny Broad said.

“In addition to supporting the establishment of new fast rail lines as a means to decentralise Australia’s population and support regional development, the
ARA highlights that optimising our existing networks cannot be overlooked,” the ARA’s Annual Report 2019 said.

“Faster rail can be achieved through upgrades and modifications to existing rail infrastructure, such as passing loops, new signalling systems and level crossing removals.”

Meanwhile, the NSW government says it will examine a range of funding options and smart staging, as part of the Fast Rail Network Strategy, to ensure the fast rail network provides value for money.

Each funding option considered as part of the strategy will be assessed based on the estimated cost of the project in light of economic and other benefits to the community, and complementary revenue- generating opportunities.

The state government says that international experience shows that fast rail networks can be delivered in stages, with each stage delivering immediate benefits.

NSW’s short- to medium-term focus will be on upgrades and the optimisation of existing rail routes, with dedicated track improvements such as junction rearrangements, curve easing, deviations, passing loops and level crossing removals on existing routes.

Its longer-term focus will be on a dedicated and purpose-built rail line, with new lines and routes, as well as new rolling stock.

According to Southwell, the national agency is cognisant that its work will affect the future of how people live.

“This is no simple task and requires debate and dialogue from all sides of the equation. We’re still very new but through ongoing conversations with our key stakeholders, including those in regional communities, we acknowledge that consideration needs to extend well beyond just building a new rail line and a train station,” Southwell said.

Over 63km of track removed in first phase of Inland Rail project

The Australasian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) has now removed over 63 kilometres of existing rail line from the Inland Rail construction in Parkes, New South Wales.

The project, a partnership between the Australian Government and private sector, is intended to upgrade the national freight network between Melbourne and Brisbane by developing regional lines across Victoria, NSW and Queensland.

The works on the section of line between Parkes and Narromine represent the first of a planned 13 Inland Rail projects encompassing over 1700 kilometres.

The track, which has been removed from the freight line between Parkes and Narromine (the P2N project), will be recycled and repurposed for Pacific National’s Intermodal Terminal in Parkes as well as other parts of the NSW rail network.

“It’s just one of the ways we keep our commitment to sustainability,” the ARTC stated in an inaugural project newsletter.

In addition to the track removal, over 100,000 cubic metres of material has been removed as a result of ongoing earthworks.

The works are being carried out by INLink, a joint venture between BMD Group and Fulton Hogan, which is focused on upgrading existing links, building new embankments and culverts, and upgrading signage, signals, level crossings and fencing.

The ARTC stated that they would install over 4000 culverts across the project in total.

Neighbouring projects include the southerly Stockinbingal to Parkes (S2P) project and northerly Narromine to Narrabri (N2N) project, which are both currently in the project feasibility stage.

The ARTC held its first community forum on the project, with two more set to follow on June 19 at the ARTC Community and Working Hub in Parkes and on June 20 at Peak Hill RSL in Peak Hill.