Infrastructure spend misses rail projects in Queensland, South Australia

In a pre-budget infrastructure announcement, the federal government has committed funding to rail projects in NSW, Victoria and Western Australia, but only provided funding for roads in other states, with Queensland’s only rail project a level crossing removal.

As part of a $7.5 billion spend on infrastructure, new federal funding alongside state contributions has been committed for further regional rail upgrades in Victoria, high capacity signalling in Western Australia, and planning for faster rail between Sydney and Newcastle. The funding announcement covers those projects put forward by state governments and not projects solely funded by the federal government.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said that local businesses would benefit.

“We will draw on local businesses to stimulate local economies through these projects,” he said.

In Victoria, rail projects received the bulk of the funding allocated to that state, with funding for new projects including stage three of the Shepparton Line upgrade and stage two of the Warrnambool line upgrade. Further planning for the Western Rail Plan, improving passenger rail services from northern Victoria, and a business case for improving connectivity to the Port of Melbourne also scored funding.

In NSW, rail projects to receive funding included $15 million for planning for Sydney to Newcastle Faster Rail. A faster rail business case has already been completed for the line and is being reviewed by the National Faster Rail Agency.

$150 million has been allocated for grade separating road interfaces with Inland Rail, along with a number of intermodal hubs, including at Ettamogah, near Albury, and the Northern NSW Inland Port at Narrabri. Commuter carparks in Sydney also received additional funding.

In Western Australia, federal funding of $102.3 million has been allocated for the High Capacity Signalling element of the Metronet project. Infrastructure Australia has added the project to its Infrastructure Priority List as a Priority Project, signalling its national significance.

The funding for WA also includes the first investigation into faster rail in the state, with $4m for an investigation of the Perth to Bunbury corridor.

$5m has also been allocated to the Kenwick Intermodal Terminal. WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said the funding would grow the amount of work in the state.

“We already have a pipeline of $6.5 billion of major road and rail works underway across Western Australia over the next two years – this will extend the pipeline of work and will continue to help the State economy through and past COVID-19.”

Besides the $50m in funding for the Beams Road overpass, the $1.3bn allocated to Queensland will be spent on roads. No funding will be spent on rail in South Australia, Tasmania, the ACT, and the Northern Territory.

Administrator of Queensland-based rail group Rail Back on Track Robert Dow listed 11 rail projects needing funding in the state, including improvements to the Sunshine Coast line, Ipswich rail extensions, and Salisbury to Beaudesert commuter rail.

“This is simply not sustainable,” said Dow. “We need a proper balance between rail and roads.”

Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Catherine King said that funding must follow through on the announcement.

“It is essential that these latest funding promises are delivered now, not years down the line.”

Fast rail vision for South East Queensland

Mayors from South East Queensland are renewing calls for a fast rail network linking major cities in the region.

The collection of mayors, which covers 10 local government areas from the Sunshine Coast to the Gold Coast and out to Toowoomba, is advocating for a fast rail network that would operate at speeds in excess of 160km/h.

This would contribute to the collective’s vision of a 45-minute region, where city to city trips could be completed in 45 minutes.

The Mayors argue that reducing travel times between the nodes of the region would boost economic growth and reduce reliance on private vehicles. A compromise 60-minute region could also generate similar benefits, but with a cheaper price tag.

The Council of Mayors estimate that a 60-minute region would allow for connections between the Brisbane city centre to hubs such as Loganlea within 22 minutes, Ipswich in 24 minutes, and Caboolture in 35 minutes.

The plan also targets rising congestion, and notes that in doing nothing, congestion will cost the region’s economy $6 billion by 2031.

Fast rail would also tie together the region’s four international airports in Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and Toowoomba, enabling increases in visitation and spending. With the region bidding for the Olympic Games in 2032, a fast rail network is seen as needed to move spectators during the event.

The Council of Mayors note that the current Citytrain network is no longer able to service the region’s needs with an average running speed on the latest fleet, the New Generation Rollingstock of 60km/h.

“At these speeds, Citytrain is too slow to offer commuters in the outer rings of South East Queensland a reason to leave their cars behind and use public transport,” write the Mayors.

Rail advocacy group Rail Back on Track welcomed the group’s proposal, noting that current infrastructure was not up to scratch.

“The SEQ Citytrain network is over tasked and cannot provide fast rail services as is,” said Robert Dow, administration for Rail Back on Track.

The Council of Mayor said that now was the time to act. ‘

“The Queensland Government has the option to kickstart the exploration of Fast Rail now and use it as a smart investment for the state’s economic recovery – or miss this opportunity and know that the Queensland economy will pay a hefty price for it in years to come.”


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.


Services increase on SEQ network, but group calls for more infrastructure

105 train services will be added to the South East Queensland (SEQ) public transport network on weekdays from August 10, to support safe travel.

The train services are in addition to almost 1,000 extra bus services as the state welcomes commuters back to public transport.

“We have no community transmission here and active cases are in single digits, so our buses, trains, trams and ferries are safe,” said Queensland Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey.

Patronage is down on the network by about 50 per cent compared to the same time last year, however the state is expecting an increase with universities reopening and office workers returning to the CBD. Currently about 330,000 trips are made a day on the public transport network.

“We don’t expect those numbers to immediately climb back to where they were before COVID-19 arrived but we still want to spread passengers out as much as we can, and these extra services will help do that,” said Bailey.

“This boost to morning and afternoon peak services will add almost 58,000 extra seats on buses and trains.”

While the increase in bus services are a trial, the extra train services will be permanent across seven lines. Services will run every 15 minutes in the morning and afternoon on the Beenleigh, Caboolture, Cleveland, Ipswich, Redcliffe Peninsula, Shorncliffe, and Springfrield lines.

Queensland is still encouraging passengers to spread their commute where possible outside of the peaks and as part of its COVID-19 Safe Public Transport Plan is installing hand sanitiser stations at all train stations.

The Queensland government has been encouraging passengers to use active transport and public transport as part of the “Reboot your commute” campaign, however Robert Dow from RAIL Back on Track said that active and public transport in South East Queensland remained low by international standards.

“RAIL Back On Track calls on the major political parties and the RACQ to stop proposing ‘congestion busting’ urban freeway projects in the upcoming Queensland election and instead announce major significant public transport and supporting active transport investment,” said Dow.

Dow listed 16 initiatives across SEQ, including some such as the Beerburrum to Nambour and Salisbury to Beaudesert commuter rail upgrades which have been languishing for 10 years or more.

Plans to remove level crossing in Carseldine, Brisbane fully funded

Plans to remove another level crossing in Brisbane’s suburbs have been backed by funding from all levels of government, with work to begin in 2021.

The Queensland state government will contribute $128 million to deliver the plans to remove the Beams Road level crossing near the Carseldine train station in Brisbane’s north. The federal government is contributing $50m and the Brisbane City Council $70m.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said that the plan would outline designs to reduce congestion and increase safety.

“Every time that boom arm goes down at the Beams Road level crossing, that means more time for people waiting in traffic.”

Local MP Bart Mellish said that the plan would also cover improvements to the station precinct and surrounding area.

“There are also opportunities ahead to build new public spaces and upgrade the road network as part of Carseldine Urban Village, so this project will build on that and transform how are community connects.”

Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey said that a business case for the level crossing removal will be completed early next year, with construction to start later in 2021.

“With funding committed in Brisbane City Council’s budget and federally, we have a solid commitment to upgrade roads, remove the rail level crossing and build more parking spaces at Carseldine train station,” he said.

Designs for an expanded park n’ ride at Carseldine station have already been finalised and work will begin on that project before the end of 2020, said Bailey.

The announcement of funding for Beams Road is in addition to level crossing removal projects at Boundary Road, in Coopers Plains, and Lindum.

Local rail advocacy group Rail Back on Track welcomed the news that these level crossing will go, however cautioned that with increases in frequency once the Cross River Rail project is complete, more crossings will have to go.

“A potential catastrophic situation awaits as frustrated motor vehicle drivers are tempted to race boom gates,” said group administrator Robert Dow.

“Unless there is a commitment from both sides of the political fence to step up the rate of level crossing elimination (grade separation) there will be increasing impacts on the road transport network and the reliability and safety of rail itself.”

The group called for a commitment to remove two or three level crossings a year and the establishment of an authority similar to the Level Crossing Removal Project in Victoria.