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.”

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.”

Industry welcomes appointment of Inland Rail expert panel

Pacific National and Wagner Corporation have welcomed the establishment of an independent panel of experts to resolve concerns regarding flooding along the Inland Rail route.

The two companies have joined as part of an initial business agreement to develop a rail freight and logistics hub in Toowoomba, alongside the Inland Rail corridor.

“Expert advice and reassurance about flood modelling and engineering solutions is urgently needed for both affected regional communities and future potential investors,” said Pacific National CEO Dean Dalla Valle.

The expert panel was formed in April 2020 and seeks to understand and alleviate the concerns of landholders on the Condamine floodplain, who have raised issues with the flood modelling which guided the design of Inland Rail. The panel’s draft Terms of Reference are currently available for public comment.

Dalla Valle said that the formation of the panel and the adoption of its findings is essential to realising the estimated $13.3 billion in benefits of the freight rail line.

“Make no mistake, in the current economic climate, private sector investment along the Inland Rail route will quickly dry up if this project gets ‘stuck in the mud’ on the Condamine Floodplain.”

As a leader of a locally-based business, non-executive chairman of Wagner Corporation John Wagner said that the panel was a step in the right direction.

“I’m heartened to see the Australian Government placing a keen focus and effort on resolving any remaining hydrological and engineering issues of the Inland Rail project across the Condamine Floodplain.”

Pacific National and Wagner Corporation highlighted that once the project passes its final hurdles, the community will immediately benefit.

“Inland Rail is largely a shovel-ready project, meaning hundreds of Queensland construction workers, contractors and suppliers can be mobilised quickly to help revive regional economies hard hit by years of drought and now the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic,” said Wagner.

The partnership between Pacific National and Wagner Corporation is one example of the step change that could occur in Australia’s logistics network and supply chains. The companies are exploring the development of a rail to air intermodal terminal in Toowoomba that could export rail borne freight internationally from Toowoomba, via the Wellcamp international airport, located next to the proposed intermodal terminal. The logistics hub would also enable primary producers in the Darling Downs access to the national rail freight network, said Wagner.

“Wellcamp Business Park is the perfect place to develop a major logistics hub in south east Queensland. The Darling Downs is one of the most productive agricultural regions in Australia, while Toowoomba is an incredibly progressive and vibrant regional city.”

Dalla Valle also highlighted the community benefits that come with getting more freight on rail.

“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’,” said Dalla Valle.

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.

Inland Rail sparks discussions for rail-road-air intermodal hub in Toowoomba

Pacific National and Wagner Corporation have entered into detailed discussions for a major logistics hub at Wellcamp Business Park, in Toowoomba.

The announcement is tangible evidence of the $13.3 billion in benefits that the federal government estimates Inland Rail will bring to regional communities along the alignment.

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 2.7km 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 wider Darling Downs region is not only part of the South-East Queensland food bowl, but a hub for manufacturing and resources industry. The idea for an intermodal terminal in here was sparked by another intermodal terminal connected to the Inland Rail line, said John Wagner, non-executive chairman of Wagner Corporation.

“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.

Dalla Valle highlighted that the benefits would extend beyond the industry to societal and environmental outcomes.

“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, an 1,800-metre-long freight train hauling shipping containers is equivalent to removing 140 B-double return truck trips from our roads.”

Toowoomba has been a centre for discussions about the future of rail in South East Queensland, with the Inland Rail agreement signed there, and fast passenger rail options being explored.

Councils join push for Brisbane-Toowoomba passenger rail

Multiple levels of government are now working to get travellers on trains between Brisbane and Toowoomba.

Three councils between Brisbane and Toowoomba have formed an Alliance to advocate for rail in connecting the two cities.

The Ipswich to Toowoomba Passenger Rail Alliance, made up of the Lockyer Valley Regional Council, the Toowoomba Regional Council and the Ipswich City Council, has also invited industry representatives to join the grouping.

“Toowoomba is Australia’s largest inland non-capital city, yet has no meaningful passenger rail link, so this is an opportunity we cannot miss,” said Toowoomba Regional Council Mayor Paul Antonio.

In the 2018-2019 federal budget, the Australian government committed up to $15 million to a Business Case for passenger rail between Toowoomba and Brisbane. The line would pass through Ipswich and the towns of Gatton, Grantham, and Helidon, before reaching Toowoomba.

While irregular services currently operate between Toowoomba and Brisbane, the narrow gauge line limits the productivity of the line, as does its steepness.

The federal government’s business case will investigate upgrading the existing line to enable frequent commuter passenger rail services and integrating passenger services in freight corridors.

The trio of councils want the local community to be included in any final decision, said Lockyer Valley Regional Council Mayor Tanya Milligan.

“We want to ensure our local communities are adequately included in the business case, so we’re seeking active involvement from key sectors across Council regions in that process.”

A future rail line would benefit the communities it passes through, said Antonio.

“Faster regular passenger rail between Brisbane and Toowoomba via Ipswich is vital for the future of the wider region, especially in providing reliable access to employment, tertiary education, specialist health services and tourism opportunities.”

Already, Lockyer Valley Tourism are onboard with the Alliance, and the council will be looking for other participants.

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.