The of height of 11 rail tunnels on the Toowoomba and Little Liverpool Ranges in Queensland are to be increased, with foundation and preparation works now underway.
The first tunnel will be heightened in April, during a major track closure. Once the works are completed at all 11 sites – in approximately 12 months, according to the government – trains loaded with containerised freight will be able to travel from the Darling Downs and South West Queensland Regions directly to the Port of Brisbane.
“The lowering of 11 rail tunnel floors on the Toowoomba and Little Liverpool Ranges will create the clearance necessary to transport 9’6” high cube freight shipping containers via rail, increasingly being used to export goods,” Queensland’s transport minister Mark Bailey said.
“This project is a huge vote of confidence in the future growth of agriculture in the Darling Downs and South West Queensland Regions, which currently produces around a third of Queensland’s agricultural output and is a major area for cotton.”
Bailey further stated that the $48 million in upgrades were part of the Labor government’s effort to get more freight on rail and improve the competitiveness of the region’s agricultural sector. Raising the height of the tunnels would mean, he said, that rail would become a more “attractive and viable” option for industries wanting to improve efficiency by using larger containers to get export commodities to the Port of Brisbane.
At present, only 2 per cent of all freight arriving at the Port of Brisbane comes on rail – approximately 30,000 containers out of 1.2 million – a fall from around 13 per cent in 2003.
“We are committed to supporting economic and jobs growth in regional Queensland communities and this project will ensure farmers are supported, with the freight options in place to transport their goods to market now and into the future,” Bailey said.
“This project has the potential to help reduce the quantity of heavy vehicles required to transport freight on the highway from South West Queensland to the Port, improving safety and reducing the impact on our roads.”
BMD Constructions and WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff completed the designs for the tunnel upgrade project, and Queensland Rail will work with the former over the course of the construction phase. According to Bailey, it is expected that around 100 local construction jobs will be created over the duration of the project.
The 11 tunnels – including two tunnels on the Little Liverpool range at Laidley and nine tunnels on the Toowoomba Range – are heritage listed, having been constructed in the 1860s on Australia’s first main rail line through the Great Dividing Range.
“This project will strike a balance between maintaining the heritage status of the tunnels, while providing the modern day upgrade that is required,” Bailey stated.