Opinion article

Time for Australia to get Inland Rail ready

As work officially begins on the Inland Rail project with the turning of the first sod, John Fullerton outlines the economic and environmental benefits of this major national infrastructure project. 

For some time, it seemed Inland Rail was one of those projects seemingly destined to be written into Australian folklore as a ‘will it ever happen?’ idea. 

But the turning of the first sod of the project in Parkes today makes it very much a reality. Importantly, it signals that our country is turning the corner on managing our freight challenge. A big, growing, but often forgotten part of meeting the needs of our growing population.

Many Australians are concerned about our crowded motorways and packed passenger trains. But when the country’s population ticked over 25 million in August this year, we glazed over the fact that each and every one of those 25 million people are also consumers that boxes of freight move around for. 

And while our regions are already benefitting with over $600 million worth of contracts already awarded and jobs created in Parkes, Whyalla, the Southern Highlands and Tamworth, among others – it is exciting to consider what Inland Rail will bring to our  nation, once built. 

Inland Rail is one, large, piece to the puzzle of how we respond to the future needs of Australians, as our country continues to grow, and along with it, our freight demands more than double by 2030. 

Once built, Inland Rail will transform the way Australia moves freight around the country and provide the backbone for a world-class supply chain, connecting communities, farmers and local businesses. 
Rail distance between Melbourne and Brisbane will be reduced by 200km, and by 500km between both Brisbane and Perth and Brisbane and Adelaide.

It is vital infrastructure quite simply because the current method of transporting freight mostly by road – is unsustainable. 

That’s not some road versus rail argument, far from it – road transport remains and always will be critical to the nation’s prosperity. But, rather, with freight volumes growing faster than population, we need to answer the question of how we best move goods around our vast nation.  

It can’t all be shifted by road. 

Congestion is costing our economy $16 billion a year in lost productivity and this is projected to grow to as much as $20 billion by 2020 .

There’s a road maintenance bill that Councils, State Governments and road authorities can’t keep up with. 

There’s an ongoing road safety challenge. 

And we need to address our future carbon emissions.

That’s why Inland Rail is a key part of the solution. It brings a national benefit: now – during construction – and for decades to come, given the influence it will have on our freight future.

Benefits will be seen and felt by everyday Australians, producers, commuters and motorists – such as the 16,000 jobs it’ll create during the peak of construction. 

Rail costs for inter-capital freight travelling between Melbourne and Brisbane will be reduced.  This is great news for our industries and our economy. 

The project is forecast to boost Australia’s GDP by $16 billion during its delivery period and operation. A 1700km long rail line, connecting existing national interstate railways as well as regional rail networks, it will offer a less than 24-hour transit time for freight trains operating between Melbourne and Brisbane. It will enable long, (1800m), big, (double-stacked) freight trains, increasing productivity and delivering cost and efficiency benefits.

This road-competitive model is expected to translate current inter-capital freight movements between Melbourne and Brisbane from around 25 per cent market share transported by rail to more than 60 per cent when the Inland Rail is operational. 

Inland Rail will not only transform the way Australia moves freight around the country but also support our economy by making our rail network more resilient, with multiple corridors that will better connect our farmers to existing regional freight lines.

I often paint a comparison to the Newell, Pacific and Hume Highways – there are three (four if you count the New England Highway) major freeways servicing Australia’s east coast, but only one interstate railway network today. 

Inland Rail changes that and brings with it jobs and regional development opportunities in the near term, and an improved, more efficient national supply chain for decades to come. 

Against population and freight growth demands – that is responsive, scalable infrastructure the country needs, supporting Australia’s future productivity and in turn, its success. 

About the authors

John Fullerton

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John Fullerton is CEO and Managing Director of the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC).  John’s experience in the rail industry spans more than 30 years, across strategic planning, business development, customer service, operations and engineering. He was appointed to ARTC in February 2011.