Inland Rail, Australia


Inland Rail

Inland Rail is a proposed freight rail corridor between Melbourne and Brisbane that will further connect south-east Queensland by rail with Adelaide and Perth in Australia. This corridor will traverse three states, namely Victoria, New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland.

"It is being proposed anticipating a growth in freight volumes by 12 million tonnes a year by 2050."

The long-term project is expected to be constructed in approximately ten years. It is anticipating a growth in freight volumes by 12 million tonnes a year by 2050.

It will enable Queensland's interstate rail freight to bypass the busy greater Sydney rail network and decrease the freight transit time from Melbourne and Brisbane to less than 24h, reducing the travel time by roughly 10h. The overall investment in the project is estimated to be $10.7bn.

Early works on the freight rail corridor are expected to begin in 2017, with the Australian Government having announced an additional equity commitment of $8.4bn for the full completion of the project in its 2017-2018 budget. The government had earlier committed $900m towards planning and land acquisition. The corridor is expected to be operational by 2024-2025.

The project is expected to generate approximately $16bn of direct and indirect economic benefits, 16,000 direct jobs during the peak construction phase, averaging 800 new jobs a year, and roughly 700 jobs when it starts operations. It will also help to offset more than 750,000t of CO2 emissions a year.

Background to the Inland Rail project

The first proposal to construct a rail freight corridor between Melbourne and Brisbane was made in 1902. After several suggestions over the years, the North-South Rail Corridor Study was announced in 2005 and was completed the following year, which considered a number of potential routes before settling on the far western corridor through Parkes.

The second study, named the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail Alignment Study, was announced in 2008 and completed by the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) in 2010. ARTC further examined the 2006 proposal and developed the current alignment.

In November 2013, the Australian Government formed the Inland Rail Implementation Group to oversee the development of a business case and a ten-year delivery plan for the project entrusted to ARTC.

The Inland Rail project gained impetus in 2014 following a $300m grant by the government. Pre-construction works such as the detailed corridor planning, obtaining of environmental and planning approvals, community consultations and land acquisitions were initiated subsequently.

The business case and ten-year delivery plan studies were completed in September 2015. The next step in the project will include a scoping study to evaluate options for the future management, operations and ownership of ARTC and its involvement in the project.

Inland Rail route and design details

The proposed 1,711km-long route comprises 293km of existing corridors that will be upgraded to main line standards, 709km of existing tracks that will be enhanced to enable double stacking, and 709km of the corridor that will involve the installation of new tracks. The route starts from Tottenham in Melbourne and culminates at Acacia Ridge in Brisbane.

New track will be constructed for the remaining 500km corridor section, the alignment for which is yet to be finalised. The greenfield sections will be from Illabo to Stockinbingal, Narromine to Narrabri, North Star to the New South Wales / Queensland border, and throughout the majority of the Queensland section to Kagaru.

The corridor will overall entail 1,071km of tracks and sleepers, 1,667km of fencing, 35 passing loops, 22 bridges, 908 culverts, 337 level crossings, 25 grade separations, 18 viaducts and five tunnels. The section between Toowoomba and Kagaru in Brisbane is expected to be the most complex as it includes more than 8km of tunnels to be built through the Toowoomba Range.

The route will also be designed to be fully interoperable with the interstate mainline standard gauge network to provide connectivity to the Queensland narrow gauge regional network. The signalling system envisaged for the project is the advanced train management system (ATMS).

Contractors involved with Australia's largest freight rail project

In July 2015, GHD was awarded the contract to provide environmental and engineering consultancy services for the initial stages of the project.

Macquarie Capital was appointed in December 2015 as the business adviser, whereas Herbert Smith Freehills was appointed as the legal adviser for the ARTC scoping study.

The SMEC and Arup joint venture was awarded the technical and engineering advisory contract for the project in early-2016, while GHD, Parsons Brinkerhoff, AECOM, ARUP and Jacobs were contracted for the initial environmental investigations and engineering design.