Three consortiums move to RFP stage for Gowrie to Kagaru PPP

Three consortiums have progressed to the request for proposal stage for the Gowrie to Kagaru Public Private Partnership (PPP).

The successful consortium will win the contract to build the 6.2km tunnel through the Toowoomba Range, connecting Inland Rail to the Brisbane outskirts, as well as 121.8km of above-ground track, said Inland Rail CEO Richard Wankmuller. Read more

infrastructure

Early costings on infrastructure projects leading to inaccuracy: Grattan report

Governments and project authorities need to improve costings on transport infrastructure, and megaprojects in particular, a new report highlights.

The Grattan Institute’s The rise of megaprojects: counting the costs report found that Australian transport infrastructure projects over the past two decades cost $34 billion more than initially expected. Read more

Narrabri to North Star

Contract awarded for Narrabri to North Star construction

The Trans4m Rail joint venture has been announced as the successful contractor for the construction of Inland Rail between Narrabri and North Star.

The $693 million contract covers phase one of the Narrabri to North Star leg, which includes upgrading 171km of existing track. A contract for phase two, including 15km of track upgrade and 2.3km of new track, will be awarded separately.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said the project would be built by local businesses.

“Inland Rail is going to change the freight task in Australia and in doing so will create opportunity in regional Australia with unprecedented investment and job creation,” he said.

“This nationally significant infrastructure is being built by the skills and expertise of Australian businesses – businesses that invest locally, drive regional employment and give back to communities along this 1,700km corridor of commerce.”

Trans4m rail is a joint venture between John Holland and SEE Civil. Lendlease and another joint venture RailFirst made up of Downer EDI and Seymour White had also been shortlisted for the contract.

Local member for Parkes Mark Coulton said the winning tenderer would invest locally.

“Trans4m Rail has made a commitment to employ local people, engage local businesses and suppliers and work with communities in North West NSW to ensure the benefits of Inland Rail are felt throughout the community.”

Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said that the project would enable more freight to be handled by rail.

“The upgrade of another 171km of track is another important piece in the puzzle to delivering better and quicker freight access to our primary producers in regional Australia, helping them get their product to markets in Australia and overseas with more ease.”

Coulton said that this region was already seeing greater investment.

“This project is about more than just steel tracks – we’re already seeing opportunities for industry to invest in the region through the Northern NSW Inland Port at Narrabri and the Moree Special Activation Precinct – leveraging the advantages of Inland Rail to provide long-term employment and scope for future growth.”

Preliminary design contract awarded for southern NSW sections of Inland Rail

The contract to carry out reference design and accompanying primary approvals documentation on two sections of the Inland Rail project has been awarded.

WSP Australia will carry out the work on the Albury to Illabo and Stockinbingal to Parkes sections, said project director Melvyn Maylin.

“A range of investigations will be delivered under the new contract, including ecological and geotechnical surveying, as well as scrutiny of impacts to cultural heritage, noise, air quality and utilities,” he said.

“This is an important step in progressing these two enhancement projects in southern New South Wales.”

The two sections have been combined together due to their similarities, reducing time and cost.

“The benefits of combining the two Inland Rail projects into the same service provider package is that both sections are enhancement projects in existing rail corridors, rather than new construction,” said Maylin.

“By nature, they are similar types of work and this approach will lead to cost effective and efficient project delivery.”

Work on the two sections with a combined length of 358km largely involves upgrading the current rail line to enable double stacked freight trains to run on the future route. Specific works will include increasing vertical clearances around bridges and new crossing loops.

The 37km section of new track from Illabo to Stockinbingal is still in the reference design stage.

The two sections have been identified as needing to progress by the NSW government, which handles planning approvals.

“The Albury to Illabo section has been classified State Significant Infrastructure by the NSW Government, and is currently in the process of an Environmental Impact Statement approvals pathway,” said Maylin.

“As for the Stockinbingal to Parkes project, the environmental assessment will be through four Review of Environmental Factors (REFs).”

The tenders for the first packages of construction work will follow reference design and planning approvals. This is expected in late 2021.

The railroad out of recovery: Catherine King’s vision for rail

Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport & Regional Development Catherine King sets out how rail transport could lead Australia out of a COVID-19 recession.

In July 2019, prior to the arrival of COVID-19, governor of the Reserve Bank, Philip Lowe called on governments around the country to invest more in infrastructure. Cutting the official cash rate to a then-record 1 per cent, Lowe said that more spending on infrastructure was needed.

“This spending adds to demand in the economy and – provided the right projects are selected – it also adds to the country’s productive capacity. It is appropriate to be thinking about further investments in this area, especially with interest rates at a record low, the economy having spare capacity and some of our existing infrastructure struggling to cope with ongoing population growth,” he told the Darwin business community.

Much has changed since that speech, but in some ways, Lowe’s words could be read, word for word, again, with added emphasis, as the cash rate is now 0.25 per cent and spare capacity in the form of unemployment has only risen.

To hear how the federal government and opposition are responding to this call for an infrastructure-led recovery, earlier in 2020, Rail Express spoke to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack and his shadow, Catherine King. The below interview with King has been condensed and edited for clarity and length. To read Rail Express‘s interview with Michael McCormack, follow this link.

THE ROUTE AHEAD FOR INLAND RAIL
It’s a project that all major parties support, however Inland Rail has been a headache for the government and the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) since objections have been raised to the route over floodplains in northern NSW and Queensland. With the rail industry looking for certainty over the project, governments are hoping to increase the project’s momentum.

Rail Express (REX): Labor has brought up some concerns with Inland Rail in the past, particularly around the section over the Condamine River floodplain in Queensland, how confident are you in the delivery of this project, particularly that section in Queensland?

Catherine King: Labor supports Inland Rail and in fact we put the first billion dollars into the project to actually get it started. I’m surprised the government has taken the notion of Inland Rail very literally with it not having any connection to the Port of Brisbane or the Port of Melbourne. They are important, difficult, and challenging issues to sort out but you can’t just build Inland Rail with no connectivity to either port. These projects are complex and we know that you’re never going to please everybody and there are issues around having to procure land, having to dissect across farmland, but one of the things that I’ve learnt as being a long time local MP and also having portfolios like this before is that you have to get the consultation right and when you’ve got such a big community expressing significant concern about the sort of hydrology work that has been done by the government and a lack of transparency about how the decision was made, you’ve got a problem.

REX: How would Labor look to extend Inland Rail or make those connections to other freight networks around Australia?

King: If we were fortunate enough to be in government in 2022, we don’t know what plans would be in place but what I would like to see is the start of a discussion about it. At the moment all we know about it is there’s going to be significantly increased trucks going through Acacia Ridge but no plan or discussion about what some of the alternatives are. The government needs to start that work now because without those connections Inland Rail doesn’t make as much sense as it should.

Catherine King
Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport & Regional Development Catherine King.

A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD FOR FREIGHT
Without freight rail continuing to operate throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Australia’s supermarkets shelves would be empty and commodities would be sitting at farms and mines, never making it to market. To ensure that this critical link in the logistics chain continued to operate, governments stepped in, allowing freight to cross otherwise closed borders. In May, the ARTC provided some financial relief for rail freight operators by extending payment terms for current access charges and deferring a consumer price index increase that was scheduled for July. Rail freight operators are still concerned however, with more empty containers being transported by sea, and a lack of competitive neutrality with road freight.

REX: Would you want to go back and have a look at competitive pricing neutrality between rail and road, and access charges?

King: That wasn’t part of our policy at the last election but we’ve just seen an extraordinary effort in terms of all our freight and logistics companies, whether it has been rail through to what’s happened in the trucking industry.

I think there’s a much stronger appreciation about the role that our freight and logistics companies play and we support the government’s pausing of some of those fees and charges in order to make sure that we get through this crisis. As a nation, what’s the most efficient way of delivering our freight? It’s important to ensure that we don’t pick one over another that we make sure that there is a reasonably level playing field for both but what we want to focus on is ensuring that we have the most efficient system that we possibly can whether it is road, whether it is rail, or whether it’s via shipping and our ports.

THE FASTER OR HIGH-SPEED RAIL DILEMMA
In a speech delivered to shadow cabinet in May, Anthony Albanese reaffirmed Labor’s commitment to building a high-speed rail link between Melbourne and Brisbane, via Sydney and Canberra. As a nation-building project it would certainly be iconic, but could COVID-19 actually turn Australia’s long held dream of high-speed rail into reality?

REX: High-speed rail proposals obviously have a long history in Australia. Why did Labor feel like now is the right time to return to the project?

King: Well I think we’ve never left the project to some extent. We’ve been pushing high-speed rail as a visionary rail infrastructure project for the nation for a long period of time, and obviously when we had the opportunity to hold the government benches started to progress the business case for that.

REX: Labor took the policy of a billion dollars for land acquisitions along the corridor to the last election. Is that something the party is still committed to at a federal level?

King: Well obviously we’re reviewing all of our policies at the moment, we’re two years out from the next federal election and we’ll have a bit to say in the lead up to the next election in terms of our transport policies including rail. Obviously money is going to be pretty tight this time around for both sides of politics, given the COVID-19 crisis, but we’ve laid a marker down pretty clearly that we think high-speed rail is an important long-term economic opportunity for our nation and shouldn’t be one that’s lost.

REX: There’s also a number of proposals for faster rail. How would Labour see a program of high-speed rail interacting with the current businesses cases focused on faster rail on similar corridors to those the high-speed rail line would follow?

King: Faster rail can be anything from substantial corridor improvements, improvements in rail technology, through to more expensive projects of duplication and looking at improving some of the regional rail networks. It doesn’t have to be either or but what you have to do is be serious about it. There’s lots of potential for regional rail improvements and we should be looking at that all the time.

REX: One of the stumbling blocks for high- speed rail has been that price tag but there are alternative funding methods such as value capture that are used to get projects like these off the ground. Would you be looking at these as a way to fund a high-speed rail project?

King: One of the things that coronavirus crisis has shown us is that we’ve lacked any large scale, iconic infrastructure transport project and Anthony in his vision speech wanted to particularly go back and highlight high-speed rail because of a couple of things. One is the investment potential that it has, but also the nation building potential that it has, in terms of developing a much stronger sense of regional and decentralised towns from Melbourne from Sydney, all the way up to Brisbane.

REX: Another element of Anthony Albanese’s speech was calling for the local manufacturing of rollingstock. Albanese nominated successes in Queensland, WA, and Victoria. How would Labour seek to expand this to other states and for builds to continue happening in those states that already have a manufacturing capability?

King: My hometown of Ballarat is a railway town. We still have our railway workshops here, many of the X’Trapolis trains are built here as well, and they’re really important skilled manufacturing jobs for our region. Part of the problem for many of those manufacturers has been that the procurement is really patchy. Each state and territory government does that separately, they may procure three trains here, they may do 50, and the manufacturers in my own constituency tell me it’s that long term pipeline of projects that keeps those railway workshop doors open.

COVID-19 has taught us that our manufacturing does have enormous capability, but it does need support. One of the things we announced in the 2019 election campaign was that we felt there was a need to have a national rail procurement strategy to actually start to look at how you can smooth out some of those lags that occur in rollingstock procurement so that we can continue to still have those terrific railway workshops here. We’ve got a great history of it, and we don’t want to see railway manufacturing go the way of the car industry. You need a plan to support it, to keep it here and to keep local jobs here.

REX: Would you support or encourage quotes or targets for locally manufactured rollingstock like there are in Victoria?

King: As a Victorian I’m very attracted to the plan that the Victorian government has in relation to local procurement. Federally we are subject to trade law as well so we always have to be conscious about that but I am a big fan. Many people have decided that we should be manufacturing more things that we are capable of manufacturing in this country and I’m a big fan of local content and local procurement.

The railroad out of recovery: Michael McCormack’s vision for rail

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack sets out how rail transport could lead Australia out of a COVID-19 recession.

In July 2019, prior to the arrival of COVID-19, governor of the Reserve Bank, Philip Lowe called on governments around the country to invest more in infrastructure. Cutting the official cash rate to a then-record 1 per cent, Lowe said that more spending on infrastructure was needed.

“This spending adds to demand in the economy and – provided the right projects are selected – it also adds to the country’s productive capacity. It is appropriate to be thinking about further investments in this area, especially with interest rates at a record low, the economy having spare capacity and some of our existing infrastructure struggling to cope with ongoing population growth,” he told the Darwin business community.

Much has changed since that speech, but in some ways, Lowe’s words could be read, word for word, again, with added emphasis, as the cash rate is now 0.25 per cent and spare capacity in the form of unemployment has only risen.

To hear how the federal government and opposition are responding to this call for an infrastructure-led recovery, earlier in 2020, Rail Express spoke to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack and his shadow, Catherine King. The below interview with McCormack has been condensed and edited for clarity and length. To read Rail Express‘s interview with Catherine King, follow this link.

THE ROUTE AHEAD FOR INLAND RAIL
It’s a project that all major parties support, however Inland Rail has been a headache for the government and the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) since objections have been raised to the route over floodplains in northern NSW and Queensland. With the rail industry looking for certainty over the project, governments are hoping to increase the project’s momentum.

Rail Express (REX): In June this year there was another review announced about the project, this time looking at the so-called forestry route. Can you provide industry with some certainty about the project, particularly that critical stage between the NSW-Queensland border and Gowrie?

Michael McCormack: It’s important that regional Australia understands that by the mid-2020s when this project is completed that it is going to bring the benefits that have been talked about since the 1890s. There’s been independent analysis, there’s been hydrological reports, there’s been everything you would expect to be in a project of this size, scale, and scope. With the Condamine Plain, I appreciate that some local people have some issues with the selected route and so to certainly make sure that we’ve got the right route we’re looking at that forestry route. We’ll put the ruler over it, we’ll have independent analysis of it, we’ll have a hydrological study of it, just to make sure that the right route is eventually selected.

REX: Currently, we have forestry route review and then we have the independent panel who are reviewing the hydrological modelling on the original route, what happens if the conclusions out of both come into conflict?

McCormack: Of course we need to take on board the expert advice, to make sure that the full benefits are passed on, making sure that we can get goods from paddock to port within 24 hours. When you talk to people as I have in the Toowoomba area, and you take Jill Allwright, she’s got a cereal producing factory there, she moved to Toowoomba eight years ago. She set up her company and she’s really looking forward to Inland Rail because freight is over 20 per cent of her operating costs.

REX: I imagine businesses up and down the line such as Allwright’s would appreciate a connection to the ports of Melbourne and Brisbane as well?

McCormack: Well they will, and they’re already benefiting and during COVID-19 when so many industries have been shut down and so many jobs have been lost it’s heartening and rewarding to see that along the Parkes to Narromine section work has just continued and that’s employing thousands of people directly and indirectly.

REX: But in terms of the direct connection between Acacia Ridge and the Port of Brisbane for double stacked trains which is such a significant aspect of what makes Inland Rail competitive, how are you going to ensure that a rail connection is built, if not when the line is opened, soon afterwards?

McCormack: We’re working through those issues with state government as well as local governments. The NSW government for instance has put a special activation precinct around the Bowman area at north Wagga Wagga and invested heavily into that, and so there is buy in there for state governments, there is buy in there for local governments and of course private entities as well. We will continue to work with and negotiate with and embrace all the activity involved with Inland Rail and it’s been a collaborative project.

A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD FOR FREIGHT
Without freight rail continuing to operate throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Australia’s supermarkets shelves would be empty and commodities would be sitting at farms and mines, never making it to market. To ensure that this critical link in the logistics chain continued to operate, governments stepped in, allowing freight to cross otherwise closed borders. In May, the ARTC provided some financial relief for rail freight operators by extending payment terms for current access charges and deferring a consumer price index increase that was scheduled for July. Rail freight operators are still concerned however, with more empty containers being transported by sea, and a lack of competitive neutrality with road freight.

REX: Freight rail has rightly been recognised for the critical role it has played during the COVID-19 pandemic, how are you going to ensure the competitiveness of rail freight continues after the crisis?

McCormack: Some of the real heroes in COVID 19 have been train drivers and intermodal workers, who have delivered. We’ve got this national freight and supply chain strategy since August 2019 when states and territories agreed with the federal government to sign up to the 20 year plan and we’ve got a five year national action plan. We’re tackling the growing and changing freight task and Inland Rail is going to dovetail into that.

REX: One of the concerns of the rail freight industry has been about a lack of a level playing field between rail freight and road transport. One positive thing that we saw come out of the crisis was that the ARTC extended the payment terms for current access charges and suspended CPI-tied increases to the fees.

McCormack: We need everybody to be a player in this regard and yes there have been pressures on rail, I understand that, but that’s why Inland Rail is so important. That’s why the Victorian rail revival and other projects that we’re doing, both transpoting people and transporting freight, are just so crucial and that’s why we are investing so heavily. I am talking to ministers of all political persuasions to get the right outcomes. Is crucial that we get all the right investment in track, the right investment by states in rollingstock, and we bring about benefits for all.

REX: But for those particular fees, for the road transport industry, CPI increases heavy vehicle road user charges have been suspended for about half a decade, while it just happened now for rail. Is there a possibility to extend that to create a more competitive rail freight environment?

McCormack: We do want a more competitive rail freight industry and that’s why we are investing so heavily in it. At the end of the day, businesses and private individuals if they want to get something transported from one side of the country to the other or indeed from one town to the next, they’ll always make decisions based on cost. We want every stakeholder in the country to be competitive, whether it’s air, rail, road, or indeed whether it’s our sea lanes and our maritime freight, has a part to play in this.

Michael McCormack
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack.

AN INFRASTRUCTURE LED RECOVERY?
Infrastructure will undoubtedly play a role in getting Australia back to work after the COVID-19 recession, but what form that infrastructure will take is still up in the air. While some jurisdictions are looking for zero emissions mobility and rail to play a larger role, funding announced so far has brought forward a number of smaller roads projects around Australia, to ensure that planning times are reduced. While the age of the megaproject is not over yet, what shape those projects take could be very different in the future.

REX: What projects are you looking at in terms of bringing forward work or funding and is there a change in preference in terms of wanting to do smaller projects that can get started straight away?

McCormack: Well I can almost say watch this space because it was of course really genuinely pleasing to be working with the states and request that they bring forward some of the projects that we’ve asked them to. I wrote to them late last year and I sent another letter to them early this year when COVID-19 really started to take hold on all aspects of the economy.

REX: There’s two projects, for example, that are sitting with you right now awaiting federal approval; the Murray Darling Basin Rail Project and Melbourne Airport Rail. Is there any indication that you can move forward on either of those?

McCormack: I’ve actually messaged Victorian Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan about that and other infrastructure projects. There’s a lot happening in Victoria, a lot happening with Commonwealth money of course, and we want to make sure that whether it’s Murray Basin Rail or Melbourne Airport Rail, it’s something that’s been talked about for years and years and we’re delivering.

REX: In particular with the Melbourne Airport Rail Link, your colleague Treasurer Josh Frydenburg has suggested that super funds should bring forward more investment in infrastructure and this is one project where a consortium of super funds said they want to build a tunnel from Sunshine to Southern Cross station. Are you leaning towards a tunnel or an above ground option?

McCormack: Let’s continue to talk about that. There are some announcements that are soon to be made, whether it’s Melbourne, whether it’s our capital cities or whether it is our most rural and remote and outback towns. There’s plans being drawn up whether it’s tunnels for rail, tunnels for the Coffs Harbour bypass or whether it’s just getting that long awaited bitumen on roads in outback dusty Queensland cattle tracks.

THE FASTER OR HIGH-SPEED RAIL DILEMMA
In a speech delivered to shadow cabinet in May, Anthony Albanese reaffirmed Labor’s commitment to building a high-speed rail link between Melbourne and Brisbane, via Sydney and Canberra. As a nation-building project it would certainly be iconic, but could COVID-19 actually turn Australia’s long held dream of high-speed rail into reality?

REX: The leader of the opposition brought up high-speed rail but you have suggested you wanted to focus on faster rail. Could you give us an indication about your thinking about why you’d like to focus on faster rail rather than high-speed rail?

McCormack: I can remember holding a community conference in my home town of Wagga Wagga when I first was elected back in 2010. The late Brian Nye headed up the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) back then and I invited him to speak. I was amazed at how many people turned up but even back then, the cost of high-speed rail a link between Sydney and Melbourne via Canberra, it had a price tag then on it of $114 billion. That figure has just escalated and while there have been moves to protect and preserve the corridor so that we can ultimately do something along these lines you have to have the willingness, the capacity, and also the commuter interest to do it.

Australia is a big country and we don’t have the population that some of those countries which have invested heavily in high-speed rail do. In Australia we’re investing in the infrastructure fits the bill for what we’re doing right now.

High-speed rail, I’d like to see it in my lifetime, but we’re a big country and we’re very densely populated in our capital cities. There are opportunities of course for this type of investment but given the fact that it’s going to be very difficult to with COVID-19 to actually find that sort of investment anywhere in the world at the moment, there are other priorities at hand.

Final approvals passed for Narrabri to North Star Inland Rail

The environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Narrabri to North Star leg of Inland Rail has been approved, paving the way for construction to begin before the end of 2020.

The EIS is one of the final approvals required for the project, with the section already approved by NSW planning authorities.

The leg from Narrabri to North Star involves upgrading 186km of existing rail corridor and 2.3km of new track construction.

Inland Rail was one of 15 projects fast tracked under federal government regulation in June this year. This enabled the project to pass state and federal approvals quickly and be ready for construction sooner.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said that by passing this latest stage in approval, more benefits could flow to the communities along the alignment.

“Inland Rail will play a key role in getting our economy back on track because it means more people in jobs and it means more productivity for so many industries and local businesses,” he said.

“On the Parkes to Narromine section, 1,800 jobs were supported and more than $109 million was spent with 99 local businesses – we’re looking forward to seeing Northern New South Wales enjoy similar benefits soon with construction on this section starting later this year.”

Federal member for Parkes, Mark Coulton, said that the experience of the recently completed first stage, from Parkes to Narromine, would indicate how the next sections would play out.

“The first recently completed section – Parkes to Narromine – provided a significant boost to businesses across a range of industries, including concrete supply, transportation, fencing, earthmoving, accommodation, hospitality and security in what has been a difficult time for many rural businesses with drought, fires and now COVID-19,” he said.

“Northern NSW has a proud history of agricultural excellence – the long term benefits of this transformational project will better connect our region to east coast ports and create new supply chains to better move the produce and products we are famous for.”

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann highlighted that Inland Rail is one of the nationally significant infrastructure projects that hopes to restart the economy after COVID-19.

“Inland Rail will support more than 5,000 jobs in New South Wales during construction and as each section is completed, more fast and reliable rail services will become available to industry and regional producers across Australia,” Minister Cormann said.

“Large scale infrastructure projects are a key driver of growth – driving investment, boosting economic development, creating many news jobs and opportunities for local businesses.”

New procurement process for Inland Rail contracts

The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) will speed up and de-risk the procurement process for Inland Rail in a new procurement and packaging plan.

Inland Rail CEO Richard Wankmuller said the plan was developed in response to feedback from industry.

“Industry has clearly sent a message that Inland Rail needs to work more closely with project proponents to accelerate project tenders, maximise opportunities to participate and de-risk procurement processes. Doing so will deliver the greatest benefit for government, industry and small and medium regional businesses,” he said.

The plan will provide to industry opportunities on a number of projects, and the ARTC is currently seeking registrations of interest in civil works packages on three sections, Narromine to Narrabri, North Star to Border, and Border to Gowrie.

The procurement plan will cover other sections of Inland Rail, including:

  • Albury to Illabo
  • Illabo to Stockinbingal
  • Stockinbingal to Parkes
  • Narromine to Narrabri
  • North Star to NSW/QLD Border
  • NSW/QLD Border to Gowrie
  • Kagaru to Acacia Ridge and Bromelton

Wankmuller said that the project has opportunities for large and small businesses.

“By investing now and getting tenders out faster, this mega-project is offering tender packages ideally suited to a range of suppliers and contractors, big and small,” he said.

“Inland Rail is also being predominantly delivered – 90 per cent – in regional Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland away from the overheated metropolitan infrastructure markets meaning there is greater opportunity for regional Australia to reap the rewards.”

Chief Executive of the Australian Contractors Association Jon Davies said the procurement approach improve social and economic benefits that come from investment.

“It has never been more important for industry and Clients to work together collaboratively in order to efficiently deliver projects and leverage their social and economic benefits”, he said.

“We welcome ARTC’s new approach to procurement and our members look forward to working with ARTC and the Inland Rail team as these new opportunities arise in coming months.”

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said the works packages would spread the benefit of the project.

“Inland Rail’s construction is providing a boost for local businesses and communities at a time it’s most needed,” said McCormack.

“By dividing this nation-building project into smaller parts, more local businesses can bid for this valuable work, contributing to Australia’s future.”

Construction of the Parkes to Narromine section was recently completed, and a contract for the construction of Narrabri to North Star is expected in the coming weeks.

First section of Inland Rail complete

The first section of Inland Rail, linking Parkes and Narromine in the NSW Central West, has been completed.

A ceremonial opening of the line was held today, September 15, at Peak Hill, where the first shipment of steel was delivered to begin the project in January 2018.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said that today marked a historic point in the project.

“Inland Rail is nation-building and today recognises a great milestone in this transformational infrastructure,” he said.

“Inland Rail is an investment in Australia – in our economy, in our regions and in the capacity of our future freight network.”

Industry welcomed the breakthrough on this stage of the project, which when complete will link Melbourne and Brisbane by rail in under 24 hours. Chair of the Freight on Rail Group Dean Dalla Valle said this would improve the competitiveness of rail.

“In the past, trucks would do the ‘first and last mile’ between rail terminals and ports, warehouses, distribution centres and manufacturing plants. Today on some key transport corridors – notably between Sydney and Melbourne – trucks are doing every mile,” he said.

“A typical 1,500-metre interstate freight train can haul up to 220 shipping containers – equivalent to approximately 180 B-double return truck trips.”

CEO of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) Caroline Wilkie said that with this section complete, the rest of the project should soon follow.

“The promise of Inland Rail has already generated significant activity in the Parkes region as the community readies itself for the opportunities better rail freight connections will bring,” she said.

“It is now critical that the project’s swift progress across the rest of the route is supported so even more communities and businesses can benefit in this way.”

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said the 1,700km freight rail link would improve Australia’s entire freight network.

Long-haul rail is cheaper, safer and more reliable than road, that’s why the Australian Government is enhancing the national freight rail network through our investment in Inland Rail,” Cormann said.

“The shift from road to rail builds resilience in our freight network – not only will Inland Rail deliver a long-term freight solution for Australia to meet the needs of our growing population – it is also a critical investment supporting an efficient Australian economy.”

A focus for the Parkes to Narromine section has been the involvement of locals, with 760 contributing to the project and $110 million spent with local businesses. Work on the project included a rebuild of almost 100km of existing rail track and a new 5.3km connection between Inland Rail and the Broken Hill line.

Steel for the project came from South Australia, concrete sleepers were sourced from Mittagong and culverts came from Tamworth. The final ‘golden clip’ which McCormack hammered into place to signify the completion of the project was one of 365,000 sourced from a supplier in Blacktown, Sydney.

Construction is expected to commence on the Narrabri to North Star leg before the end of 2020 with a contractor to be confirmed soon.

The commemorative plaque marking the opening of the P2N section of Inland Rail. Credit: Amanda Lee.