Seeking the Post-COVID Sunshine Through Inland Rail: Or the Saga of a Country Without Real Plans for the Future
By Denis Bright
With its strong mandate at the 2013 national election, the federal LNP sought to reconstruct Australia on neoliberal principles. Resources exports to China and other Asian countries carried the post-2013 as the incoming government imposed its austerity programmes.
Data from the RBA tells us that nothing really replaced investment from the mining boom as the LNP selected its third leader on 24 August 2018.
Australians were offered an ideology for the future but not real plans for transport, energy, the financial sector or Australia’s role as an independent player in international relations. Some symbolic gestures like the Inland Railway were promoted as a changed progressive agenda for the regions.
The federal LNP proceeded with some haste on the Inland Railway Project which passed through most National Party electorates across Eastern Australia.
During the Keating years, the National Rail Corporation took over most interstate rail freight operations.
The Howard Government moved quickly to privatize the Commonwealth Railways. It formed the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) in 1997 to offer token financial support to the remnants of interstate rail services which would always require track maintenance for key interstate links like Sydney-Melbourne line.
Consideration was given to the privatization of the ARTC by Tony Abbott in his initial austerity drive.
With ARTC assets valued at only $4 billion, incoming Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull decided to keep the freight and track networks in government hands despite their deteriorating state after decades of cost-cutting by state authorities for both freight and the remnants of passenger services. Speed restrictions on the Sydney-Melbourne link continued as the ARTC was involved in its own cost-cutting programmes.
Surprisingly, the ARTC was left to construct the new inland railway project with significant use of public private partnership arrangements.
The overall blueprint looked great. It just needed to be embedded in a national transport plan would assist in raising the profile of rail transport for the long-distance movement of passengers and freight.
Instead, Australians were offered a freight line. It would end at a freight interchange at Bromelton, some 70 kms south of Brisbane.
From here freight could be expected to move after 2025 to another interchange at Acacia Ridge to the Queensland network or take a single standardized track to the Port of Brisbane.
Most freight will of course be distributed by road from Bromelton.
Having lost federal funding for cross-river passenger rail projects in Brisbane, the Queensland Government can and should bargain hard for rail access rights to the intermodal terminal at Acacia Ridge closer to Brisbane.
At stake, is the funding for extensions to Queensland Rail’s much needed southside services along urban growth corridors which are poorly served by existing transport networks.
More critical reporting of the Inland Rail Project could have achieved better outcomes for local communities along the 1,700 kilometre route.
Victoria has secured billions in road and rail upgrades to ensure that inland freight can be moved to ports such as Warrambool and Geelong with great benefits to both freight and passenger services. The remarkable details are in the list of projects in the 2020-21 federal budget.
In NSW, federal expenditure on duplication of the Port Botany rail freight line is a most welcome initiative
In contrast with the amount of expenditure that has been successfully negotiated in Victoria, NSW sections of Inland Rail seem have close links to private road haulers with little commitment to track upgrades to connect with upgrades of vital rail connections across NSW.
Investing the Parkes National Logistics Hub
The NSW Government is investing $185 million in regional development near Parkes.
Some of this funding has come from the sale of its share in the NSW Hydro Scheme to the Commonwealth.
There are no details yet of investment by the ARTC in rail truck upgrades on the Sydney to Parkes and Parkes to Adelaide and Perth Links which will be serviced from the National Logistics Hub.
As well as the billions being spent on new tracks and upgrades between Parkes and Brisbane, announcements are progressing on interchanges along the way as Inland Rail traverses many rail tracks which have fallen into disrepair.
From Passing Trains to Missed Policy Agendas
Through local lobbying, the Commonwealth has been prepared to fund some of these projects and it is important to have local leaders who are as skilled as negotiating as the Victorian Government.
Commercial and environmental stakeholders are also involved in behind the scenes negotiations with Inland Rail. It is important for the wider community to be involved in finalizing outcomes.
Readers can decide how much public involvement has been reported in this press release from Rail Freight (17 March 2020):
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.
It seems that Corporate Australia has a plan for the future that extends to 2040 and beyond. Meanwhile, the Australian Commonwealth seems to lack a defined plan for transport, energy, finance and our international relations options as a more independent nation.
Before the double-decker container trains and other forms of bulk freight rattle over inland Australia, there are passing policy opportunities which should be addressed. Hundreds of community forums organized by Inland Rail are a poor substitute for an overall transport plan for Australians.
Denis Bright is a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis is committed to citizen’s journalism from a critical structuralist perspective. Comments from insiders with a specialist knowledge of the topics covered are particularly welcome.
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Good policies delivery more passing trains with affordable fares that are much needed in Asian countries
Wet roads carrying trucks with heavy loads is really scary and alternate transport such as rail is sorely needed for road safety and the environment.
The Northern Inland Railway (NIR) is a white elephant project promoted by some Nazional$ politicians with CSG interests in the Pilliga Scrub Narrabri NSW gas field. The NIR cost benefit analysis shows that the initial NIR investment will take about 50 years to repay, probably longer. The principal Nazional$ beneficiaries are John Anderson and Barnyard Joke, both previous Leaders.
)To date there has only been about $700 MILLION allocated to this white elephant having a former Nazional$ leader as Chairperson.
)Supporters of the NIR have attempted to close the existing Great Northern Railway (GNR) that goes from Maitland through New England to Wallangarra on the Queensland border, by proposing ripping up the GNR between Guyra and Ben Lomond to replace the track with a bicycle trail.
)Opponents to this proposal have demonstrated that there is a formed and sealed railway access road between Black Mountain, south of Guyra and Ben Lomond having negligible vehicular traffic, especially in the early morning about dawn when the Guyra Geriatric Grandmothers Cycling Club ride around Guyra town before having coffee in the local cycling coffee shop. More importantly this proposal would permanently close the GNR to all through traffic.
)At present the towns of Guyra, Deepwater, Glencoe, Glen Innes and Tenterfield have no rail service to bring tourists into their region, and this has been the case since NSW ALP Minister for Railways Michael Costa closed the line north of Armidale to save money in the Railway budget by reducing government services in Nazional$ seats rather than increase the cost of suburban travel in Labor electorates.
There has been slow progress in construction of the NIR and the added difficulty of the about 40km of black soil plains between Moree and Gondawindi on the Queensland border has restricted loads to a single deck, rather than double deck, container load per flat-car.
)The NIR deliberately ignored an alternative route utilising the GNR rather than purchasing broad acre food producing farm land at market prices. There is an established railway easement and track bed from Tenterfield through Legume to Beaudesert then onto Acacia Ridge that would have avoided Toowoomba and eliminated the need for the long exclusive freight only tunnel down the Toowoomba Range.
)Knowledgeable train sceptics believe that the ultimate goal for the NIR project is to link the Pllliga Scrub CSG field to the Abbotts Point Qld export terminal ALL AT TAXPAYER EXPENSE.
Affordable freight and passenger links are so important today.
Denis, a fantastic article about the inland rail. We need more inland rail including Townsville to Darwin.
Privatization has made our luxury trains unaffordable for local tourists
The interstate railway reached Brisbane from Northern NSW in the early 1930s. It is not the best route and cuts across hilly areas. Regrettably, the interstate railway was not through the Gold Coast and this would now require a trillion in new investment to convert into a modern freight and passenger route.
Thanks for taking up these important topical issues, Denis
When labor won government I used the much shorter distance from singapore, shanghai, tokyo and seoul to darwin and we have the ghan as the impetus to join with adelaide to make us the sea hub and adelaide the train hub but as usual my simpleton approach was scrubbed out of hand. But no mind, I still think the medicare levy on gross income would alleviate all medical issues and it wouldn’t cost pensioners much but scummo, twiggy and the ceos whooppee.
wam, your simpleton suggestions to the incoming Labor government of 2007(?) to link Singapore & Darwin by rail and to make Adelaide the hub (central as it is) for all inland rail activity is a fine example of that Government’s lack of foresight.
I note that you have cleverly picked up Mr Bright’s almost nonexistent reference to the relationship between inland railways and medicare. Well done …. almost worth a “whooppee!”
I think the answer to 4 Down (8,6) is “Simpsons Desert”.
I always liked the idea of a high speed passenger rail between Melbourne and Brisbane to free up roads and airports for freight. It would also help with decentralisation and revitalising country towns – something a freight line passing through won’t do.
What? And saddle future generations with all that debt? It’s taken me 80 years to pay off the Snowy scheme not to mention the second World War and “Blue Poles”. What loonie party do you come from.
Have you ever wondered about why BHP and Gina Rinehart have never been debt free? They invest in things that bring them a return. They don’t use that return to pay off their debt. They reinvest it.
Aside from that, a government never has to pay off its debt. It doesn’t have to plan for retirement. It just keeps on investing in health and education and infrastructure because they give a positive economic and social benefit.
The inland rail proponent’s stated benefit-cost ratio (BCR) is 1.1. High speed rail has a similar BCR but has the advantage of facilitating decentralisation which would help with housing affordability, urban congestion, the high volume of air traffic between Melbourne and Sydney, and regional revitalisation. It would also, with less private traffic, free up existing rail lines and highways for freight.
Here’s an example of cost benefit in relation to early childhood education
Using 2017 as the reference year, this study has identified $2.34 billion in costs associated with
the provision of early 15 hours of early childhood education in the year-before-school. These
costs are split between government (79 per cent) and parents or carers (21 per cent).
The study has also identified $4.74 billion in benefits associated with providing this one year of
early childhood education. Some of these benefits will be realised in the short-term, including the
additional income and higher taxes paid by parents or carers who choose to work more because
early childhood education is available ($1.46 billion and $313 million respectively). Other benefits
will be realised over a much longer period. The cognitive benefits for children who receive a
quality early childhood education can be linked with to $1.06 billion in higher earnings over a
lifetime and a further $495 million in higher taxes paid to government.
Kaye, I’d hoped that the Blue Poles reference (it turned out, was a bargain) was the give away to a sarcastic swipe at the the Libs: I’m an MMT convert without access to the pretty emojis so,like wam, you have to guess what I trying to say. As far as MMT goes; hasn’t the virus rearranged the economic theory deck chairs? I see the economy picked up 0.9% for the year with a D&DD running at almost a trillion dollars.
Lol I’m sorry Geoff. There are disadvantages to conversing without seeing/hearing expression, intonation and body language. My bad. I shoulda known.
Thanks for the feedback on this article. The topic has been around for a while. I had prepared a nuumber of drafts of the article and asked for some input from LNP ministerial staff which did not eventuate.
I had been in contact with Inalnd Rail and attended one of the community town hall meetings at Rosewood on the impact of Inland Rail.
The whole project seemed to be evolving without any real integrating plan. The LNP would be highly critical if this had been a Labor Project and totally funded by the federal government.
A lot of the details of this project are still commercial in confidence despite the hundreds of community meetings which haven been organized by Inalnd Rail.
This is not real consultation but corporate marketing in action.
Details of the links between the freight terminal near Beaudesert and the Freight interchange at Acacia Ridge have not been finalized as Inland Rail will have to join the existing interstate freight link between Bromelton and Acacia Ridge (46 kms).
I was impressed by the negotiating skills of the Victorian Government. This will generate southbound freight from Inland Rail to Victorian ports with hundreds of millions in funding for upgrades V/Line track.which will continue to carry both passengers and freight.
It is difficult to fund th detailed list of projects announced by Hon Michael McCormack: I had trouble fnding it agaion:
Most media outlets take the glossy summaries with accompanying graphs and pictorial profiles.
Here is a slick brochure from Nationals for Regional Australia in 2018: https://www.facebook.com/TheNationalsAus/photos/once-fully-constructed-inland-rail-will-enable-faster-bigger-double-stacked-trai/10156474311973961/
There were some welcome details in local papers like The Courier (Narrabri) and broachures from the Narrabri Council.