FREIGHT and logistics are a high priority for the Australian government to help drive economic growth, job creation and productivity.
Australia’s capacity to remain competitive in the modern global economy relies on our ability to move farm produce from paddock to port economically and deliver freight when and where the market wants it.
The Melbourne-to-Brisbane Inland Rail project could well be our government’s biggest infrastructure legacy.
In much the same way that the Hume, Pacific, New England or Newell highways now underpin interstate road freight movements on the eastern side of Australia, Inland Rail will provide a highly efficient freight rail line for access to domestic and export markets.
It will also be a catalyst for significant development, innovation and investment throughout regional Australia.
As evidenced by recent announcements and subsequent media articles, delivery of this nation-building project has already begun.
The first steel for the project was delivered to Peak Hill in January this year while the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) has also selected the preferred construction contractor for the Parkes to Narromine section, INLink – a joint venture between BMD Constructions and Fulton Hogan.
When signed, it will be the project’s first construction contract with construction to start in coming months.
ARTC also recently awarded the contract for the feasibility design work for the 300-kilometre Narromine to Narrabri section – the longest and most significant greenfield development of the whole project.
The focus is always to build the best rail line possible, and here the community’s input is critical.
Over the next 18 to 24 months the environmental impact statement (EIS) process will be undertaken to identify the final rail alignment and develop design and mitigation solutions.
Throughout the process there will be consultation, including community consultative committees and individual meetings with landholders to resolve issues relating to water, stock, biosecurity issues and machinery movements.
We also want to ensure communities and individuals along the 1700 kilometre route are able to maximise the potential employment and investment benefits Inland Rail offers and there are some great new initiatives to get that happening.
The Regional Australia Institute’s strategic planning tool, Are you Ready for Inland Rail?, available later this year, will help to outline the steps regional communities need to take to realise their particular benefits and will assist local and state governments with decision-making processes.
My department is working with the CSIRO on the Inland Rail Supply Chain Mapping Pilot Project, a great example of a science and industry working together to maximise mutual benefits.
The project’s aim is to build a better understanding of regional supply chains and ensure we make strategic decisions about future investments.
We have established regional offices in Dubbo, Toowoomba and Wodonga to help communities and industries capitalise on local procurement and employment and we are establishing a “one-stop shop” on the Parkes to Narromine section to assist local Indigenous communities and local businesses with procurement and employment opportunities.
An inland railway between Melbourne, Parkes and Brisbane was proposed in 1915 by the Prime Minister of the day and now more than a century later we are about to see construction commence.
While long overdue, credit should be given to the Liberal and Nationals’ government for providing $9.3bn in grant funding and equity financing.
This contribution, along with the willing collaboration of other levels of government, a range of industries, and many, many communities and other stakeholders, will lay the strong foundations to transform this visionary concept, into a nation building reality.
This article appeared in the August edition of DCN Magazine