INVESTMENT in rail construction and maintenance in Australia is expected to average $14.4 billion per year over the next five years according to a new report.

The forecast figure would be an increase from the record $12.9 billion invested in rail civil construction and maintenance in 2021-22.

The Australasian Railway Association and BIS Oxford Economics released the data in a report published on Tuesday (6 December).

The Australian Rail Market Outlook report forecasts an investment of $129 billion rail construction and maintenance over the next ten years, compared to $96 billion over the previous decade.

And, over the next 15 years, the data predicts $154 billion will be invested in rail construction to support a wave of new projects.

ARA Chief Executive Officer Caroline Wilkie said the strong pipeline of rail projects recognises the role rail will continue to play in public transport and freight operations.

“In the short to medium term, these projects will help meet Australia’s transport needs and enable our sustainable growth,” she said.

“Longer term, these projects will support our rising population and help achieve the country’s net-zero targets, by taking more cars and trucks off the road and encouraging greater use of sustainable transport options.

“This strong focus on new projects recognises the value of rail to our economy and community and addresses decades of historic underinvestment when compared to other transport modes.”

According to the report, $10.73 billion was invested in rail civil construction activity in 2021-22, surpassing 2018 forecasts for the period. It also notes a $2.13-billion investment in maintenance.

The report suggests rail construction work increased by 2.9% in 2021-22, representing the sixth consecutive year of growth in rail construction.

It found publicly funded major projects across New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland would account for 77% of major project work in 2023-24, with key projects such as Inland Rail and Melbourne Airport Rail driving growth over the medium term.

Ms Wilkie said this next phase of growth represented a tremendous opportunity to drive innovation and ensure greater productivity and efficiency for the rail industry.

“With so many significant construction and maintenance projects occurring or planned across the country, policy changes that improve outcomes for both government and industry could have a huge impact on the value we derive from this period of investment,” Ms Wilkie said.

“The right reforms could save money, improve efficiency and create the opportunity for innovation to flourish.

“Reforms that create national approaches to procurement, local content policies and type approvals would support better outcomes for governments, the rail industry and the supply chain as they deliver this significant pipeline of projects.”

The report also expects investment in Australian railway construction activity (excluding maintenance) to peak at $13.3 billion in 2023-24.

It is forecast to remain above current levels until 2026-27 before reducing to $8.6 billion in 2031-32.