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Urban rail news in brief - July 2015
Inland rail a trifecta for Toowoomba region: mayor
THE press release has the imprimatur of the Deputy Prime Minister’s office. It is dated August 28, 2013, and, according to its contents, thousands of workers should now be crawling across inland Australia laying track for a historic inland rail project to supercharge the nation’s, and Queensland’s, economy.
Then Nationals leader Warren Truss and Queensland transport minister at the time, LNP MP Scott Emerson, issued the release just 10 days before the 2013 federal election and a re-read does quicken the blood.
Work on one of the most ambitious rail projects in our nation’s history – one spoken about since the 19th century before we were even federated – would begin in 2016, provided the Coalition won the election.
“This project will help ensure that our transport network is ready to do the heavy lifting required to meet Australia’s growing freight transport task of the next 50 years,’’ the then deputy prime minister Truss said.
Under the plan, the standard gauge rail line from Melbourne to Illabo (southwest of Cootamundra in NSW) would finish its almost 2000km journey at the Port of Brisbane.
“The Australian Rail Track Corporation will be tasked to work with interested parties to establish a staged, 10-year approach to the construction of the inland rail, with construction to start within three years.’’
The Coalition under Tony Abbott won that election, the three years has well and truly expired and construction on the inland rail does not appear to have begun, though Queenslanders have been provided with some reassurance by Truss’s National Party replacement and Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, that it soon will.
With $594 million allocated in the 2016 May Budget for land purchases, Joyce told the people of northern NSW in June of last year the rail was coming, but just needed a more effective path across the flood plain north of Moree.
“This line has to be as straight and as flat as possible because these trains are going to be travelling at 120km per hour and going to be about 1.4km long,” he enthused.
Magicians possessing the ability to conjure up a simple perception can make a good living; politicians with the same talent appear to do equally well in this credulous world.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull effortlessly conjured a magnificent perception of a leader with sweeping vision last month, when he revealed a $2 billion expansion of the Snowy Hydro scheme, said to have the capacity to power up to 500,000 homes through a new network of tunnels and power stations.
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce told the people of northern NSW last year the rail was still coming. Picture: Evan MorganThe “Snowy Mountains Scheme’’ is shorthand in Australia for “nation building’’ but it may occur to more thoughtful Australians that we now have to go back 70 years to find a framework of reference for a notion that, in truth, disappeared long ago into our historical archives, along with Governor Lachlan Macquarie and that bloke who created the Flying Doctor – “John Flynn of the Inland’’.
Turnbull’s proposed adjunct to a project which embodies boldness, vision and the sweat of co-operative endeavour from men and women from many nations may well increase the Snowy scheme’s 4100 megawatt capacity by as much as 50 per cent and solve some of our nation’s power problems.
It may also languish for years in the land of the feasibility study before sinking quietly into oblivion, much like that patriotic “we are one but we are many and from all the lands on earth we come’’ spike in the Coalition polling it was designed to inspire. Which brings us back to the inland rail project.
Martin Albrecht, AC, knows a little bit about the Snowy Mountain scheme. He worked on it as a young engineer during the 1960s under the guidance of one of the world’s greatest engineers, Sir William Hudson, who was appointed by then prime minister Ben Chifley to head the Snowy scheme in 1949.
This week Albrecht, chairman of National Trunk Rail and former Thiess boss – again outlined his vision of the inland rail project which he believes should be taken out of the hands of governments, and delivered by the market.
Currently the inland rail project is the province of the Federal Government-owned Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) which Albrecht insists is pursuing a deeply flawed plan, cobbling together old lines (some more than a century old) and bypassing the fertile Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area while also failing to exploit the potential of the Surat Basin and the Darling Downs.
More worryingly, the plan, as it stands, bypasses the international Wellcamp Airport outside Toowoomba, built by the Wagner family and possessing the potential to act as a pivotal freight hub.
Albrecht says the ARTC model was conceived well before Wellcamp was built, with his plan involving a reconfiguration that exploits the enormous economic potential represented by an airport already dispatching a plane to China once a week.
Martin Albrecht says the project could be funded largely by private equity. Picture: Tim MarsdenThe National Trunk Rail project, he says, would pick up the productive Murrumbidgee and Darling Downs areas and not terminate at Acacia Ridge in Brisbane, thereby sending freight trains toward the port on congested suburban networks.
Instead, the NTR plan would send trains under the city through a tunnel connection to the Port of Brisbane.
Albrecht insists it could all be funded largely by private equity, with the taxpayer contribution a “fraction’’ of the cost of the ARTC proposal.
Most importantly, free enterprise won’t hang around waiting for yet another election before firing up the bulldozers.
“You build a railway to serve the country for a century; you don’t build a railway to serve an election cycle,’’ Albrecht says.
Meanwhile Federal Infrastructure Minister Darren Chester insists the ARTC project is a goer, with the “second phase of market testing’’ close to finalisation.
“While this marketing testing process continues to decide the preferred delivery model or approach, the Commonwealth Government is moving ahead with formal assessment and approvals processes to ensure the next stages of the project is ready to roll out,’’ he says.
A frustrated federal Opposition transport spokesman Anthony Albanese says the former Labor government had a concrete proposal.
Labor had invested $600 million on upgrading existing track to form part of the inland rail line, then allocated a further $300 million to complete the project.
Albanese says it was Truss who took the up the baton, running with it (with some success) into the 2013 election, then delivering nothing but more feasibility studies.
“If the Government had laid a railway sleeper for every time that they have promised to build the inland rail, trains would be running by now,’’ Albanese says. “They need to get on with it.’’
This article first appeared on www.couriermail.com.au
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