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Engineering work has already started and work will scale up during the next few years on the new railway line to run in Queensland through the Darling Downs, which will be the final connection in the proposed Brisbane-Melbourne Inland Rail route.
The long-awaited project, which has been mooted for several decades, finally received federal funding in last year’s budget to allow the project to begin, with the first trains set to run on the track in 2024-25.
Contracts valued at more than $250 million are already in place and this will increase to more than $500m in coming weeks.
The Inland Rail, estimated to cost $9 billion-plus, will be able to transport freight from Melbourne to Brisbane in 24 hours.
While it will be utilising some existing railway lines in NSW and Victoria, in Queensland it will be all new railway tracks running from where it crosses the interstate border near Goondiwindi to near Brisbane.
The length of track in Queensland has been broken up into two broad sections, with the first section running from the border to Gowrie, just west of Toowoomba and close to Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport.
This section will be built under the supervision of the Australian Rail Track Corporation, a federal-government body, although the actual construction will be outsourced to the private sector.
The federal government has already selected a preferred corridor for this section, which is up to five kilometres wide. But after consultation and further studies, it will be reduced to about 50 metres.
The second consists of three smaller parts running from Gowrie to Kagaru just south of Brisbane, where it will link with the main coastal railway route.
Unlike the other section in Queensland, this part will be constructed under a public-private partnership, which the ARTC’s Inland Rail chief executive Richard Wankmuller said at a conference last month had been chosen for a PPP as it “offers the most chance of innovation”.
“It’s a complicated section with many pieces. The amount of earthworks that have to be moved, the bridges that have to be built, the grade separations, the tunnels — this is a complicated piece of work and we are hoping to attract some good ideas from the private sector and benefit from innovation,” he said.
While most of the Inland Rail will run across relatively flat plains in western NSW and southern Queensland, the section running from Gowrie to the main line will pass through hilly or mountainous country.
The first challenge is to replace the current very steep railway line up the Great Dividing Range near Toowoomba — which was built in 1867 — with a 6.4km-long tunnel to carry the line under the range.
The tunnel will have an 11m diameter to provide clearance for double-stacked containers and will be a 1-in-65 gradient, meaning trains will be able to ascend and descend without assistance.
The ARTC has already awarded contracts worth more than $30m for engineering and environmental investigations for the Toowoomba to Brisbane section of the project, with construction work expected to start in 2021 to allow it to be finished by 2025.
At its peak construction period, the project is forecast to employ 7000 people.
Toowoomba Mayor Paul Antonio and other local politicians have suggested the line could also be used for passengers, with the local federal MP. Regional Development Minister Dr John McVeigh, announcing $15m was in this federal budget for a business case for the proposal.
“This is something that we have dreamed about in this region for decades. [Such] passenger rail services from Toowoomba to Brisbane would literally change the future of the entire Toowoomba region,” McVeigh said.
This article first appeared on www.theaustralian.com.au
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