In May 1889, Australia’s ‘Father of Federation’ Henry Parkes proclaimed - “we have neither been sparing of our capital nor stinted in our public spirit in trying to give… the people of Australia fair railway enterprise”.
Almost 130 years later, it is fitting that the official turning of the first sod on Australia’s modern nation-building railway project – the 1700 kilometre Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail – is at Parkes, NSW, which was named in honour of this visionary Australian leader.
Throughout Australia’s history, bold and enterprising governments have made the hard but necessary decisions required to invest in major, strategic infrastructure projects, to meet the nation’s future needs.
The Inland Rail is one such project which has been dreamed of and talked about for more than a century, to serve as the essential spine of Australia’s freight network for eastern Australia, linking to major ports and regional centres.
Rather than procrastinate, the Federal Liberal and Nationals Government had the leadership backbone to turn the Inland Rail dream into a reality, with a $9.3 billion commitment made in the 2017-18 Budget.
It is now being described far and wide as a 1700 kilometre “corridor of commerce” because of the genuine benefits to be delivered for future generations of Australians and regional communities are at the forefront.
Mayor of Moree Katrina Humphries represents a major agricultural producing region and says the Inland Rail will “open up eastern Australia” and her view is typical of many other community leaders who are also anticipating these immediate and long-term gains.
The project is forecast to provide 16,000 direct and in direct jobs during construction and contribute $16 billion to the national GDP, with every dollar the government spends returning $2.62 to the Australian economy.
With Australia’s freight task expected to almost double in 20 years, and 74 per cent of all inter-capital freight between Melbourne and Brisbane currently being carried by road, the 1700km rail line will help ease traffic congestion and improve road safety.
It will provide the capacity for trains to carry double-stacked containers and therefore remove an estimated 200,000 truck movements from our roads per year meaning those who live in our cities will also receive practical benefits through this forward-thinking investment.
Inland Rail forms an essential part of the Australian Government’s $75 billion 10-year infrastructure plan which is driving the connectivity needed to ensure Australians arrive home sooner and safer.
This plan is also securing more efficient logistical networks, to enhance commercial productivity and build competitiveness, by transporting more product into domestic and booming export markets faster, in bigger volumes and at reduced freight costs.
To build capacity for the heavier, longer trains on Inland Rail, 70 per cent (1200km) of the 1700km line will utilise existing rail corridors upgraded to connect with 500km of new track.
Decades of reviews and studies have informed the vision and business case behind this project, including detailed assessments of the socio-economic benefits and potential route options, with detailed design and planning ongoing.
For more than a century the idea of an inland freight rail line has been discussed, debated and theorised about as being a good idea with tangible benefits.
With construction now commencing and the first train between Melbourne and Brisbane set to run in the mid-2020s, procrastination and delay is no longer an option or in the national interest.
This Government has made the hard but right decision to build the Inland Rail and many communities and stakeholders, who serve to benefit greatly from its construction, are now urging us to stay on track and get on with the job of delivering this transformational infrastructure project, which is exactly what we’re doing.
- Michael McCormack is the Deputy Prime Minister, leader of the Nationals and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport