Infrastructure Australia urges inland rail line from Brisbane to Melbourne

Planning body says high-speed rail should be a ‘high-priority initiative’ for Australia

Infrastructure Australia has reiterated the importance of building an inland rail line between Brisbane and Melbourne, saying the current rail connection is inadequate for industry’s needs.

It has also called on Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria to preserve a land corridor for a high-speed rail line to run from Brisbane to Coffs Harbour, Newcastle, Sydney, Canberra, Albury-Wodonga and Melbourne, saying high-speed rail should be a “high-priority initiative” for Australia.

The independent body published its latest list of major infrastructure projects on Tuesday, which it said Australia needed to meet its rapidly growing population.

It said that, in 30 years’ time, Australia’s population was projected to increase by 11.8 million people, the equivalent of adding two more cities the size of Melbourne or Sydney by 2048.

“This is a challenge we can’t afford to manage passively – we must plan for growth,” the Infrastructure Australia chair, Julieanne Alroe, said.

It has identified four high-priority projects in NSW, including the upgrade to the M4 motorway between Parramatta and Lapstone, the WestConnex motorway project, the construction of western Sydney airport and the Sydney metro rail connection from Chatswood to Bankstown. In Queensland, a high-priority project is the Brisbane metro line and in Victoria it is the M80 ring road upgrade.

But it said Sydney’s infrastructure would have to be significantly upgraded to cater for an expected swelling of the population.

To service the new western Sydney airport, it said a land corridor ought to be preserved so a dedicated fuel pipeline could be built between the airport and Port Botany, so B-double fuel tankers did not have to truck aviation fuel along busy arterial roads.

“Western Sydney airport is projected to commence operation by 2025,” the priority list said. “The airline could potentially require 50-65 B-double fuel tankers deliveries per day, which would add to congestion on Sydney’s urban road network … while a dedicated fuel pipeline is unlikely to be required [immediately], the identification and preservation of a corridor will ensure a route for the pipeline is available when required.”

It said inland rail was a priority project and that governments ought to construct a freight line of roughly 1,700km between Melbourne and Brisbane, via inland Victoria, NSW and Queensland, to meet the future demand for freight transport.

It predicted demand for freight between Melbourne and Brisbane would grow from roughly 4.9m tonnes in 2016 to about 13m tonnes, or 1.1m containers, by 2050.

It said trains operating on the inland rail line would eventually be able to carry up to 485 containers each, when longer, double-stacked trains were introduced. It predicted the project would take between 10 and 15 years to build.

It said an east coast high speed rail line is a high priority initiative, because by 2075, the combined population of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane is projected to exceed 30 million people.

“The future demand for efficient, high-capacity transport services between major centres on the east coast will likely exceed the capacity of existing and planned rail, road and aviation services,” the priority list stated. “Protecting a corridor would significantly increase options for future development of high speed rail infrastructure to meet future demand for inter-city and regional travel.”

Modelling by Infrastructure Australia in 2017 estimated the net cost of protecting and acquiring the corridor would be $30.1bn. It said the corridor should be based on the one set out in the federal government’s High Speed Rail Study Phase 2.

Some of the projects Infrastructure Australia has identified as priority initiatives are politically contentious. It said the former South Australian Labor government’s proposed reconstruction of Adelaide’s suburban tram network – dubbed AdeLINK – should be a priority, for example, but the new Liberal Marshall government has criticised the project and plans to proceed with its own upgrade.

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