May 4, 2012

Federal Labor Government’s track record on investing in rail – Opinion – Track & Signal magazine

With a relatively small population spread across a vast continent and much of our natural wealth located in remote areas, our nation has always been heavily reliant on its transport infrastructure for its continuing economic development.  However, this development is hampered where we do not have infrastructure that allows the safe and efficient transport of goods to port.

That is why we are undertaking an unprecedented major investment in our rail infrastructure through our $37 billion Nation Building program, and in particular through projects such as the rail links to Port Botany and in the Northern Sydney Freight Corridor that are moving us from the nineteenth century into the middle of the twenty-first.

Nation Building Infrastructure Australia deserves

The Gillard Labor Government is making an unprecedented investment in land transport infrastructure and is pursuing reforms to rebuild and develop a modern transport system that better connects all our regions, cities and ports. Modernising and expanding our rail systems is a key challenge in creating a more efficient, sustainable and competitive nation, and maintaining our trade competitiveness, here and overseas.

Our investment in rail is reversing decades of underinvestment and correcting the long standing funding imbalance that favoured road.  We have committed nearly $9 billion for rail.  A tenfold increase per annum in funding compared with the former coalition government’s record.

This is more than just an investment in new sleepers, track, passing loops, boom gates and signalling technology; it’s an investment in a more productive and prosperous Australia.  We are working with other jurisdictions and industry to modernise our rail system, recognising the critical importance of regulation and urban planning and increasing the efficiencies of our existing system through technology and competition.

Port Botany rail yards: from a pinch point in the network to a modern transfer point

But modern, reliable infrastructure will not be enough to fully restore rail’s competitiveness; it also needs to be better integrated with other modes of transport, namely the nation’s ports and roads.

At Port Botany, the first stage of the upgrade of the Port Botany Rail Line has recently been completed.  This work has transformed the Port Botany Rail Yard and its connections to a modern and efficient rail facility fit for the twenty first century.

The upgraded yard now boasts sufficient holding capacity for two trains on each track and eliminates the need for the reversing of trains over long distance into the port terminal areas.  With vastly improved yard lighting and walkways for rail operating and maintenance staff, the upgrade offers safer working conditions.

The Australian Rail Track Corporation has also commenced work on Stage 2 which will provide additional staging capacity at Enfield and will upgrade the signalling and allow for train control to be centralised from ARTC’s control centre in Junee.   Together these works worth over $145 million are fully funded by the Federal Labor Government as part of our Nation Building Program.

Northern Sydney Freight Corridor: A billion dollar upgrade

In December last year, I had the pleasure of signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Premier of NSW for the delivery of the Northern Sydney Freight Corridor program.  The MOU underwrites a $1.1 billion program of works that will speed up the movement of trains through Sydney, take up to 200,000 trucks a year off its roads and improve the reliability of passenger trains.

The Federal Labor Government is investing $840 million to an agreed program of works that will build a rail underpass at North Strathfield, lay a third track between Epping and Pennant Hills, install new passing loops near Gosford and construct a holding track at Hexham.

Once completed in 2016, the new infrastructure will lift the corridor’s carrying capacity by 50 per cent from 29 to 44 freight trains a day, helping to accommodate the threefold increase in interstate freight volumes that’s expected over coming years.  In addition to taking hundreds of thousands of trucks off Sydney’s roads and motorways, this major infrastructure project is expected to cut annual carbon emissions by more than 100,000 tonnes.

The delivery of this project builds on the benefits from the Government’s investments at Port Botany and the ARTC’s investment in the Southern Sydney Freight Line.  They will reduce the growth in the volume of trucks on the F3 Freeway and improve the reliability of passenger services in the rail corridor.

So what does the future hold?

Beyond rebuilding the network, we’re also planning for the future.  Infrastructure Australia has developed the nation’s first ever National Port Strategy and is finalising the National Freight Strategy – long term blueprints which will guide future public and private investment in our nation’s transport infrastructure.

This, together with our record investment in nation building, will set us on the right direction for the future, allowing us to cope with long-term challenges and projections for population and economic growth, demographic and technological change.