Jun 22, 2012

Rail on Track for a Brighter Future – Melbourne to Brisbane Inalnd Rail Symposium – Parkes


It is a great pleasure to be here in Parkes, the heart of Elvis country and home of the Parkes Telescope which famously caught the first steps of the moon walk back in 1969.

You are also uniquely placed at the crossroads of the north-south and east-west transport routes giving you considerable strategic importance.

And that is the reason why I am here today, to talk about our plans for Inland Rail.

It is a project that has already attracted $315 million in funding from this Federal Government, well beyond the original commitment of $15 million announced during the election campaign back in 2007.

Before I get down to the business of the Inland Rail, let me briefly mention two other important rail events.

Firstly, a short while ago, I had the honour of laying a ceremonial sleeper to mark the completion of the concrete re-sleepering of the entire interstate freight network.

This re-sleepering was no small task.

This sleeper was one of a million now lining the track between Broken Hill and Parkes.

The work cost $253 million and was part of a vital upgrade of the track linking Perth and Adelaide with the east coast.

It was part of a much larger program involving 3.4 million new concrete sleepers, the most extensive upgrade to the network since the TransAustralian railway was first commissioned by that great Labor Prime Minister, Andrew Fisher, 100 years ago.

My second task this morning is to launch a new rail industry publication, called Trainline.

It is produced by my department’s research and information arm, the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE).

Trainline also has input from the Australasian Railway Association and its members.

It provides a much-needed overview of rail activity in this nation and this issue is the first of what will be a regular series.

Good investments and policy decisions are underpinned by quality information.

In this way, Trainline will be useful in helping us make the kind of decisions we will have to consider around Inland Rail.

The facts are that this invention that really took off in the 19th century is now internationally recognised as the ground transport mode of the 21st century.

Relatively clean from an environmental point of view, rail can move freight and people quickly and safely.

More goods and people on rail means fewer trucks and cars on the road, reducing congestion and cutting down on exhaust emissions pumped into the air we all breathe.


Rail is also key to raising our productivity.

To give you some idea of the freight task we’ll be facing in coming years, I am about to hit you with some very big figures.

Growth in freight is expected to double to 1,000 billion tonne kilometres by 2030[1].

The current domestic freight task for rail alone has grown five-fold in the decades since 1970.

Data from Trainline indicates that in the two years between 2008 and 2010, the rail tonne-kilometres grew by more than 27 per cent.

That is a result of the massive investment this Government has made in improving rail transport infrastructure.

For example, the upgrades we are making to the busy rail route between Brisbane and Melbourne are shaving 7 hours off the trip.

What had taken 37 hours will, when the many improvements are completed, take just 30 hours.

Just this week, Woolworths began returning to rail the movement of dry goods – transferring from road to rail an estimated 34,000 tonnes of freight each year.

Woolworths expects this figure to grow as the new system gets underway.

This is good corporate citizenship by Woolworths.

But the main reason is that the rail route is now viable.

It now makes economic sense to transport goods via rail because the track now meets a suitable standard.

That’s just one example of the positive results that flow from our national investment in rail, which is greater than that made by any other government in Australian history.

We are investing over $12 billion in rail and intermodal projects – that’s more than ten times what the previous government invested.

We are also being smarter about our investments.

You can see this through the creation of Infrastructure Australia in 2008.

Since its inception Infrastructure Australia has created a priority pipeline of projects, helping to develop a truly long-term infrastructure vision for this country.

And we are following through.

Of the nine ready-to-proceed projects identified by Infrastructure Australia in its 2009 Priority List, the Australian Government has now committed funding to every one of them.

For instance, in the last Budget we committed more than $230 million for the Goodwood and Torrens Junction project in Adelaide, which will disentangle two competing lines and remove a major hold-up for local trains and the interstate service between Perth and Melbourne.

IA has also created a National Ports Strategy and a National Freight Strategy, two critical pieces of work that when fully implemented, will change the way we move goods and people around the nation.

We have also vastly improved the regulation affecting rail safety.

Last week, I appointed Australia’s first ever national Rail Safety Regulator, Mr Rob Andrews, who will oversee Australia’s urban passenger rail networks and interstate freight operations.

For the first time Australia has one rail law, one regulator and a 21st century regulatory system – something not achieved in the many years since Federation in 1901.

This means the end of a vast quantity of red tape and a myriad of often conflicting state, territory and Commonwealth laws.


Any holistic improvement of the rail system must include intermodal terminals.

Let me say that your Parkes National Logistics Hub is an excellent example of the right infrastructure in the right place, with room to expand.

I’d like to commend Parkes Shire Council for its vision – you’re maximising your geographic advantages for the benefit of not just your town, but the nation as a whole.

In Sydney, you may have heard that we are attempting to achieve similar success with the Moorebank Intermodal.

Indeed it has been suggested that it could potentially allow the operation of shuttle trains between Moorebank and Parkes.

The investment in Moorebank alone is expected to bring benefits of $10 billion over the next 30 years.

When it is up and running Moorebank, like your hub here, will be part of a national network that will vastly improve the speed and efficiency of freight movements.


With that in mind, let me turn again to the topic of today’s conference.

There have long been calls for a north-south inland railway.

As you would be aware, it was a 2007 election commitment[2] to conduct a study into this issue.

In March 2008, I commissioned the Australian Rail Track Corporation (the ARTC) to begin work on the optimum alignment for a new standard gauge inland railway.

The ARTC was also asked to determine the economic benefits and likely commercial success of such a connection.

It was critical that the study be independent and transparent from government.

For these reasons, the ARTC appointed Parsons Brinckerhoff as technical advisors and PricewaterhouseCoopers for financial and economic advice.

It was important that all of you had both access and input to the work being undertaken, and that’s why working papers for each stage of the study were published online.

I received letters and feedback from many of you here today.

As you know the ARTC found that an alignment through Albury/Wodonga, Parkes, Moree and Toowoomba has distinct social, economic and environmental benefits.

It found that around 60 percent of the potential 1,700 kilometre alignment already exists today.

It also reveals the benefits of an inland route between Brisbane and Melbourne.

With an expected transit time of around 20 hours, this would be about ten hours faster than the travel time down the eastern seaboard route via Sydney.

This is an impressive time saving and will make rail even more attractive as the freight transit mode of choice.

It would also help cut the number of heavy vehicles using the Newell Highway.

It should be noted that there is almost two million tonnes of rail freight each year which is not destined for Sydney that simply passes through, adding to congestion on the coastal network.

By 2030, without an Inland Rail line, this figure is expected to grow to more than five million tonnes per annum.


There is already significant work along the Inland Rail route, totalling $586 million.

There is:

  • the Wodonga Bypass and its duplication
  • re-railing the line between Melbourne and Albury
  • re-sleepering the entire track between Melbourne and Parkes
  • rebuilding and replacing bridges
  • and building new passing lanes to improve capacity and reliability.

This work would be necessary to progress an Inland Rail line.

And it helps cement the Parkes’ position at the centre in Australia’s transport network.


As I mentioned at the outset of this speech, in last year’s Budget I announced that $300 million would be provided to prepare the Inland Rail alignment for construction.

This work will begin in 2014-15 with detailed planning and environmental assessments, land acquisition, corridor preservation and community consultation.

This investment fulfils yet another of our election commitments and demonstrates the Government’s pledge to progress work on this important nation building project.


It is important to be realistic about the next steps.

As the ARTC study highlights, an Inland Rail line bears significant costs – estimated at over $4.7 billion.

That doesn’t include the complementary expense of terminals, signalling systems and further upgrades to existing track, such as from Albury to Junee.

This initial $300 million then is an important first step along that path.

In the meantime, I urge all parties to work together on this next phase – both governments and industry – to address the issues that will need to be resolved as the Inland Railway progresses to reality.

Of course, its benefits would extend far beyond the township of Parkes.

All of you here today would be considering the economic opportunities for major regional towns along the route.


Before I leave you today, the rail enthusiasts among you might be interested to learn that the arrival of the railway heralded something new to the world – standardised time.

Until trains began to cut distances across England, sundials had been used to set the time for individual towns.

Neighbouring towns would vary by two or three minutes.

This led to inevitable chaos with train timetables and eventually forced towns to synchronise time to comply with London – or what became known as ‘London time’.

This was often fiercely opposed by locals.

This also became the time set by the Royal Observatory at Greenwich – which we all now know as Greenwich Mean Time.

Thank you for the invitation to address you all this morning.

Once again I commend your success in ensuring Parkes’ position as a pivotal part of the national transport network.

The Government has confirmed our support for Inland Rail.

There is much more work to be done.

I look forward to working with you into the future.


[1] Long term projections of Australian transport emissions: Base case 2010, Report for Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, BITRE, p26.  Available at: http://www.google.com.au/url?q=http://www.climatechange.gov.au/publications/projections/~/media/publications/projections/bitre-transport-modelling-pdf.pdf&sa=U&ei=9sJnT4X7IeXUmAXm4cnzCA&ved=0CBMQFjAA&usg=AFQjCNHE8s3W_VOS5XQ89nmX4ycqpMPbyA

[2] The 2007 election commitment was for $15 million.