21 April 2023

Ambitious Inland Rail project under threat of coming off the rails

| Andrew McLaughlin
Join the conversation
Train travelling past fields

The Inland Rail project scope will be reduced to focus on the Melbourne to Parkes section of the line, although the government says it remains committed to completing the project. Photo: Inland Rail.

The federal government has been forced to reduce the scope of the 1700-kilometre Inland Rail project from Melbourne to Brisbane after a nearly 100 per cent cost blowout.

The Inland Rail project was initiated by the former LNP government with the goal of improving the rail corridor so that thousands of containers can be taken off roads between the eastern capital cities each day. This would not only have the benefit of easing traffic congestion, but would also reduce CO2 emissions by an estimated 750,000 tonnes a year by 2050.

A report authored by Dr Kerry Schott found that the scale and complexity of the project had been grossly underestimated, and that the projected costs had almost doubled from $16.4 billion to $31.4 billion.

Because of the delays, Transport and Infrastructure Minister Catherine King told ABC Radio National on 11 April that the scope within the originally scheduled completion date of 2027 would be refocused on completing the Melbourne to Parkes section of the Inland Rail, in line with one of Dr Schott’s report’s recommendations, while additional scoping studies and land acquisitions would continue for the remainder of the route.

“We’re determined to get this project done, but there is at the moment and according to the review we cannot even be certain about the costs of this project,” she said. “So, we’ve got a lot of work to do frankly to clean the mess up that’s been left to us but also, pardon the pun, to get this project back on track.

“I have to make sure that we prioritise where we begin to see some revenue coming back in for all the dollars that taxpayers have put into this project,” she added.

“So that means, you know, certainly for this term of government we’re focusing on getting it to Parkes by 2027 by concentrating on that area of the build, at the same time continuing to do the planning work, corridor acquisition, land acquisition along the route beyond that.”

READ ALSO All aboard? How Canberra could become a test case for high-speed rail

In the report, Dr Schott said there were a number of reasons for what she described as a “regrettable situation” for Inland Rail, including the lack of suitable “governance and project management arrangements”.

“The problem is that the Board and its sub-committee do not have adequate skills to oversee this project,” she said.

The report’s 19 major recommendations, all of which the government has said it will carry out, include: addressing the skills requirements of the ARTC Board; filling the position of chief executive of Inland Rail as soon as possible; ensuring that ARTC has governance arrangements to deliver both the Inland Rail project and its business-as-usual operations; and conducting a review of the statement of expectations issued by the shareholder ministers of ARTC.

Despite the government committing only to the Melbourne to Parkes section for now, Dr Schott was adamant that the full project must be completed.

“It’s absolutely essential that this line gets built through from Brisbane through to Melbourne, and its main purpose is to carry freight from the north of our country down to the south,” Dr Schott told ABC Radio National on 11 April. “It’s absolutely essential that the line gets finished.”

Inland Rail map

A map showing the route of the Inland Rail project. Image: ARTC.

In a statement shared with Region, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific and Member for Riverina Michael McCormack urged the government to “stay the course” on the project.

He described it as a “transformational infrastructure project, which would reap benefits for residents and businesses not only along the 1700-kilometre Melbourne-to-Brisbane route – with a possible extension to Gladstone – but throughout the eastern Australian states and the nation’s international trading partners”.

“As the Deputy Prime Minster, I managed the signing of the intergovernmental agreements between the federal government and the three relevant state governments, two of which were Labor-led,” Mr McCormack said. “Local governments along the proposed route, including those throughout the Riverina and Central West, were keen to see this nation-building project proceed.

“This project not only delivers significant economic benefits to local communities, but it will also cut around 200,000 truck movements off our roads and reduce carbon emissions by 750,000 tonnes per year by 2050.”

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments
michael quirk7:12 am 18 Apr 23

Inland Rail, Snowy 2,0, the Darwin to Alice Springs railway and ACT light rail were all evaluated before commencement and were found to be a poor use of public funds. Their construction is a testament to the egos and incompetence of our elected representatives.

GrumpyGrandpa6:31 pm 16 Apr 23

The Inland Rail project would remove 200,000 truck movements off our roads and 750,000 tonnes of CO2 from our atmosphere (by 2050). Add to that safer roads for other motorists, reduced need for road repairs caused by heavy vehicles and it’s all sounding pretty good, until the Federal Government recounts the pennies.

When we consider the estimated cost of the ACT Government building LR from the City to Woden is alleged to be $2-3 billion,
I reckon if the Inland Rail is now going to cost $31.4 billion, I know which project is the better option.

ChrisinTurner1:25 pm 17 Apr 23

I believe the subsidy for Stage 2 per passenger boarding will be about $30 compared with $7 on the exiting express bus option.

Another dog…!

Capital Retro10:42 am 16 Apr 23

“A report authored by Dr Kerry Schott found that the scale and complexity of the project had been grossly underestimated, and that the projected costs had almost doubled from $16.4 billion to $31.4 billion.”

Isn’t this the case for every other grand plan that involves the nation? Look at Snowy Hydro 2. Look at the NDIS. The Voice promises to be the mother of all.

Now we are going to have to build homes and infrastructure the size of Canberra every year to cater for proposed immigration increases. Where does it end?

Of all the projects I mentioned I believe the inland rail is not only ambitious but essential.

None of that excuses horrendous project management or estimates, basically because it was conceived by an inebriated person on the back of a beer coaster, rather than properly scoped to begin with.

Project has gone from <$5 billion (First estimate) to $31 billion + – likely to be plenty more above that yet. There are always blowouts, but this is right up there.

It is not a bad project, although I suspect the actual usage estimates are likely to be widely optimistic – but again always the go with most major transport projects.

Capital Retro2:28 pm 17 Apr 23

“………..it was conceived by an inebriated person on the back of a beer coaster……..”

I think you are getting confused with Kevin Rudd’s NBN thought bubble.

@Capital Retro
“…. Kevin Rudd’s NBN thought bubble.”
You mean the “thought bubble”, a modified version of which, Abbot and Turnbull turned into a reality, to produce a total stuff up, CR?

I don’t think there is only one beer coaster in the world CR…..

If you think Inland Rail was robustly developed as an idea, I’ve got many bridges to sell you.

Capital Retro9:19 am 18 Apr 23

Whatever suits you.

@Capital Retro
Unlike you, CR, facts suit me.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.