A long cargo train on the new Inland Rail in Australia.

Image Courtesy: ARTC

The Inland Rail Project is a large-scale infrastructure initiative in Australia aimed at constructing a dedicated freight line between Melbourne and Brisbane. Spanning approximately 1,600km across inland regions of eastern Australia, the railway will create a more efficient and sustainable mode of transporting goods by rail. We expect to see a reduced reliance on road transport and significantly lower congestion on the road.

How and When Did the Inland Rail Project Start?

The idea of establishing a rail freight pathway connecting Melbourne to Brisbane dates back to 1902. Following various proposals over the years, the North-South Rail Corridor Study was introduced in 2005 and concluded in the subsequent year. Several potential routes were discussed before the decision was made to use the far western corridor passing through Parkes. Construction of the Inland Rail officially began in 2018.

Who Was Henry Parkes?

The inception of the idea for an inland rail link in Australia can be attributed to Henry Parkes. He was a significant figure in Australian history often called the “Father of Federation.” Parkes was a prominent politician and statesman who served as Premier of New South Wales on five separate occasions during the 19th century. He played a crucial role in advocating for the federation of the Australian colonies into a single nation.

In 1889, during a speech delivered in Tenterfield, NSW, Parkes articulated his vision for a railway network that would connect the eastern and southern states of Australia. He saw such a railway as a way to boost economic growth, promote national unity and overcome the vast distances that separated the colonies.

Parkes’ proposal for an Inland Railway was unrealistic for its time, as it challenged the standard perception of coastal shipping as the primary mode of transportation. For this reason, amongst others, it did not go ahead.

How Will the Inland Rail Project Impact the Australian Economy?

This project has been called “one of the most significant rail infrastructure projects in the world” and promises to boost trade and commerce. The Inland Rail project stands as an initiative that will significantly impact the Australian economy, by providing a swift and efficient freight transportation corridor between two major economic centres – Melbourne and Brisbane.

Businesses are expected to gain advantages with shorter transit times and reduced costs, improving their access to both domestic and global markets. Job opportunities created during construction of the railway is likely to stimulate economic growth in regional areas along the route. Additionally, the project’s focus on sustainable rail transport will likely lower emissions and air pollution. Improved transportation options are also anticipated to be particularly beneficial for Australia’s agricultural sector.

The Social Impact of the Inland Rail

The Inland Rail will have both positive and negative effects on the community.

The positive effects include:

    • Improved connectivity for regional areas
    • Enhanced transport efficiency – reduced delivery times and costs
    • Job creation during construction and operation
    • Increased investment in local infrastructure.

The negative effects of this project include:

    • Noise and environmental disruption lasting several years
    • Concerns for cultural heritage sites
    • Increased urbanisation pressure as more houses will need to be built.

Environmental Impact of the Inland Rail

There are certainly short and long-term environmental impacts related to the contruction of the Inland Rail.

In the short term, construction activities may lead to habitat disruption and soil erosion. Noise and dust pollution can affect local ecosystems and communities, and indigenous sites may be impacted.

However, in the long term, the inland rail will likely contribute very positively to the environment. The shift from road to rail can lead to a decrease in overall carbon footprint and alleviate traffic congestion, offering environmental benefits in terms of air quality and greenhouse gas emissions. The long-term goal is to create a more efficient transport system that minimises environmental impact while supporting economic growth.

A panoramic view of a lush grassy landscape, where the Inland Rail may go through.

What Will the Inland Rail Provide Freight Train Operators With?

In the freight industry, deadlines must be met on time to avoid congestion and demurrage. The Inland Rail will provide freight train operators with:

    • Capacity for up to 21-tonne axle loads, with a maximum speed of 115km/h.
    • Capability for container double-stacking.
    • Trains up to 1,800m in length, equivalent to 110 B-Double trucks.
    • Scheduled transit times of under 24 hours between Melbourne and Brisbane, resulting in a reduction of up to 10 hours compared to the existing coastal rail route through Sydney.

Inland Rail Project Cost

The estimated cost of the Inland Rail project is $31 billion. This substantial investment includes construction of rail tracks, terminals, bridges and associated facilities, as well as expenditures related to environmental assessments and project management.

How Much of the Rail is Going to Be New?

The construction of the railway line is divided into 12 projects, with plans to build 600km of new track and upgrade or modify 1,000km of existing track.

Inland Rail Pty Ltd (a subsidiary of the Australian Rail Track Corporation) is building the railway on behalf of the Australian Government.

What is the Estimated Completion Date of the Rail?

The Australian Government is adopting a phased approach to the construction of the Inland Rail, focusing on construction from Beveridge in VIC to Parkes and Narromine in NSW. This section is scheduled to be completed by 2027. It is not yet confirmed when the entire rail will be finished, but it could be in the late 2030s or 40s. It’s no small project!

What Route Will the Inland Rail Trains Follow?

The train route will pass through the following areas:

    • Beveridge to Albury
    • Albury to Illabo
    • Illabo to Stockinbingal
    • Stockinbingal to Parkes
    • Parkes to Narromine
    • Narromine to Narrabri
    • Narrabri to North Star
    • North Star to NSW/QLD Border

An informative map of the route can be found here.

What Will the Inland Rail Carry?

“Will the Inland Rail carry passengers?” It’s very unlikely, as this train line is built to speed up freight transportation. Public transport is something that Transport for NSW handles. The Inland Rail will primarily be used to transport domestic goods such as fresh food, packed goods, hardware and bulk goods like steel, paper and coal. This is a significant export commodity for Australia, particularly from regions such as QLD and NSW, where extensive coal mining operations are located.

The railway will likely play a key role in transporting coal from these mining regions to ports for export to international markets. Coal transportation via rail offers several advantages, including cost-effectiveness for bulk cargo and reduced environmental impact compared to other transportation modes like road freight.