Rail resurgence unlocks Australia’s future prosperity

Rail resurgence unlocks Australia’s future prosperity

This country’s ability to meet many of the challenges of the 21st century relies on our renewed commitment to our passenger and freight rail networks Edit.

– Major heavy rail, metro and light rail projects are springing up across Australia
– Continued investment in rail infrastructure is essential to meet the country’s population challenges
– Projects underway currently represent enormous opportunities for the steel sector and other industries in the rail supply chain

Australia’s cities are growing – and fast – which means there is a greater need than ever before for transport capable of handling future population growth.

This growth in population won’t be evenly spread, which raises challenges for moving people around our cities, and between our cities and regional areas, quickly and efficiently. The federal government’s $10 billion National Rail Program, released in 2017, makes the case for rail being the most effective way to meet these challenges, while also making our passenger transport networks more reliable and our cities more liveable as they grow.

In December 2017, Federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Darren Chester said the Program will deliver funding for the planning and construction of rail projects for the next 10 years. “Better rail connectivity makes it possible to grow the regions, reduce congestion in our cities, create thousands of new jobs, and support our efforts to decentralise,” he said.

The announcement that rail will receive substantial funding for the foreseeable future represents a tilt in favour of rail after decades in which funding for roads has received priority.

Meeting the needs of the country’s growth in freight will also demand continued investment in major heavy rail projects. The Australian Rail Association indicates that there will be a potential 88 per cent increase in freight kilometres travelled by 2050 and an increase in vehicle stock on our roads of approximately 2.5 million trucks and light commercial vehicles.

Freight activity generates billions of dollars in value for the Australian economy and supports thousands of jobs. We’re increasingly seeing whole-of-supply chain solutions with rail as a dominant component. It’s therefore essential we continue our efforts to upgrade our heavy rail networks and ease the burden of heavy freight traffic on Australia’s existing interstate routes. Major freight transport projects underway throughout Australia, such as Inland Rail, won’t just give regional areas the chance to unlock new domestic and international markets, they represent enormous opportunities for the Australian steel supply chain and other related industries.

Brenton Marcinkowski, Liberty OneSteel Sales Manager Rail Products, said the steel sector has a critical role to play in servicing projects currently underway – and those to come.

“Liberty OneSteel is playing an important role in both the manufacture and supply of Australian-made and third-party certified steel rail products for many of these nation-building projects, collaborating with the constructors to meet their often-complex supply requirements to keep the projects on track,” he said.  

In this feature, we identify several of the major trends being driven by rail and look at how our investment in major heavy rail, intercity, metro and light rail projects is preparing us for growth in our capital cities and regional centres.

Image courtesy of Sydney Metro/Transport for NSW


Article published on Monday, 01 July 2019


Accelerating regional growth Connecting key precincts Linking markets east and west Paving the way for high-speed rail Preparing for a ‘bigger’ Australia
Accelerating regional growth Accelerating regional growth

Accelerating regional growth

Key Information

  • Victorian Regional Rail Revival program
  • Length: N/A
  • Purpose: Upgrade every regional passenger train line in Victoria
  • Funding: $1.7 billion
  • Tonnes of steel used: N/A
  • Estimated completion date: 2023
  • Interesting fact: The program is expected to generate approximately 1000 job

A networked city model can assist with the pressing problems of balancing population growth and ensuring economic and social benefits are distributed evenly.

With its commitment to spend $10 billion over the next 10 years on transformational passenger rail projects in our major cities and surrounding regional areas, the federal government has recognised the essential part rail can play in redirecting growth to regional centres. The National Rail Program aims to make cities more liveable and efficient, reduce the burden on our roads, bolster efforts to decentralise the economy and develop regional areas. Evidence of this plan in action can be seen in the Victorian Regional Rail Revival program, a joint initiative of the Australian and Victorian governments that will upgrade stations, signalling and track across Victoria. It will deliver major upgrades to every regional passenger line in Victoria, plus create over 1000 jobs.

Other initiatives are underway that put the case for faster rail connections between cities and important regional hubs, with the federal government recently selecting three business case proposals to receive funding under its Faster Rail program. Included is the NSW government’s proposal for a faster rail service between Sydney and the state’s second-largest city, Newcastle. With 30,000 NSW Central Coast residents using the existing Newcastle to Sydney line daily, service improvements to the rail corridor could be a game-changer for those wanting the lifestyle of a regional centre but easy access to the job opportunities available in Sydney.

Also to receive funding as part of the Faster Rail program is CLARA's proposal for Melbourne to Greater Shepparton and the proposal by North Coast Connect consortium for improved connections between Brisbane and the Moreton Bay and Sunshine Coast regions.  

Image of Victorian V/Line train courtesy of the Victorian Premier's Office

Connecting key precincts Connecting key precincts

Connecting key precincts

Key Information

  • (Sydney CBD – South-East Light Rail)
  • Length: 12km (CBD to Kingsford)
  • Purpose: Facilitate movement of passengers to and from the Sydney CBD and south-east.
  • Funding: $2.1 billion
  • Tonnes of steel used: N/A
  • Estimated completion date: 2019
  • Interesting fact: Each light rail vehicle will carry 450 people, equivalent to nine standard buses

Light rail has made a comeback around the world and there are positive signs for it here, too – Sydney’s inner-west light rail has had passenger numbers grow by 60 per cent since 2015.

The city’s new CBD-South-East Light Rail, which will connect passengers from Circular Quay via a newly pedestrianised George Street through to Randwick and Kingsford, will provide easy access to a number of major sporting, entertainment and educational precincts. Capable of shifting 13,500 passengers per hour, there’s every reason to predict it will become a much-used service when it begins operation in 2019.

Several other major cities are in the process of implementing light rail services. Canberra is rolling out its light rail network, the first stage of which will connect the fast-growing area of Gungahlin with the city. Newcastle’s light rail system is aimed at reinvigorating the city centre by linking new public spaces and city precincts. The Gold Coast has recently had its successful light rail network (called the G-Link) connected to the main rail line running from Brisbane. And Adelaide’s tram network extension project is underway with the eventual aim of constructing a city loop around the CBD and new routes to Kent Town and North Adelaide.    

Though the transition to a light rail network is often not without its hardships given that light rail frequently takes the place of existing road infrastructure, the benefits to passengers of a high-frequency, high-capacity and reliable inner-city mode of transport are hard to overestimate.  

Linking markets east and west Linking markets east and west

Linking markets east and west

Key Information

  • (Adelaide to Tarcoola Rail Upgrade Acceleration)
  • Length: 1200km
  • Purpose: Allow more efficient freight trains to and from WA to operate at faster speeds.
  • Funding: $252 million 
  • Tonnes of steel used: 73,000
  • Estimated completion date: 2019
  • Interesting fact: 2017 marked the centenary of the Trans-Australian Railway, which joined Western Australia to the rest of the country by rail

Eighty per cent of the items transported on land between Australia’s east and west coast is by rail, making the Melbourne to Perth route a critical link in the national supply chain. 

It's a crucial rail corridor but the intercapital freight network between Melbourne and Perth is under significant strain at the moment due to steady growth in east-west bulk freight. With mining and agricultural production set to continue to expand in coming years and some sections of the track approaching the end of their asset life, an upgrade to the network is needed if travel times, reliability and productivity aren’t to be impacted.  

An initiative to accelerate the re-railing of the Adelaide – Tarcoola Rail section of the track is currently underway, with old tracks being replaced with approximately 73,000 tonnes of heavier, stronger steel supplied by InfraBuild (formerly LIBERTY OneSteel Metalcentre). The re-railing program will facilitate higher axle loads, thereby allowing heavier and more efficient freight trains to operate at faster speeds.  

Local suppliers have already benefited from investment in the project. As well as supporting steel manufacturing in South Australia, the project has created a number of jobs in regional areas of the state.

The upgrade to the line resonates with historical significance. It’s been 100 years since the Trans-Australian Railway was first laid across 1700km of dry and isolated terrain, providing a link between Australia’s eastern states and Western Australia and helping forge a sense of national unity.  

Paving the way for high-speed rail Paving the way for high-speed rail

Paving the way for high-speed rail

Key Information

  • Purpose: Bring Australia into line with rail networks used by developed economies around the world / relieve reliance on air and road corridors  
  • Funding: Estimated to require between $68 billion and $114 billion

Japan was the first country to introduce high-speed train technology in the '60s with its Shinkansen trains and it has set the benchmark ever since for ultra-rapid train transportation. 

France followed Japan’s lead by constructing its Train a Grande Vitesse (TGV) rail service in the 1970s and, shortly after, Germany introduced its Intercity-Express (ICE) train network, which uses a magnetic levitation system called Transrapid to propel trains at up to 550km/h. Spain runs the biggest high-speed rail network in Europe with 2800km of track. Not to be outdone, Britain plans to introduce its HS2 phase one in 2026, which will cut the journey time for the 200km Birmingham to London route to just 49 minutes. 

China may have been a latecomer to the high-speed train club, but it has made up for lost time by proving how quickly it can implement a high-speed rail service. China now has far-and-away the world’s longest high-speed rail network, with the UIC (the worldwide professional association representing the railway sector) estimating it has almost 24,000km of high-speed rail track in use. The introduction of a modern high-speed rail network has had a transformative effect on Chinese society, with a World Bank study finding that “a broad range of travellers of different income levels choose high-speed rail for its comfort, convenience, safety and punctuality”.

In Australia high-speed rail has never gone beyond the detailed planning stage. It remains one of the great nation-building projects yet to be undertaken. 

Preparing for a ‘bigger’ Australia Preparing for a ‘bigger’ Australia

Preparing for a ‘bigger’ Australia

Key Information

  • (Sydney Metro)
  • Length: 66km
  • Purpose: Allow rapid transit to and from Sydney CBD from the city’s outer suburbs
  • Funding: $8.3 billion (for Phase 1 Metro Northwest)
  • Tonnes of steel used: Unknown
  • Estimated completion date: 2024
  • Interesting fact: The twin 15km-long tunnels built between Bella Vista and Epping are Australia’s longest railway tunnel

Implementing metropolitan transit infrastructure capable of dealing with increasing population sizes remains a priority for governments at local, state and federal levels.

Australia’s biggest city is leading by example with the Sydney Metro project, which promises to increase the capacity of train services entering the CBD by up to 60 per cent when it opens in 2024. The city’s north-west region will be connected to the CBD via a new tunnel under Sydney Harbour (only the city’s second harbour rail crossing) and the creation of new metro stations in the city centre. The new service will then continue south-west as far as Bankstown. Altogether, the project will deliver 31 metro stations and more than 66km of new metro rail.

Sydney’s west is its demographic heartland and where demand for improved transport services is most keen. The Metro West project is preparing for the 420,000 people expected to move into the corridor between central Sydney and greater Parramatta over the next two decades. The initiative will effectively double the rail capacity in the corridor, transforming communities and creating new ones. In Melbourne, the Metro Tunnel Project will take busy train lines under the city and the High Capacity Trains Project will deliver 65 high-capacity metro trains capable of carrying 20 per cent more passengers than existing trains. And Perth and Brisbane are getting in on the act with their METRONET and Cross River Rail projects respectively, which will reduce road congestion and meet the future planning needs of both cities.

Much like the new tunnel under Sydney Harbour, Brisbane’s Cross River Rail will include 5.9km of tunnel under the Brisbane River and CBD. The Cross River Rail will allow trains to run more frequently, provide for better integration with new busways and roads, and provide a ‘turn-up-and-go’ transport system for passengers throughout the greater Brisbane area.  

More projects

Accelerating regional growth Connecting key precincts Linking markets east and west Paving the way for high-speed rail Preparing for a ‘bigger’ Australia

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