No end in sight for Inland Rail as work stays south of Qld

Emma Alsop February 21, 2024

Victoria’s Beveridge-to-Albury section is one of two alignments in the construction phase. Photo: Inland Rail

INLAND Rail Pty Ltd has confirmed there is no estimated end date for construction of the 1900km rail project, but the company is hoping to complete all works south of Parkes by the end of 2027.

This outcome is a far cry from a 2020 update on the project which estimated that the total Inland Rail would be completed by 2027.

In 2022, ARTC extended this estimate to 2030-31, a timeline which now appears to be abandoned.

Since the release of Kerry Schott’s Inland Rail Review in January 2023, the Federal Government has adopted a “least-regrets approach” aimed at completing the four sections south at Parkes, totaling about 650km, before starting other projects.

It is estimated that about 17pc of the total Inland Rail project has been completed, with expenditure to date ranging between $3-3.5 billion.

There is no estimated completion date for the remaining seven sections stretching from Parkes to Brisbane, excluding the already operational Parkes to Narromine and parts of the Narrabri to North Star alignment.

This staged approach to delivering Inland Rail now means all contracts with companies involved in the construction north of Parkes have been terminated.

Heading Inland Rail Pty Ltd, a subsidiary of ARTC designated to deliver the project, is newly appointed head Nick Miller, who said the organisation was solely focused on construction works at the four southern sections.

Nick Miller

He told the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee all activities on the remaining seven sections involved design works and progressing the environmental impact statement (EIS) process.

“[F]ollowing the review—the work, in terms of construction, has been focused on south of Parkes,” Mr Miller said.

“What we’re undertaking north of Parkes is land acquisition, completing the EIS statements and more detailed designs, so we can actually define the scope, schedule and cost for those projects.”

He said there was “no defined date” for when the total Inland Rail project would be completed.

“That’s a decision for the Commonwealth, once we finalise the scope and schedule for the project.”

He said this information was “progressively being developed”.

Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts deputy secretary Jessica Hall said she believed the environmental assessments for the controversial Queensland sections would take years to finalise.

“I would say that you’re probably still a couple of years away from having a better understanding of the EIS requirements in Queensland,” Ms Hall said.

Construction contracts terminated

The largest of the terminated contracts is the deal to deliver the challenging Gowrie-to-Kagura section, near Toowoomba.

The 128km alignment is set to include a 6.2km tunnel through the Toowoomba range, which would be the largest-diameter diesel-freight tunnel in the Southern Hemisphere.

A Public Private Partnership arrangement was chosen as the preferred delivery method.

In 2022, the Regionerate Rail consortium featuring Clough, GS Engineering, WeBuild, Service Stream, and the Plenary Group won the contract.

Clough has since been acquired by WeBuild after entering administration in late 2022.

Initially, the contract was valued at $5B, but the Inland Rail Review in 2023 estimated the project would cost about $9B.

Mr Miller said as part of the Inland Rail Review process, the organisation was asked to “take a review of that PPP model”.

“We’ve been in negotiations with the successful party, and we’ve terminated that contract.”

Lead consortium member Plenary Group declined to comment on discussions.

Currently there is no indication of how many contracts have been terminated as part of the process.

Construction commenced on the Stockinbingal-to-Parkes line in September. Photo: Inland Rail

Beveridge to Parkes alignments

Despite much of the work being track enhancements, planning roadblocks have slowed down some projects as part of the four Inland Rail alignments south of Parkes.

The only line in Victoria, the 262km track-upgrade project from Beveridge to Albury began construction in 2023.

Works are expected to be underway at 12 sites, with the project aiming to be completed by 2027.

Also utilising an existing rail corridor, the 185km Albury-to-Illabo alignment is currently stuck in approvals stage.

A huge community response to the initial EIS prompted the NSW Government to request more documents from Inland Rail Pty Ltd.

Concerns around the project include the potential impacts from Inland Rail running through the township of Wagga Wagga.

The City of Wagga Wagga criticised the accuracy of the EIS, and argued an alternative route bypassing the township should have been evaluated.

“The impacts of Inland Rail, mainly operational, have the potential to trigger significant adverse impacts on the community of Wagga Wagga, local businesses and services,” City of Wagga Wagga councillor Jenny McKinnon said.

The Illabo-to-Stockingbingal alignment requires 39km of new rail line, and is in the approvals stage.

Also due to public feedback, the Inland Rail Pty Ltd published additional documents and is awaiting assessments from the NSW Department of Planning and Environment ahead of final ministerial approvals.

The 170km Stockingbingal-to-Parkes alignment is the only other alignment in the major construction phase.

Featuring track enhancement and modification works, Inland Rail Pty Ltd commenced works on the line in September.

In June 2023, Inland Rail Pty Ltd appointed Martinus Rail to design and construct enhancement works on the Albury-to-Illabo and Stockinbingal-to-Parkes sections of Inland Rail.

The contract is reportedly worth over $400M.

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