Cost blowouts and approval delays – it’s all aboard the train bound for nowhere

Tensions are flaring between the state and federal government over the completion of a major freight line following major cost blow outs and approval delays which have slowed its progress.

Apr 03, 2024, updated Apr 03, 2024
Workers on the Inland Rail project

Workers on the Inland Rail project

Inland Rail is a 1700km rail line intended to link Melbourne and Brisbane via the regions to reduce truck volumes, highway congestion, carbon emissions and to better connect farmers to businesses.

The rail construction has not been without controversy after a 2023 independent review found there were major cost blow outs in the former government’s plan – $9.3 billion to $31.4 billion.

As a result, there was a cut back to the rail line with the federal government coughing up $14 billion to complete the stretch of track between Melbourne and Parkes by 2027.

But there has been silence as to when the line will reach Brisbane with the review suggesting that would push out well beyond the 2030s.

Premier Steven Miles was adamant the track must be completed into Queensland as promised.

“The whole point of Inland Rail was to deliver an inland rail freight route from Melbourne into Queensland and so we need to see it delivered,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

He also hopes that instead of the line stopping at Kagaru, it is finished closer to the Port of Brisbane for better accessibility.

The project’s management did not escape unscathed as Mr Miles criticised the “incompetent” approval attempts for slowing down its delivery.

“I have watched the approval processes of many big projects and in the case of Inland Rail … I have never seen a more incompetent attempt to get approvals in my entire time in government,” he said.

“It was almost like they were intentionally getting it wrong.”

An Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) spokesperson said things were moving forward and work was continuing with governments to decide on the best way to construct the Queensland leg of the track – without significant cost blowouts.

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“Inland Rail is committed to ensuring that the final design of the project addresses and appropriately mitigates potential impacts to environment and social amenity,” the spokesperson told AAP.

Work continues on gaining primary approvals for the remaining sections from Gowrie to Kagaru in Queensland, they said.

“The Calvert to Kagaru section in Queensland, which connects to Ebenezer, will progress with a revised scope that we are in the process of determining with the Australian government.”

Mr Miles said funding for the project is up to the federal government but if it does not cover the stretch from NSW to Queensland, then it is not delivering the promised benefits.

The ARTC spokesperson said the federal government would decide on future Inland Rail funding and construction, once it had been given “greater certainty over cost and schedule of the project north of Narromine by Inland Rail securing all regulatory approvals and land acquisitions”.

Federal Infrastructure Minister Catherine King said the government was undertaking a substantial amount of work to get the project back on track.

“We are working closely with the Queensland government to confirm the approach and timeframes to complete the Ebenezer business case,” Ms King said in a statement to AAP.

“We are doing the work so we can make informed decisions to ensure that the project will meet our future freight needs.”

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