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Inland Rail: Delivering a Once-in-a-Generation Project

ARTC is building Inland Rail on behalf of the Australian Government for all Australians, with local knowledge and insights from landowners, businesses and communities.

The program of works is on track to enhance the country’s supply chains and complete the backbone of the national freight rail network, with freight train transit times of less than 24 hours between Melbourne and Brisbane.

Inland Rail progressed significantly in 2019-20. Construction continued and is nearing completion along the Parkes to Narromine section in NSW, while extensive planning and design was carried out across other sections of the project in Queensland, NSW and Victoria ahead of further construction works commencing.

Health and safety management

The Inland Rail team continued to build a robust health and safety framework for the program, implementing ARTC’s Safety Management System and aligning with the value of No Harm.

As construction works progressed over the year, there was one Lost Time Injury and six Medically Treated Injuries sustained by Inland Rail contractors, and no Lost Time Injuries or Medically Treated Injuries sustained by Inland Rail employees.

Notably, Inland Rail proactively managed an effective response to COVID-19 as part of the broader ARTC response to the pandemic. A Business Continuity Group was established, and an effective health and safety risk management approach adopted. A key initiative was the development of an internal coronavirus portal page, which became the central point of reference for the program.

The Inland Rail team also continued to improve the standard and visibility of health and safety on the program through the establishment of the following:

Enhanced health and safety standards

  • Inland Rail Safety Management Plan
  • Inland Rail Accreditation Plan
  • Work Instructions that manage key project health and safety hazards

Enhanced health and safety visibility and worker capability

  • Inland Rail Health and Safety Portal
  • Development of a “Safety Flash” communication
  • Development of the Inland Rail Health and Safety Training Needs Analysis
  • Health & Safety General Induction Training
  • Summer Safety Series to highlight seasonal hazards and suitable controls
  • National Safe Work Month in October 2019 with two Parkes to Narromine project Safety Days.

Delivery works progress along the alignment

Work is well underway on Inland Rail, which will create more than 16,000 jobs during construction. Upon completion, Inland Rail will reduce freight costs, better link businesses and producers to markets, and reduce our reliance on roads to move Australia’s growing volume of freight.

Project teams continued to work sensitively and fairly with local communities and impacted landowners to get Inland Rail right. During the year, we continued to use local knowledge to inform our decisions and mitigate community impacts. Initiatives included:

  • Private level crossings re-alignments
  • Road-rail interface redesigns to mitigate flooding impacts
  • Level crossing design adjustments to protect farm machinery and accommodate cattle movements
  • Redesigned level crossings to maintain pedestrian and vehicle access through towns – important for the connectivity and vitality of towns.

Strong progress was made throughout the year across all projects, including:

  • Parkes to Narromine – Works included laying more than 85km of track, replacing existing sleepers and track with concrete sleepers and new steel tracks, realigning the track to minimise tight curves, raising the level of the rail formation and replacing and upgrading culverts
  • Tottenham to Albury – Progressed reference design phase including investigations, field studies and evolution of engineering design. Stage 1 of the project was also referred to the Victorian Government under the Environment Effects Act 1978, while an Expressions of Interest process was launched to complete the early phase of design and construction work. A Euroa Working Group was also established to socialise local bridge design options and build community awareness
  • Albury to Illabo – An Expressions of Interest process was launched for engineering and environmental service providers
  • Illabo to Stockinbingal – Continued working with landowners, the local community and other stakeholders to progress design and planning works
  • Stockinbingal to Parkes – Progressed reference design phase, including environmental and technical investigations, engineering and design, hydrology studies and engagement with landowners and the local community
  • Narromine to Narrabri – Continued working with landowners, the local community and other stakeholders to progress design and planning works, including environmental and hydrology studies and engineering design work
  • Narrabri to North Star – Construction tender underway, with the successful tenderer to be announced in the second half of 2020 ahead of full construction commencing in early 2021
  • North Star to NSW/QLD Border – Continued extensive stakeholder engagement activities to help develop and refine the Macintyre flood model and reference design, culminating in the preparation of a draft Environmental Impact Statement
  • NSW/QLD Border to Gowrie – Intergovernmental agreement was signed, while a draft Environmental Impact Statement was submitted to the Office of the Coordinator-General. Design and modelling work also continued
  • Gowrie to Helidon – Intergovernmental agreement was signed, while various technical investigations were conducted to inform the project’s draft Environmental Impact Statement. Planning and design work also continued along the alignment
  • Helidon to Calvert – Intergovernmental agreement was signed, while various technical investigations were conducted to inform the project’s draft Environmental Impact Statement. Planning and design work also continued along the alignment
  • Calvert to Kagaru – Intergovernmental agreement was signed, while various technical investigations were conducted to inform the project’s draft Environmental Impact Statement. Planning and design work also continued along the alignment
  • Kagaru to Acacia Ridge and Bromelton – Planning and environmental investigations progressed following submission of an initial advice statement to the Office of the Coordinator-General.

In addition, important track work creating the North West Connection near Parkes was completed. This 5.3km section of track completes the vital link between Inland Rail and ARTC’s east-west Interstate line from Sydney to Perth.

Engaging local communities

In 2019-20, the Inland Rail team continued to inform and support local communities through a wide range of channels and activities, including regular project updates, community information sessions, participation in local events, regional local business briefings and major contract briefings, and social media updates via Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter.

More than 13,500 landowner briefings were conducted across the program, while 440 targeted Indigenous business briefings and workshops were held.

The program’s interactive project maps continued to be widely used by community members to provide feedback on the latest reference designs. More than 60,000 visits and nearly 1,000 comments have been received since the program’s first online map was launched in September 2018.

Supporting local communities

Inland Rail is a national project with local benefits, generating jobs, social investment and economic opportunities for regional communities.

As at June 2020, our Parkes to Narromine project had delivered significant community benefits since construction commenced in December 2018. These included:

  • Employing 1,805 people; 298 of whom are Indigenous
  • 692 local residents working on the project
  • Supply contracts with 99 local businesses
  • Investment of $100.7 million with local businesses; of which $12.6 million is with Indigenous businesses.

Other key community initiatives included:

  • Indigenous Participation Plan: Further developed and implemented to ensure long-term benefits are shared with Indigenous communities along the route
  • Community Sponsorship and Donations Program: More than $180,000 in grant funding was awarded to regional community groups and initiatives
  • ARTC Inland Rail Scholarships Program: 20 scholarships valued at $20,000 were awarded to undergraduate students attending the University of Southern Queensland, Charles Sturt University (NSW) and LaTrobe University (Victoria).

Environment and sustainability

The Inland Rail Environment and Sustainability Policy continued to guide the planning, design and implementation of the project throughout 2019-20. Initiatives during the year included:

  • Publication of the first Inland Rail Annual Sustainability Report
  • In partnership with Humes – the concrete products division of Holcim – Inland Rail achieved an industry leading sustainability milestone by using more than 22,600 tonnes of carbon neutral precast concrete culverts as part of the Parkes to Narromine section. The culverts will save 7,000 tonnes of carbon emissions, equating to about 2,000 vehicles off the road for a year
  • The Inland Rail Route History 2006-2019 document was made publicly available, summarising the extensive studies involving government, engineering firms and economic advisory groups to progress the program.

Other Inland Rail sustainability initiatives include:

  • Reuse of more than 3,500 tonnes of formation on the Parkes to Narromine project
  • More than 95% of existing rail being recycled on ARTC and NSW networks
  • Reuse of 90,000 steel sleepers and their attached rail clips
  • Up to 19,000 timber sleepers are being reused on the Narrabri to North Star section to keep the rail line operational while materials are delivered via train
  • 300,000 tonnes of ballast and ash have been used on the Parkes to Narromine project to construct more durable local access roads, minimising dust impacts and reducing water usage for dust minimisation.

Once operational, Inland Rail will reduce truck volumes in more than 20 regional towns, lower road congestion on some of Australia's busiest highways, and reduce carbon emissions by 750,000 tonnes per year from 2050.

Senate inquiry into Inland Rail

In September 2019, the Senate announced an inquiry into various aspects of Inland Rail. The matter was referred to the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee to consider the management of the project by ARTC and the Commonwealth Government.

ARTC lodged a formal submission with the inquiry in November 2019. At the invitation of the Committee, ARTC appeared at a public hearing for the inquiry in January 2020. Further public hearings had been scheduled in April and June 2020 but were postponed due to COVID-19 restrictions on travel.

ARTC has cooperated fully with the inquiry and will continue to work with stakeholders to ensure we are taking community views into account as project design and construction progresses. Parliamentary inquiries are an important part of government business, with the Committee scheduled to report on the outcome of the inquiry on 11 November 2020.

ARTC’s Inland Rail Integration Program

In parallel with the task of constructing the Inland Rail network, ARTC has commenced an Integration Program to ensure that all of the opportunities the new network presents are maximised.

The Integration Program includes ensuring that the infrastructure is commissioned and absorbed into our Interstate Business Unit in a manner that enables the benefits to be fully realised as early as possible. It also includes extensive consideration of the many strategic issues associated with a project of this magnitude to ensure the commercial, economic and social benefits are delivered in line with the business case.

In addition, the Integration Program will ensure that ARTC fully leverages the scale of Inland Rail as a catalyst for further change throughout our organisation.