I am pleased to deliver the inaugural annual report of the National Faster Rail Agency (NFRA).
I would like to acknowledge the contribution of Mr Malcolm Southwell, who as acting Chief Executive Officer (CEO), led the establishment of the agency and achievement of a number of key milestones during the agency’s first six months of operation.
In September 2019, the Australian Government released an updated population plan, ‘Planning for Australia’s Future Population’, six months after the first policy announcement. The strategy is focused on planning for Australia’s future population with faster passenger rail links between capital cities and regional centres being highlighted as a key to strengthening economic and social ties and connecting people to housing, jobs and services.
As the strategy notes, transport, particularly rail connectivity, will be an important factor in further integrating regional and metropolitan economies and reducing population pressures in capital cities. The NFRA is responsible for delivering the Australian Government’s Faster Rail Plan.
A key component of the NFRA’s success to date has been the establishment of a skilled and experienced workforce to provide expert advice and project development tools to support the Australian Government on faster rail. The team’s collective expertise and experience in urban and regional planning and development, infrastructure delivery, project management, program administration, policy development and implementation, financial and governance oversight and transport planning, has seen significant progress towards achieving our purpose and outcomes.
Notably, the agency has:
overseen the completion of faster rail business cases for Sydney to Newcastle, Melbourne to Greater Shepparton and Brisbane to the Sunshine Coast, and provided advice to the Australian Government on funding opportunities and possible next steps for these projects
established effective relationships with state governments to allow faster rail business cases for Brisbane to the Gold Coast, Sydney to Bomaderry (via Wollongong), and Sydney to Parkes, with negotiations well advanced to commence business cases for Melbourne to Albury-Wodonga and Melbourne to Traralgon
engaged with key stakeholders to understand key faster rail issues and opportunities and facilitated engagement between Commonwealth, state and industry officials
worked collaboratively with the Infrastructure and Project Financing Agency, Infrastructure Australia and the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications to provide a joint submission to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities Inquiry into options for financing faster rail
completed key establishment milestones and governance arrangements and established staffing to create an efficient governance and corporate structure.
One of the key challenges during the NFRA’s first year of operation has been the impacts of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), which has caused unprecedented social and economic impacts throughout the world that are expected to result in lasting changes to the way we work, live and travel. COVID-19 has seen a dramatic short term reduction in the demand for public transport within Australia’s major cities. However, the shift towards more flexible and remote working arrangements as a viable and productive means of maintaining and growing many businesses will have long term implications for where people choose to live, how they choose to work and more specifically for the NFRA, the demand for regional passenger rail services.
A shift towards remote working arrangements presents a valuable opportunity for regional Australia by providing workers with the opportunity to move away from capital cities and into regional areas (with affordable housing and lifestyle amenity benefits) while supporting important employment links to their jobs in major capital cities. Fast, safe, efficient and effective transport links between major capital cities and key regional centres are vital to support this transition. A renewed focus on local manufacturing could also provide opportunities for regional development which will require infrastructure support.
The NFRA strives to be a leader in the way it delivers advice to the Australian Government on faster rail projects and policy, supported by a dynamic and high performing team, robust institutional, governance and accountability arrangements and systems, tools and processes that support and enable these outcomes.
As the NFRA moves into its second year of operation, our core focus will continue to be providing robust and informed advice to the Australian Government to support the delivery of its 20-Year Faster Rail Plan, and to identify and secure support for key investment projects where faster rail can be delivered.