Inland Rail too important to fail

The Victorian Transport Association has welcomed Dr Kerry Schott’s much-anticipated independent report on “The Delivery of the Inland Rail”.

The Albanese government’s acceptance of recommendations in her report is vital in getting this critical infrastructure project back on track.

The Review was established last October in the face of overwhelming evidence that the governance and delivery of the Inland Rail program had been compromised, resulting in costly time and cost blowouts, as evidenced by just over 16 per cent of track completed since 2018, which was one of many issues documented in Schott’s report.

The VTA first brought to the attention of the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs in 2020 its perceived status of the operations of the Inland Rail development. In that submission we affirmed our view that the Inland Rail project was being mis-managed and mis-communicated, and not providing full benefit to the Australian community. 

Dr Schott’s independent review of Inland Rail confirmed this view and has clearly articulated changes that need to be made.

For those that don’t know, Inland Rail is a 1700km freight rail project being built by the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), connecting Melbourne to Brisbane via regional Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland. The project is vital in the context of Australia’s growing freight task, which is being fuelled by strong consumer demand from our growing population. 

Dr Schott’s review considered the scope, schedule, and cost of the Inland Rail program, and assessed options for new intermodal terminals in Melbourne and Brisbane, and improved port links in those cities. 

Her report outlined 19 recommendations to improve the delivery of Inland Rail including strengthening governance arrangements and establishing a subsidiary company to deliver Inland Rail, reviewing ARTC’s risk management and reporting systems, a further assessment of the scope and cost of Inland Rail, a revised delivery that prioritises sections of Inland Rail that allow revenue to be generated earlier, and deciding and developing intermodal terminals in Melbourne and Brisbane.

The VTA has long supported the establishment of an intermodal freight hub at Truganina, which has also been the Victorian Government’s preferred location for such a hub. Dr Schott’s recommendations make clear that construction of two new Melbourne intermodal terminals in Beveridge and in Truganina are required to support an effective freight rail system, which we also support.

Creating greater productivity and efficiencies is critical for maintaining safe and effective supply chains and de-carbonising the transport industry, over time. Intermodal transport – whereby road, rail, sea, and air freight modalities are used together to greater effect – is the future for freight in Australia.

It’s important to note that what Inland Rail is not, is an attempt to somehow reduce or diminish the role or value of the road transport industry in moving freight, and associated volumes. 

While the project will provide opportunities for greater and more seamless rail connections along Australia’s eastern seaboard, this in turn will create more opportunity and work for road operators carrying freight between ports and intermodal hubs and onto rail, and from Inland rail depots onto warehouses and distribution centres, and retail shelves. 

As I have always said, ships, planes and trains carry freight, but only trucks deliver. 

And in the context of a growing rail freight task, every road freight operator should welcome Inland Rail and its capacity to generate more business, greater revenues, and better margins for their businesses.

The importance of Inland Rail will be highlighted by its ability to meet the growing demand for transport services throughout Australia through improved connectivity and enhancing intermodal transport. Productivity and environmental issues that are growing in importance will hopefully be adequately addressed once the project is completed.

Whilst disappointing that Inland Rail was allowed to exceed time and cost budgets, with Kerry Schott’s review now complete it is essential the government do what needs to be done to complete this essential sovereign supply chain project.

  • Peter Anderson is CEO, Victorian Transport Association

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