ABC Sydney Radio Drive

Interview

DCI045/2017

10 May 2017

Subjects: Inland Rail project.

Richard Glover: Darren Chester is the Infrastructure and Transport Minister. Good afternoon.

Now, I must say, this is one thing I really didn't know much about when I opened the papers today and they all talked about this huge amount of money for a train line between Melbourne to Brisbane. Has this been talked about for a long time and I just haven't heard it?

Darren Chester: Yeah unfortunately, Richard, for those of us who live outside of the city it's been one of those articles of faith for a couple of decades now, that we need an eastern route between Melbourne and Brisbane for freight traffic. It has been one of those projects that has been talked about for a long time, and it is going to be the biggest rail project in 100 years. It's going to allow for freight to be moved between Melbourne and Brisbane more readily—in less than 24 hours—and from a Sydney perspective it will certainly take pressure off the freight and passenger rail networks in the broader Sydney Basin.

Richard Glover: Okay. It's to keep Melbourne in bananas, is it?

Darren Chester: No, it is a bit more than that. A lot of movement of freight up and down the coast or just over the Great Divide on the eastern seaboard currently occurs on our roads, as you would expect. So it means that for every one of these trains—which would be about 1.8 kilometres long—for every one of those trains that will be using that route in the future it will take more than 100 B-doubles off the road, which obviously in terms of wear and tear on the roads is a good thing, but also from a road safety perspective is a great thing.

Richard Glover: Okay. A lot of these go on that road from Sydney to Brisbane, don't they?

Darren Chester: Absolutely. So at the moment the alternate route, in terms of moving goods by rail, is via Sydney on the coastal route to Brisbane, which is congested and only going to get more congested in the future as we expect our national freight task to double by 2050. So this is a project that really is about building infrastructure for the next 100 years. It is something that our kids and our grandkids will benefit more from than perhaps even us, Richard. But by the time it's built and moving freight up and down the eastern seaboard of Australia it will certainly be changing lives in that inland part of Australia, and saving lives in terms of reducing road trauma.

Richard Glover: Okay, so not passenger, just freight?

Darren Chester: It's a freight project, solely for freight.

Richard Glover: And so Melbourne and Brisbane are two ends. Where does it go through?

Darren Chester: Well, that is going to be the big discussion point, I guess, over the next couple of years as we finalise the route, but when you are talking in Queensland, up to the Darling Downs, through Toowoomba, and then down through towns like Parkes in Central New South Wales, through to Albury, and further down to Melbourne via the Seymour region. So the finalisation of the route is something that will occur in the next 12 or 18 months. There's a lot of conversation, obviously, with communities along that route. A bit more than the 1000 kilometres of the 1700 is already existing rail route, and then there'll be about 600 kilometres of new track required to be laid and that's where, I guess, the conversation at a community level has to be really well handled. We need to work with our Queensland and New South Wales and Victorian state governments on things like land acquisition and working with those communities to make sure we maximise the benefits in regional Australia.

Richard Glover: Okay, and of course it stops along the way and picks up, I don't know, grain in Cootamundra, or whatever.

Darren Chester: Exactly. It picks up products along the route. What it is particularly going to be good at is providing for the competitiveness of our regional Australian products going off to world markets. I mean, we have been very successful in negotiating free trade agreements in recent times, and one of the challenges in Australia is the transport costs make us less competitive from time to time. So this will make us more competitive. It will open up job opportunities for those people living in those communities in terms of maintaining the intermodal hubs that will be required, and for the first time it will actually link the eastern seaboard of Australia with Perth on the west coast. There is already a rail line that comes across from Perth into Parkes, and…

Richard Glover: I feel so ignorant, Darren, but that is right, is it? There is a link into Parkes?

Darren Chester: Yeah, the transcontinental railway. That was actually completed 100 years ago this year. So there's a little bit of symbolism, I guess, that we have finally made the big decision to put $8.4 billion into this Melbourne-Brisbane route 100 years after the transcontinental was finished. So, there's a bit of symbolism around that. Parkes will really be the heart, to some extent, of the freight routes.

Richard Glover: Because they have got a big freight airport too, don't they?

Darren Chester: I'm not sure how much freight goes out of Parkes right now at the airport. There is certainly a good little airport there; I'm not sure how much freight goes by air at the moment. I know the Toowoomba Airport, the new airport called West Brisbane at Wellcamp—which is a privately built airport—now has freight flying out of there, the privately built one that got up and running a couple of years ago now. That is obviously also part of the freight discussions where we are moving goods by train and then perhaps moving them by air if they are a time-precious cargo. It certain does open up some of our great products, our great New South Wales products, to the rest of the world and helps us tap into those Asian markets where there's a great demand for the high quality goods we produce.

Richard Glover: But in terms of the city-slicker listening to you right now, probably the main impact is maybe less B-doubles on the highways into and out of Sydney?

Darren Chester: I think they will see less congestion on the roads. I think they will see better opportunities for freight and passenger services along the coast area as well, because it's quite congested as well as the freight task grows. They will certainly see job opportunities if they are looking to move to a regional location, and under the decentralisation agenda, this will be a very practical example of that. There'll be jobs associated with building the Inland Rail, but also jobs associated with running the intermodal hubs that will be created. So it'll take some of the pressure off Sydney's growth, and it's a project that will deliver wealth for our nation, which is obviously good for all of us.

Richard Glover: Okay, eight billion bucks in the Budget. When you do you reckon there'll be the first banana coming south?

Darren Chester: I've got to say, in the world of Infrastructure Transport Ministers, the chances of you starting a project as big as this and being the guy who cuts the ribbon in the end is pretty slim. So it's about 2024 before it gets finished. The Prime Minister has made it very clear that he wants construction to start this year, and that is our ambition, our expectation. You will see some construction in New South Wales this year of some of the new track. There's certainly some work going on already in terms of upgrading the existing track to make it future-proof and available to serve the Inland Rail project, but you will see work roll out steadily from then on. A lot of discussion will occur particularly over the next 12 or 18 months with the environmental impact statements and getting approval from landholders and working with the state governments. So it's a pretty complex piece of work, but it's one that I think is very exciting and people out there are really looking forward to.

Richard Glover: Alright. If I have got the route properly, there will be someone in that Inverell private prison sitting in his cell listening to the wheel go around. Darren Chester, thank you very much for your time.

Darren Chester: I appreciate your time, Richard.