Inland rail project
White elephant watch  – John Quiggin
The Guardian has been running some articles on the long-delayed Inland Rail project , proposed to carry freight between Melbourne and Brisbane (or possibly, if Barnaby Joyce has his way) Melbourne and Gladstone. Apart from the usual megaproject problems of delays, cost overruns, mid-project redesigns and so on, there appears to be a fundamental and unfixable conflict in the thinking behind the project.
To have any prospect of economic success, the rail line has to get a large share of the market from Melbourne to Brisbane (or at least some destination in Queensland). At a minimum that means beating the existing rail route via Sydney. The article suggests that shippers like Woolworths want a transit time less than 24 hours.
But to deliver any of the proposed benefits to towns along the way, trains have to stop at lots of different places, which means travelling more slowly between them. I’m not a railway man, but putting slow vehicles with frequent stops into any transport system slows everyone down.
I’m not expecting much from a government formed by the federal opposition, apart from getting rid of the current government. But I hope the current Labor leader expresses his well-known love of trains by putting Inland Rail in the deep freeze, and using our limited resources to upgrade the main Melbourne-Sydney-Brisbane route.
The Guardian article also stated that the final senate report found “one of the key critiques directed at the Inland Rail has been whether the project remains viable if demand for coal declines or whether restrictions are imposed on the movement of coal along the Inland Rail alignment”. [Ed]