THE Australian federal government and the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) have been criticised by the Senate Standing Committees on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport over their handling of the signature $A 10bn ($US 7.3bn) Inland Rail Project.

The committee’s report entitled Inland Rail: Derailed from the Start said the original cost of $A 4.7bn had blown out to $A 10bn while the government had committed more than $A 14.3bn amid predictions that the final bill could be as high as $A 20bn.

The committee said the project’s underpinning was based on an out-of-date business case and cast doubt on whether it is still valid given the substantial increase in capital required for its completion.

“It is apparent to the committee that the original costings and allocated budget for Inland Rail was inadequate from the outset, and is a failure on behalf of the Australian government and the ARTC to appropriately prepare, plan and implement Inland Rail.”

The committee made 26 recommendations in the 211-page report, including both for it and the government to set up inquiries into the project to ensure “the Australian government and the ARTC are held accountable for their management of this multi-billion-dollar project.”

The committee also recommends that the substantive increase in the cost warrants the commissioning of an independent review and update of Inland Rail’s 2015 business case.

The business case was based on a 24-hour journey time between Melbourne and Brisbane for the new 1700km freight line to make it competitive with other transport modes. The first section of the railway was completed in September 2020 and the full line is scheduled to open in 2028.

“The government’s decision to establish a strict parameter of a 24-hour end-to-end journey time for Inland Rail has had a significant adverse impact on the communities along the proposed alignment,” the report said

“Whilst it is apparent that a 24-hour preference was made by business stakeholders (including rail, freight and logistics companies) as a means to make Inland Rail competitive, it has significantly restricted the ARTC’s ability to consider alternative alignments.”

The report also criticised both the government and the ARTC for not having settled on a site for an intermodal terminal at the Brisbane end of the line and described the handling of the endpoints of the project as “unacceptable.”

However, the committee said it was generally supportive of the Inland Rail project saying its construction had the potential to provide significant benefit to rural, regional, and urban communities - enabling a more efficient movement of freight across Australia and further diversification of the nation’s freight infrastructure.

For detailed data on rail projects in Australia and around the world, subscribe to IRJ Pro.