Australia’s population is growing rapidly – around 1.5 per cent a year – and it’s starting to have an impact on cities. The Australasian Railway Association (ARA) and members of the rail industry have developed a National Rail Industry Plan that aims to address this challenge and help to significantly develop Australia’s transport infrastructure. Here’s how it plans to do this and what it will mean for the rail industry.

Recently Australasian Railway Association (ARA) board representatives met with Commonwealth Ministers including Senator Arthur Sinodinos, Minister Darren Chester and Minister Paul Fletcher to discuss the implementation of a national plan for rail.

The plan released by the ARA in September, A National Rail Industry Plan for the Benefit of Australia, details why we need to develop a more efficient Australian rail system and how the plan will help coordinate this effort.

ARA Chief Executive Officer, Danny Broad, said the rail industry makes a very significant contribution to Australia’s economy.

“The Commonwealth Government will be investing $89 billion in naval shipbuilding through to 2055. This investment will be supported by a Naval Shipbuilding Plan. Investment in rail by Australian Governments will be to the order of $100 billion through 2030,” Mr Broad said.

“Through better coordination and long-term certainty, we can ensure the industry is well positioned to take advantage of all the lessons from the past and position ourselves for the future.

“To get this right we really need a combined effort by Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments, as well as industry support.”

In addition to the economic contribution, Australia’s rail industry reduces congestion as one passenger train takes 525 cars off the roads and one freight train takes 110 long haul trucks off the roads; lowers costs through fewer road accidents and reduces road maintenance; as well as offering sustainability benefits including a reduced carbon footprint due to lower emissions.

The National Rail Industry Plan for the Benefit of Australia aims to highlight the important role that rail plays in the national transport task and the economy; identify the challenges and opportunities facing the national rail endeavour; and provide a manageable, realistic set of initiatives for both government and industry to implement in a realistic timeframe.

Why Australia needs a national rail industry plan

Each year almost one billion people use the country’s heavy and light rail networks in capital cities and in regional areas, and around 1.5 billion tonnes of freight, primarily bulk commodities, are moved.

This highlights the important role passenger and freight rail plays in helping to ease congestion in capital cities, particularly Sydney and Melbourne, which is a consequence of the continuing growth of the Australian population and therefore vehicle registrations.

In 2016, Australia’s population grew by 372,800 people – with 146,600 located in Victoria and 116,400 in New South Wales.

In round terms, Melbourne and Sydney are growing at the rate of 10,000 people every month.

As of January 2017 there were 18.8 million registered vehicles in Australia. In the preceding year both New South Wales and Victoria experienced a growth of about 2.5 per cent, which equates to around 130,000 additional vehicles on the road in a year.

The strongest growth was in light commercial vehicles (3.1 per cent) and light rigid trucks (3.4 per cent). The growth in articulated vehicles was circa two per cent.

Investing in Australia’s rail networks will help take these vehicles off the road, which has environmental and social benefits.

Rail is also a large employer, with close to 200,000 directly or indirectly involved in the industry through freight and passenger operators, track owners and managers, manufacturers, suppliers, contractors, consultants and government administration.

The contribution to the Australian economy currently stands at around $26 billion, with the ARA’s plan stating this could jump significantly with the right policies in place.

Another factor is the new age of consumerism. The trend of online shopping requires a pick-up from the supplier or wharf, to the warehouse and onto the home, adding to road congestion.

The growing population must be fed, so transporting product is on the rise, and people expect speed and efficiency in their delivery to markets. Housing affordability is a recognised problem, giving rise to the need for options to improve access to and the liveability of Australia’s various growth corridors and regions.

A coordinated approach to rail

The Australian rail industry is currently standing at a crossroads between the opportunities presented by the significant and ongoing investment in systems and infrastructure.

It is facing the challenges posed by aging infrastructure, an aging workforce and the historical separation of rail into discrete state-oriented networks, and the way in which these challenges are addressed will determine the value derived from current and future investment.

The Australian rail industry is also faced with the challenge of fragmentation. Historical events have resulted in a number of discrete, state-oriented networks with non-compatible infrastructure, differing regulatory frameworks and uncoordinated project schedules that compete for the same scarce resources.

The Plan believes a collaborative approach which engages Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments can serve to overcome these inefficiencies.

A plan to benefit Australia

The National Rail Industry Plan for the Benefit of Australia is needed to help meet the challenges facing Australia and the rail industry, and obtain maximum economic growth, efficiency, productivity and social benefits from the substantial investments currently being made, which are likely to exceed $100 billion by 2030.

A consolidated pipeline of projects around Australia will help identify priorities in addressing infrastructure needs, including the challenges of congestion and fragmentation, with funding approvals based on the compelling nature of the supporting business case.

Rail will play an increasingly important role in Australia in the future. Now is a pivotal time to bring in a National Rail Industry Plan to ensure Australian rail can realise its full potential.


The ARA recently presented the National Rail Industry Plan to Ministers at Parliament House. Pictured in the photo is Senator Sinodinos, Minister Chester, ARA Chairman Bob Herbert AM and ARA CEO Danny Broad.

The five key areas of focus

1. Recognising the importance of rail for Australia’s infrastructure development, urban planning and freight movements

2. Harmonising standards, minimising regulations and maximising economies of scale

3. Growing the capabilities of individuals and companies

4. Maximising opportunities for rail companies

5. Fostering innovation, research and development

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