by Eliza Booth, Journalist, Infrastructure magazine

There’s a lot happening in the rail infrastructure space across Australia. From expansions and new metros, to rail linking suburbs and new stations – the rail sector is continuing to boom. With the number of projects running concurrently, we’ve taken a look at some of the biggest rail projects around Australia and their progress to date.

Inland Rail

At 1,700km, the Inland Rail project is currently the biggest freight rail infrastructure project in Australia. The project will link ports between Brisbane and Melbourne, providing a 24-hour or less transit time for goods between, and along, the two cities.

The project is estimated to cost $10 billion with a ten-year delivery schedule and is estimated to benefit Australia’s GDP by $16 billion during its construction and first 50 years of operation, while delivering 16,000 new jobs at the peak of construction.

Construction of the rail infrastructure was split into 13 smaller projects that span across Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, and includes upgrading 1,100km of existing track and building 600km of new track.

The first section of the Inland Rail construction, the Parkes to Narromine section, was completed in September 2020. The project has also implemented a new procurement strategy in line with the Australian Government’s commitment to fast-track investment in critical infrastructure projects and is in response to industry feedback.

As part of the Federal Government’s 2020-2021 budget, the government announced that it will make a $150 million investment into additional grade separations on the project’s alignment in New South Wales.

METRONET

METRONET is Western Australia’s governing body for Perth’s biggest rail project and manages multiple projects, including new railway lines, extensions, station construction and upgrades, level crossing removal and signalling.

Once completed, the project will deliver 78km of new passenger rail as well as 18 new stations, helping Perth communities grow and travel.

In early August 2020, the first kilometre of the $1.86 billion 8km METRONET Forrestfield-Airport Link rail was laid, following the completion of tunnelling in April.

Following this breakthrough in the project, the Western Australian Government awarded a $36 million contract for METRONET tracklaying work at Claremont Station.

There have also been ongoing contracts and procurements for portions of the project, with the latest Request for Proposal focusing on starting work on the Byford Rail Extension, with the main contract to be awarded in mid-2021.

Melbourne Metro

In one of the biggest undertakings in rail infrastructure for Melbourne, the Melbourne Metro Tunnel will create a new end-to-end rail line from the city’s west to the south-east.

The project is estimated to cost $11 billion and will feature high capacity trains and five new underground stations.

The project includes twin 9km tunnels from the west of the city to the south-east, five new underground stations, high capacity signalling, and train/tram interchange between Anzac Station and the Domain Interchange in the south of the city.

Currently the project is deep in the construction phase, with stations in the CBD being built and four boring machines working to create the tunnels.

The project is also utilising acoustics sheds in some of the CBD locations to minimise noise during the construction process. As the Metro Tunnel is considered to be a critical infrastructure project, the COVID-19 restrictions have not shut down work on the project.

Sydney Metro

The Sydney Metro Project is currently Australia’s largest public transport project, estimated to cost between $11.5 billion to $12.5 billion.

Sydney Metro is split into three main projects: Sydney Metro City & Southwest; Sydney Metro West; and Sydney Metro – Western Sydney Airport.

The City & Southwest project is well underway, with tunnelling completed in early 2020 on the 15.5km twin railway tunnels between Chatswood and Sydenham.

In June, it was announced that construction on the Western Sydney Airport line would begin in late 2020. It was also announced in the 2020 Federal Budget that $1.8 billion would be dedicated to the project.

In late August 2020, the Metro West project and the NSW Government announced the shortlisting of three consortia to deliver the project’s first two major tunnelling packages.

Cross River Rail

With population growth and congestion reaching capacity in Brisbane, Cross River Rail will help ease congestion and improve accessibility to Brisbane’s transport network.

The underground railway project will go through central Brisbane and allow more trains to run more often and avoid bottlenecks in the transport network.

The project is currently under construction and is being delivered in partnership with the private sector through three infrastructure packages including: the Tunnel, Stations and Development public-private partnership; the Rail, Integration and Systems alliance; and the European Train Control System contract, which will provide a new signalling system.

Construction is currently underway at all of the project’s main station sites, and in March 2020, tunnelling began at the Cross River Rail’s Roma Street site.

The tunnelling site is covered by a large acoustics shed, helping to minimise noise to the local community while tunnelling continues.

There will be five roadheader excavation machines used in total on the project, which will also dig the southern section of the project’s twin tunnels, running from Woolloongabba to Boggo Road.

Melbourne Airport Rail Link

In March 2019, the Victorian and Federal Governments formally signed off on the new Melbourne Airport Rail Link project, giving the green light for the $10 billion project to go ahead after the preferred route was agreed to in November 2018.

The project will help alleviate congestion on the Tullamarine Freeway, the city’s main road connection to the airport, as well as helping to unlock capacity for Melbourne’s growing population in the north-west.

Once completed, the link will provide city to airport travel times of 20 minutes, trains every ten minutes, 24 hours a day, and will help take up to 15,000 vehicles off the road.

Work is now underway developing a Business Case, which is expected to be completed in 2020, and will assess station and procurement options, value capture and creation opportunities, and economic analysis.

Construction is set to begin in 2022 and is expected to take up to nine years to complete.

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