The Sunshine Coast is set to receive a new heavy rail connection which could provide trips to Brisbane that are at least 45 minutes faster than travelling by car. 

The Queensland Government is committing an initial $2.75 billion to deliver Stage 1 of the Direct Sunshine Coast Rail Line project, which includes protection of the updated rail alignment all the way to Maroochydore.

The first stage will see a 19km dual track built from Beerwah to Caloundra, the longest spur line in the south-east passenger network.

Staged delivery will see the line ultimately run to Birtinya and Maroochydore. This will deliver faster rail to the Sunshine Coast, with trains able to reach speeds of 140km per hour on some sections of the track.

The Beerwah to Caloundra stage could be operational in time for Brisbane 2032, subject to a matched funding agreement from the Federal Government.

The Sunshine Coast is one of the fastest growing regions in the state, and is forecast to be home to 600,000 people by 2046.

Modelling shows most of the population growth will be concentrated along the first stage of the rail line, around Caloundra South (Aura).

Stage 1 of the Direct Sunshine Coast Rail Line will be a significant enabler for new housing, including supply for 50,000 people at Caloundra South and up to 100,000 people at Beerwah East.

It’s expected the initial stage of the project will accelerate the delivery of more than 3,000 affordable and diverse homes already planned within the region.

The funding envelope for Stage 1 is expected to be between $5.5 billion and $7 billion, with final costs to be confirmed at the completion of the procurement phase.

A ‘funding envelope’ is an approach taken on other similar projects around the world, allowing costs to be finalised when contracts are executed.

It’s expected that Stage 1 of the project will support 2,200 jobs in the region.

Queensland Premier, Steven Miles said that a direct rail connection to the Sunshine Coast will unlock thousands of homes in the growing Sunshine Coast region and accelerate the release of new, affordable developments.

“Without the rail line, that development would bring an unmanageable level of congestion to the local road network, making this connection essential for new housing to be brought forward,” Mr Miles said. 

“The Direct Sunshine Coast Rail Line is another record investment in Queensland’s rail network from our government, building on the multi-billion dollar rail revolution currently underway.

“Through Cross River Rail, we are removing the bottleneck in Brisbane’s CBD and creating opportunities to provide better rail services to some of South East Queensland’s fastest growing regions. 

“With better, more connected rail options available we hope commuters will leave the car at home, reducing congestion and lowering transport emissions on the path to net zero.”

Queensland Minister for Transport and Main Roads, Bart Mellish, said that direct Sunshine Coast Rail will revolutionise public transport in the region. 

“For the first time, residents in the region will have a direct, fast and reliable connection to the South-East,” Mr Mellish said. 

“Direct Sunshine Coast Rail will not only help ease congestion, but also help unlock future housing development on the Sunshine Coast.

“Sunny Coast residents will also get another first – a direct rail journey to the AFL or the Ekka, thanks to Cross River Rail. No station change needed. Suncorp Stadium will also be just a short walk from Roma Street.

“The project will also deliver cleaner and greener transport for a more sustainable Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and provide a lasting legacy for these communities.”

Industry response

The CEO of the Australasian Railway Association, Caroline Wilkie, said that research shows investment in rail projects future-proof communities along the rail corridor, delivering economic, social, safety and environmental benefits, along with thousands of new jobs and affordable homes.

“This $2.75 billion funding commitment from the Queensland Government for the Sunshine Coast Rail Line recognises the significant benefit to the economy, and therefore communities, of having a fast, reliable, sustainable rail service,” Ms Wilkie said.

“Faster rail in regional Australia, which is slow by world standards, is long overdue and is hampering the potential for the East Coast’s sustainable development.

“The ARA welcomes the Queensland Government’s commitment to the direct Sunshine Coast Rail Line. We look forward to the outcomes of the business case assessment submitted to Infrastructure Australia and are hopeful this will result in additional funding from the Australian Government.”

Ms Wilkie said the ARA’s 2020 Value of Rail report shows that a rail patronage increase of just two per cent per year nationally takes 12 million car journeys off the road, resulting in $32 million saved from accident costs each year.

“This is a huge win for commuter safety and the environment. Rail passenger travel generates 30 per cent less carbon pollution than road travel for each kilometre travelled and is at the heart of Australia’s decarbonisation journey. Each train of commuters has an environmental benefit equivalent to planting 1,800 trees a year.

“It is projects like this that support Australia’s journey to net zero and play a significant role in ensuring we reach this target by 2050.”

Sunshine Coast Acting Mayor, Rick Baberowski, said Council appreciated that, for the first time, its region had a clear commitment from the State Government regarding the project and better clarity on the likely cost, timing and destinations.

“What is important now is that the Federal Government comes on board to match this commitment so Sunshine Coast residents have certainty that the first stage of this critical public transport link to one of the fastest growing regions in the nation can get underway,” Mr Baberowski said.

“While having this rail link delivered in time for the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games is important, what is more important is having in place an efficient, reliable and sustainable public transport network.

“We don’t have this now and securing the commitment of both State and Federal Governments to Direct Sunshine Coast Rail will provide enormous benefits for our community, our environment and the economic productivity of the Sunshine Coast.” 

Mr Baberowski said that the Sunshine Coast had the second highest rate of private vehicle trips per day of any regional area in the country.

“So, getting people out of cars and onto public transport is vital to reduce traffic congestion, cut emissions and increase productivity and wellbeing by better connecting people with their workplaces, shops and services in a timely and efficient manner.

“What our Council and our communities will now be looking for is a clear matching commitment from the Federal Government to the funding announced by the Queensland Government for Stage 1 of Direct Sunshine Coast Rail.

“We also want to see agreed timeframes, designs, plans and a starting date for Stage 1 and for the State Government to continue to explore methods of procurement that maximise the speed of delivery to ensure completion of Stage 1 by 2032.

“What also remains critical is that all levels of government keep focused on ultimately delivering public transport connectivity from Caloundra through to Maroochydore – our region’s capital and major commercial centre – so that the bulk of our community can easily access a reliable and efficient public transport system to get them to where they need to go.”

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