|Track gauge||1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in) standard gauge|
The Australian Inland Railway is a proposed railway extending in a north-south direction across the continent from Melbourne to Darwin along a route in mostly flat terrain west of the mountainous Great Dividing Range. The main proponent of the railway line is Everald Compton, through the company Australian Transport and Energy Corridor Ltd (ATEC).
The line would be standard gauge, except where it shares the alignment with the narrow gauge of Queensland, in which case the track would be dual gauge. Isolated sections of the line would be built with dual gauge sleepers to facilitate a change of gauge or conversion to dual gauge at a later date.
As well as providing for general freight and passenger trains, the line would open up coal and mineral deposits across Queensland which need access to heavy duty ports such as at Gladstone.
The Australian Rail Track Corporation and ATEC are equal partners in a joint venture company called Australian Inland Railway Expressway Pty Ltd (AIRE), which was established to develop the railway line between Victoria and Queensland.
In May 2009 preliminary analysis by the Australian Rail Track Corporation showed that the cheapest version of the inland railway would cost $2.8 billion to build and allow freight to be moved from Melbourne to Brisbane in just over 27 hours. Running from Melbourne via Albury to Cootamundra, Parkes, Narromine, Dubbo, Werris Creek and Moree to North Star near Goondiwindi in Queensland, new track would then have to be laid from North Star to Toowoomba and on to Brisbane. The analysis found that if operating by 2020 the economic costs would outweigh the benefits by $1.1 billion, or $860 million if environmental gains were taken into account.
The proposal is not intended to be constructed by just one company or government. Instead, each sector is intended to be planned and developed separately, with each having to be economically feasible in its own right. Some sectors could not be feasible without others already being in place.
Several connections are intended to be provided across the Great Dividing Range between the inland route and coastal cities and ports, such as Sydney via Goulburn, Newcastle via Ulan or Werris Creek, Brisbane, Gladstone, Rockhampton and Cairns.
Toowoomba to Gladstone
Originally called the Dawson Valley Rail Link, the first sector will be the 210 km Surat Basin railway line between Wandoan and Banana, which is planned to have its detailed route planning and financing completed by the end of 2009 and to be operational in 2012. This line, in conjunction with upgrading of existing lines, will provide a direct link between Toowoomba and Gladstone. The company involved in building that line, Surat Basin Rail Joint Venture, is a joint venture involving ATEC, Industry Funds Management, Anglo Coal, Xstrata Coal and Queensland Rail. It has been granted an unconditional exclusive mandate to construct and operate that line as an open access private railway. This line will initially be built in narrow gauge and without overhead electrification but will be designed to provide for future conversion to dual gauge and electrification.
Toowoomba to Moree
Moree is the current terminus point for passenger rail services on the Mungindi railway line. Beyond Moree, only wheat trains operate on a branch line to North Star, near the Queensland border. That line previously extended to Boggabilla, which is only a few kilometres from Goondiwindi in Queensland. While Goondiwindi is on a narrow gauge line that connects to Toowoomba via Warwick, these New South Wales and Queensland lines never met.
In April 2008, ATEC announced that it is seeking an unconditional exclusive mandate from the Queensland and New South Wales governments to build a new 350 km standard gauge rail line between Moree and Toowoomba. The proposed route of that line would pass through North Star, turn east on a completely new alignment to Yetman in New South Wales, then north to Yelarbon in Queensland. From there, it would go to Inglewood, then turn north to Millmerran, then through Pittsworth to Toowoomba. While there are existing narrow gauge lines between Yelarbon and Inglewood and between Millmerran and Toowoomba, it is unclear whether it is proposed to use these lines.
Under the proposal, this line would be completed in 2014. It is estimated that the completion of this line has the potential to reduce the number of trucks travelling along the Newell Highway by 1000 per day.
Melbourne to Moree
Between Melbourne and Moree, a series of existing railway lines of varying condition and load capacity could provide a connection. The federal government announced a detailed study into the line between Melbourne and Brisbane in May 2008. That study is expected to select the most viable route. In particular, a decision has to be made between taking the inland railway line through Albury or Shepparton. Some completely new sections of line are expected to be developed, while other existing lines will be upgraded or completely rebuilt.
Toowoomba to Brisbane
Toowoomba lies at an elevation of 700m (not particularly high in world terms), but difficulties in climbing the range from Brisbane at reasonable cost was the prime cause of the choice of narrow gauge railways in Queensland, and the subsequent break of gauge problems that this caused at the New South Wales border. Route planning for this section is part of the federal government funded study.
Banana to Bowen via Emerald
A line has been proposed to connect the Bowen basin and Surat basin coal mining regions, providing mines in those areas with access to 4 ports. The line would connect to the Surat Basin railway line at Banana, extend northwest to Emerald then north to Bowen.
Mount Isa to Bowen
Mount Isa to Darwin
In 2005, a study found that this line was not viable at that time. In July 2008, it was announced that ATEC is again carrying out a study to investigate the viability of constructing this line because two new iron ore mines are being developed north west of Mount Isa and the recently elected Mount Isa council have shown renewed interest in the project.
The Wonarah Phosphate deposit, located 250 km east of Tennant Creek, was discovered in 1967 and has been the subject of numerous studies. Up to 2007, the project remained uneconomic due to the world price of phosphate. With rising prices during 2007, the mining lease holder, Minemakers Limited, believed that the project might have become economically viable. The proposed site of the mine is on the Barkly Highway and the route of the proposed Mount Isa to Tennant Creek railway line. The initial plan was to use trucks to transport phosphate to Tennant Creek, where it would be transferred to trains for transport to Darwin. In January 2009, a memorandum of understanding was announced between Minemakers and ATEC for a financial study into the construction of the railway line from the project site to Tennant Creek as an open access private railway.
- [dead link] Australian Inland Rail Expressway - Status Report, April 2008
- Mark Davis (May 7, 2009). "Rail sums do not add up, says study". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2009-05-11.
- Surat Basin Rail web site
- Surat Basin Rail - Newsletter 2, August 2008[dead link]
- ATEC media release 2 April 2008[dead link]
- Federal minister's announcement of study[dead link]
- Daily Advertiser - Economics will decide whether via Albury or via Shepparton
- Looking at economic feasibility of line from Mount Isa to Darwin
- Minemakers web site for Wonarah Phosphate
- Australian Mining news article Wonarah Railway MOU[dead link]
- Railway Gazette International May 2009, p25
- John Anderson's 2001 speech about the project[dead link]
- John Howard's 1998 speech about the proposal[dead link]
- ARTC report[dead link]
- Support growing Sep 2006
- Audit of existing route[dead link]