Queensland’s Rail Renaissance

Believe it or not, the first rail project proposed in Queensland was in 1861 for a horse-hauled tramway to connect Ipswich and Toowomba[1]. It was eventually replaced in 1863 with a narrow-gauge railway plan, the first step to creating Queensland’s rail network. Over time, the network grew in a decentralised fashion, with railways built connecting ports to resources and agricultural regions and connecting growing tourism centres. But with the onset of wars, depressions and the rise of the motorcar, the rail network didn’t really begin to grow again until the 1950s with dedicated coal lines and a move to create a suburban network in Brisbane.

Fast forward half a century, and we are now in the middle of a rail renaissance, and as an engineer, I can’t think of a more exciting time for rail in Queensland. Over the next few years, we will see the delivery of major rail projects that will create a network of freight and passenger services that can significantly boost the movement of people and connect our world-class resources and agricultural produce to the world.

The Benefits of Rail

From a freight, perspective rail has many benefits that other modes of transport. According to ARTC[2], rail is the best performing land transport mode for large volumes of freight and is three times more fuel-efficient and produces three times less carbon than road transport.

From a passenger, perspective rail is better for the environment and safer and can move significantly more people per hour than highways[3].

And suppose we are smart about how we plan our rail networks, connecting them seamlessly with public transport and complimenting existing and planned road networks. In that case, I believe that we are on the verge of creating a truly integrated transport network for Queensland.

Queensland’s Major Rail Projects

In my last blog, I looked at Queensland’s rail renaissance as major passenger and freight projects create a rail boom not seen since the 1950s expansion of Brisbane’s suburban rail network.

Here are my projects that are going to shape the rail boom in Queensland.

Inland Rail

Inland Rail is a massive infrastructure undertaking. Consisting of a 1,700km freight line between Melbourne and Brisbane, it passes through key regional centres in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, enabling trains of up to 485 containers to make the trip in around 24 hours.

I am passionate about this project for a number of reasons, not least the sheer engineering scale of the project, but also:

The economic benefit which I believe includes:

  • Improved productivity
  • Improved network efficiency and reliability
  • Shorter transit times
  • Safety improvements
  • Sustainability benefits
  • Reduced lifecycle costs

The procurement and construction cycle, which focuses on manageable packages of works that can engage every level of the construction supply chain from tier 1 contractors to small regional employers. The current and upcoming packages include:


  1. Tottenham to Albury


  1. Albury to Illabo
  2. Illabo to Stockinbingal
  3. Stockinbingal to Parkes
  4. Parkes to Narromine
  5. Narromine to Narrabri
  6. Narrabri to North Star
  7. North Star to QLD border


  1. QLD border to Gowrie
  2. Gowrie to Helidon
  3. Helidon to Calvert
  4. Calvert to Kagaru
  5. Kagaru to Acacia Ridge and Bromelton

The Innovative use of Public-Private Partnerships to combine the expertise and resources of government and the private sector:

Inland Rail from Gowrie outside Toowoomba to Kagaru near Beaudesert in Queensland will be delivered under a Public-Private Partnership (PPP). The PPP will deliver the 128 kilometres from Gowrie to Kagaru

  1. Joint venture partners include:
    1. Capstone comprises CPB Contractors, Ghella, UGL, DIF, Pacific Partnerships
    2. G2Konnect comprises Acciona, Ferrovial, Cintra, Macquarie
    3. Regionerate Rail comprises Clough, GS Engineering and Construction, WeBuild (formerly Salini Impregilo), Lendlease Services Pty Ltd, Plenary Group
  2. Project includes 2km tunnel through the Toowoomba Range

In addition to the above, there are an additional 3 packages being offered under an Expression of Interest (EOI) process. Some 22 companies are vying for an opportunity to tender the woks however, through this EOI selection process, this number will be reduced to 5 and will compete against each other to successfully deliver one of 3 available projects.

Cross River Rail

There are only two rail bridges crossing the Brisbane River to support the capital’s current suburban rail network. The Albert Bridge opened in 1895, crossing the river at Indooroopilly and the Merivale Bridge, opened in 1978 that crosses the river between Milton and South Brisbane.

With a city that has grown rapidly over the last 30 years, a new river crossing has long been on the agenda, with Cross River Rail commencing development and construction in 2017. By 2024, Brisbane will benefit from a new 10.2km rail link that connects the existing network with a new river crossing and 5 new stations.

With an estimated cost of over $5bn, the project is a significant investment in infrastructure that should impart further investment and spur revitalisation of the precincts that become part of the network.

I’m particularly excited about the new Gabba precinct. It has always been tough to get to The Gabba, but Cross River Rail will see footy and cricket fans able to see their teams in action and leave the car at home.

Fast Rail for SEQ

Ahead of the state’s 2032 Olympic push, the SEQ Council of Mayors has created a vision of a 45-minute region, connecting the Sunshine Coast, Brisbane, Toowoomba and the Gold Coast by 160km/h fast rail.

Attempting to address a $6bn[4] cost of congestion to the region’s economy by 2031, the plan is ambitious, but feasible according to a study undertaken with SMEC, which aimed at validating the concept which includes a vision for travel times of:

  • Brisbane to Gold Coast < 35 minutes
  • Brisbane to Sunshine Coast < 45 minutes
  • Brisbane to Ipswich < 20 minutes

As a way of rapidly moving people around our ever-growing regions, I think this project is one to watch, particularly with the potential investment an SEQ Olympics would bring. It will be interesting to see if the vision is aligned at a local, state and federal level and if an ambitious project can be more than a possibility.


With over 160 years of rail in Queensland, there has never been a more exciting time to be involved in the design, development, planning, procurement, and delivery of rail. Over the next decade, rail has the potential to transform our ability to move people and products while at the same time providing complementary and connected networks for a truly multi-modal transport region.

24-hour national freight connections, new river crossings and a 45-minute region mean that rail’s boom has the potential to be of benefit to every resident, opening up new opportunities for business, for travel, for commerce and for extending the geography of our commutes so that, who knows, the dream of living by the beach and working in the city can become a reality.





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