However you measure it, Australia is huge. A vast island continent separating the Pacific and Indian oceans, it is the world’s sixth largest country by total area. Comprising the mainland, Tasmania and a number of smaller islands, it has a population of only 23.6 million, slightly more than Madagascar and slightly less than Yemen, ranking it 51st in the world.

The country consists of several major urban areas, all of them on the coast. The five largest, Sydney (New South Wales – 4.7 million), Melbourne (Victoria – 4.2 million), Brisbane (Queensland – 2.2 million), Perth (Western Australia – 1.9 million) and Adelaide (South Australia – 1.3 million) are home to over 60% of the nation’s population between them. Unsurprisingly in a country this size, there’s a lot of empty space in between.

Australia has six states, the five mentioned above plus Tasmania, and two territories – the Australian Capital Territory (Canberra is the nation’s capital and the territory has a total population of 385,000) and the vast Northern Territory (520,902 square miles yet with a population of only 233,300, most of whom live along the Stuart Highway that connects the capital, Darwin, with Alice Springs and thence down into South Australia).

In terms of railways, this geography has given rise to three distinct types. Each major conurbation has a metro network, built and funded by the state government. These are a mish-mash of gauges and include conventional metro, underground and tram systems.

There are some inter-city trains, though the distances involved are so huge that many people fly. All of these services are standard gauge.

So too are the heavy haul freight- only railways that bring bulk materials from the many mines down to the coast. These tend to be privately owned by the mining companies concerned.

An outline of the whole Australian network can be found in issue 85 (November 2011).

As Australia, with the world’s 51st largest population, has the 12th largest economy, it is a comparatively rich nation. So it can afford to develop its rail networks to take account of its growing population. Much has changed since that 2011 review.


The single rail bridge over the Brisbane River forms a natural bottleneck. In 2007, an Inner City Rail Capacity Study said that a new bridge would be needed by 2016 because the Merivale Rail Bridge would no longer be able to cope. Several changes of government and almost an equal number of plans later, nothing has been built although the Cross River Project is under development.

However, 75 new six-car trains have been ordered from the Bombardier NGR consortium, comprising Bombardier Transportation, John Laing, ITOCHU Corporation and Uberior, which recently announced its unified brand as Qtectic. The first train is scheduled for delivery in late 2015 and the contract incudes construction of a purpose-built maintenance centre to maintain the new trains for the next 30 years.

Adelaide train [online]

The Gold Coast Light Rail system commenced operations in July 2014 between Gold Coast University Hospital and Broadbeach. Stage 2 of this project will take the line north to Helensvale, an extension which has to be in service by the time of the Commonwealth Games in April 2018. It is being delivered by GoldLinQ, a consortium of McConnell Dowell Constructors, Bombardier Transportation Australia and KDR Gold Coast.

New South Wales

Sydney Metro, announced in June 2014, will extend the Sydney Metro Northwest, formerly the North West Rail Link, and connect directly with the Central Business District (CBD), delivering a new rapid transit line and provide a second harbour crossing through the CBD and on to Bankstown via Sydney’s Inner West. The scheme will include three new CBD underground stations and five new above ground stations, allowing 60 per cent more trains in the peak across the entire rail network and catering for an extra 100,000 people per hour.

New construction falls into three geographical areas. A three kilometre section of new tracks between Chatswood and the St Leonards area forms the northern corridor works; the Sydney Harbour rapid transit crossing will be approximately 12.5km of twin tunnels from northern Sydney to the Sydenham area, including the crossing beneath Sydney Harbour and a new underground CBD rapid transit line; and the western extension to Bankstown will upgrade and convert the existing 13.5km rail line from Sydenham Station to Bankstown Station to metro line.

As a result of these works, Sydney Metro will have two component parts: » Sydney Metro Northwest – formerly the North West Rail Link (NWRL) – a 36-kilometre link from Rouse Hill to Chatswood, expected to open in 2019;

» Sydney Metro City and Southwest – formerly Sydney Rapid Transit (SRT) – a 30-kilometre rail project from Chatswood, under Sydney Harbour, through the CBD and west to Bankstown, expected to open in 2024.

In conjunction with the Sydney Metro developments, the Western Sydney Rail Upgrade Programme will deliver benefits for train customers across all of Sydney by fixing the fundamental issues faced by the city’s busiest train line, the T1 Western Line.

This work includes new traction power supply systems, new high speed rail turnouts, and better train stabling and maintenance systems. Specifically, the project will:

» Introduce Automatic Trains Operations (ATO) between Parramatta and North Sydney;

» Introduce Automatic Train Control (ATCS) signalling between Penrith and the city, replacing line-side rail signals with in-cab signalling;

» Upgrade rail tracks at pinch points; » Reduce Sydney’s biggest rail bottleneck near Redfern;

» Upgrade the current traction power supply and signalling systems. Alstom was awarded the $400 million contract to deliver the automated trainsets and signalling for Sydney Metro North West. Alstom will supply 22 Metropolis trainsets as well as the Urbalis 400 communications- based train control (CBTC) for the network, which is being delivered and operated by the consortium of MTR Corporation (Australia), John Holland, Leighton Contractors, UGL Rail Services and Plenary Group.

NSW Long Term Transport Master Plan

The NSW Government has a strategy to address the challenges of Sydney’s transport system. When completed, the modernisation of the Inner West line and the construction of the CBD and South East line will form the new Sydney Light Rail network that will provide reliable, high capacity services running north from Central to Circular Quay along George Street, west to Pyrmont and Dulwich Hill, and south east through Surry Hills to Moore Park, Randwick and Kingsford.

The extension of the Inner West Line was opened to the public in March 2014, while major construction of the next phase is just starting. Stage 4 will involve feasibility investigations into possible extensions and expansion to meet demand as well as supporting potential light rail schemes.

Another development is the new CBD and South East light rail network. This will improve travel times throughout Sydney with the 12km light rail line extending from Circular Quay along George Street to Central Station and Moore Park, then to Kingsford via Anzac Parade and Randwick via Alison Road and High Street.

The winning bidder was announced in October 2014 as the ALTRAC consortium of Transdev, Accion Infrastructure Australia, Alstom Transport Australia and Capella Capital. The estimated $2.1 billion contract will cover the design, construction, services relocations, operation, maintenance and finance of the new network.

Laing O’Rourke Constructions started preparatory work soon after the contract was let, and the line is expected to start operating at the beginning of 2019. Key features of the project include the construction of 20 new stops, interchanges at major rail stations and with ferry and bus services, a stabling facility in Randwick and a maintenance depot in Rozelle. The network will have the capability to carry up to 9,000 passengers per hour in each direction with services every two to three minutes during peak periods in the CBD and every five to six minutes between Moore Park and the Randwick and Kingsford branches.

In a further development, the Western Sydney Light Rail Network is a proposed light rail project that will connect Parramatta with Macquarie Park and Castle Hill. This will require the construction of 30km of track and the purchase of 21 trains to operate a 10-minute service frequency. Feasibility studies are ongoing.

A further light rail programme is being developed for Newcastle, 100 miles north-east of Sydney. The scheme preserves rail access to the historic heart of Newcastle, improves connectivity between the city and the foreshore with two new road and additional pedestrian crossings, and enables longer-term tram and tram- train extensions in Newcastle and the Lower Hunter.

With regards to freight, a partially constructed scheme from the 1980s is likely to be completed. This is the line between Maldon in the Southern Highlands and Dombarton near Port Kembla. The work already completed includes 35km of earthworks such as major cuttings and embankments and the installation of ballast. A bridge and tunnel portals were also partially built. The Maldon to Dombarton line would provide additional rail freight capacity directly in and out of Port Kembla and help cater for the forecasted doubling of freight movements in NSW over the next 20 years.

2004 ARA Map plus extra line [online]

Completion of this line will include constructing, at four kilometres, one of the longest freight tunnels in Australia along with a 250-metre bridge over the Cordeaux River and another of 190 metres over the Nepean River. With a crossing underneath the Hume Highway and the building of three new road overbridges, new track will be installed for the entire line along with new signalling systems, power supplies, fencing and other ancillary infrastructure. Transport for NSW engaged Parsons Brinckerhoff to complete the pre-construction technical design work.

Rolling stock also features in plans for the state. In May 2014, the NSW Government announced an investment of $2.8 billion to replace the intercity fleet with around 65 new trains (520 carriages) for NSW TrainLinkservices. Fourbiddershave been shortlisted to tender for the supply and maintenance of NSW’s next intercity train fleet. These are Alstom Transport Australia, Downer- CNRCRC Consortium (Downer EDI Rail and CNR Changchun), Stadler Bussnang and UGL/MEA/CSR Consortium (UGL Rail Services, Mitsubishi Electric Australia and CSR Corporation). The contract is expected to be awarded in 2016 with the first trains entering service three years later.

In addition to all this, the New South Wales Government is implementing a Transport Access Programme (very similar to the UK’s Access For All scheme) to ensure that stations are accessible to all users and have good lighting, signage and help points.


A $2 billion plan for 83 new trams and trains across Victoria’s light rail, metro and regional train network includes, in the 2015/16 budget:

» 37 new high capacity metro trains ($1.3 billion);

» 20 new E-Class trams ($274 million);

» 21 new VLocity carriages ($257 million);

» 5 new X’Trapolis trains ($90 million);

» Maintenance and refurbishment to extend the life of the current Comeng train fleet ($75 million);

» Extending the life of the B-Class Tram fleet ($21 million).

Melbourne Metro Rail has become a priority project and involves the development of a nine-kilometre rail tunnel under Melbourne’s CBD, including five new underground stations to be located at North Melbourne, Parkville, CBD North, CBD South, and Domain. Construction of the link will unblock the City Loop and allow an additional 19 train services to operate across the network during the peak, which is the equivalent of 20,000 extra passengers. $300 million has been committed to complete the planning, design and early works, and the Aurecon/ Jacobs/Mott MacDonald (AJM) Joint Venture was appointed as the technical, planning and engagement advisor for the Melbourne Metro Rail Project in April 2015.

There are currently 1,800 level crossings across Victoria, the most in Australia, including 170 on Melbourne’s electrified suburban rail network. Many of Melbourne’s busiest train lines cannot add more services during peak periods because to do so would mean boom gates at busy level crossings would stay down for most of the hour, causing traffic gridlock. Funding for the Level Crossing Removal Programme will be sourced from the Victorian Transport Building Fund (VTBF) and is estimated to cost around $5 billion over eight years.

The Victoria state government also has plans to extend the existing South Morang railway line to Mernda. While many aspects of the project are still to be finalised, it is likely to include eight kilometres of new duplicated track from South Morang to Mernda, full grade separations with no new level crossings, a new station at Mernda and provision for additional future stations and one additional station between Mernda and South Morang. The project is estimated to cost between $400 and $600 million.

The Murray Basin Rail Project involves standardising 1,133 kilometres of freight rail, allowing freight trains from the North West of Victoria greater access to the Ports of Geelong, Melbourne and Portland. Larger trains will be able to carry more on each journey, thereby increasing the capacity and reliability of the line. $220 million in state funding has been announced towards a $416 million package of railway gauge standardisation and upgrading works in north-western Victoria.

The Victorian Government is investing $100 million to revitalise Flinders Street Station by 2019. Funding will be used to undertake urgent heritage restoration works and upgrade station platforms, entrances, toilets and information displays.

Western Australia

Funding has been approved and committed to the Forrestfield – Airport link to improve connections to and from Perth Airport, the eastern suburbs and regional centres. The 8.5km rail link will spur to the East off the existing Midland line just past Bayswater station and will be underground for 8km in twin-bored tunnels. The shortlisted three consortia for the contract to build the new $2 billion line are JHL JV (John Holland and Leighton Contractors), SI-NRW JV (Salini Impregilo and NRW) and Forrestfield Connect (ACCIONA Infrastructure, BAM International and Ferrovial Agroman). The Government expects to award the design and construct contract in mid-2016 with completion aimed at 2020.

The new Perth Stadium project will incorporate a $358 million integrated train, bus and pedestrian approach. This will support a cultural shift of reliance on cars and move, within an hour of an event finishing, up to 50,000 people or 83 per cent of a capacity crowd. This includes 28,000 people via the newly developed Stadium station. Laing O’Rourke and AECOM were selected to build the infrastructure, which must be completed by 1 June 2017 in time for the opening events at the new stadium.

Australia Capital Territory

Capital Metro is the proposed light rail network that would link Canberra Airport to Parliament House through a 12km route from the city centre to the developing suburbs of Gungahlin in the north. In March 2014, the Capital Metro Agency appointed a technical advisory consortium led by Arup and including HASSELL and Parsons Brinckerhoff together with local specialists.

The plan is to start building the light rail system in 2016 by way of an availability-based public private partnership (PPP). The Territory will retain patronage risk associated with the project. The PPP will be delivered under a contractual arrangement that comprises design, construction, light rail vehicle supply, operations, maintenance and finance. The concession period is expected to extend for 23 to 24 years, including a 20 year operations and maintenance period.

Exterior 2 [online]

South Australia

Plans are being drawn up for a new tram network in Adelaide. Although much work remains to be done, the proposed AdeLink network includes: » CityLink – CBD tram loop running at regular intervals along Morphett Street, Sturt Street, Halifax Street and Frome Street, connecting to other tram lines and train stations;

» ProspectLink – from the city to Blair Athol via Prospect Road;

» PortLink – from the city to Outer Harbour, Port Adelaide, Semaphore and Grange, replacing the existing diesel train, and a new line to West Lakes and Semaphore;

» WestLink – to Henley Square via Henley Beach Road with a branch line to Adelaide Airport;

» EastLink – to the University of South Australia’s Magill Campus via The Parade;

» UnleyLink – to Mitcham via Unley and Belair Roads.

Development of the PortLink is likely to be the first stage, with the Outer Harbour rail line converted to light rail standards along with new routes to Semaphore and West Lakes. The CityLink loop around the city centre is also planned in the short to medium term.

On the main rail network, Adelaide’s trains have historically all been diesel-powered. A programme of electrification is part of the State Government’s ongoing investment in public transport. The Seaford Line was the first line to be electrified, opening to passenger services on 23 February 2014. In May 2014
the Tonsley line was electrified and sections of the Belair Line have also been electrified while 22 A-City Class 4000 three-car sets have been delivered by Bombardier Transportation.

The State Government has committed $152.5 million to electrify the Gawler line. Early works are being undertaken, with work recommencing in 2017-18, initially from Adelaide to Salisbury. These early works include commencement of utility service relocation works, manufacture of nearly 500 masts, installation of nearly 300 masts and footings and rail track modification works as necessary for electrification. Laing O’Rourke was awarded the $10.2m project development contract for electrification major works in February 2011.


The Australian Federal Coalition Government has commissioned the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) to design and construct an inland rail line west of the Great Dividing Range linking Melbourne through Regional New South Wales to Brisbane – known as the Inland Rail project.

The route will be approximately 1,730km and would aim to provide a competitive alternative to road freight between Melbourne and Victoria. Inland Rail will utilise 41% of existing interstate rail line through Victoria and southern NSW, although it will require approximately 400km of track upgrades, predominately in NSW, and an additional 600km of new track through northern NSW and south-east Queensland, requiring an estimated $4-5 billion to complete.

The line will be much straighter than the existing route via Sydney, allowing 1,800-metre long trains, with an axle load of 21 tonnes and carrying double-stacked containers (clearance 7.2 metres) to run at speeds of 115km/h (70 mph). The total travel time of 20 hours and 30 minutes will be seven hours shorter than the existing route.

Three sections of the railway have been designated as priority projects by the Inland Rail Implementation Group, which will bring immediate productivity or reliability benefits to the corridor:

» Parkes to Narromine will require 106km of existing track upgrades. Preliminary environmental, cultural heritage, flooding and geotechnical investigations are underway.

» Narrabri to North Star – 183km of existing track upgrades and potentially 3km of new track. Once again, the preliminary environmental, cultural heritage, flooding and geotechnical investigations are being undertaken within the ARTC corridor.

» Rosewood to Kagaru / Gowrie to Grandchester. These sections need 72km of new dual gauge track and largely follow the Southern Freight Rail Corridor, connecting the Queensland network with the Interstate Network. The five-kilometre long Toowoomba Range tunnel and a shorter, 500 metre tunnel near Grandchester form part of this route.

This article draws heavily on the UK Trade & Investment ‘Rail Industry Australia’ report prepared by Leah Gartner and Ayden Darmenia. For more information on doing business in Australia, contact leah.gartner@ or ayden.darmenia@

Through UKTI, the British government is taking its Northern Powerhouse campaign on the rode. Part of this international trade tour will focus on opportunities for the North’s rail industry overseas. First stop – AusRAIL.

AusRAIL, held at Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre between 24-26 November, is the largest rail event in Australasia, regularly attracting around 450 exhibitors and 7,000 visitors. The event is supported by the Australian Railway Association (ARA), Institution of Railway Signalling Engineers (IRSE), Railway Technical Society Australasia (RTSA) and the Rail Track Association Australia (RTAA).