The boom in railway construction and maintenance throughout Australia is set to roll on as several megaprojects drive activity forward, the latest report suggests.

Released by the Australasian Railway Association and BIS Oxford Economics, the Australian Rail Outlook Report suggests that the value of work done on construction of new railways across the nation will increase from current record levels of $10.7 billion in 2021/22 to peak at $13.2 billion in 2023/24.

Add in maintenance on existing rail assets ($2.1 billion in 2021/22) and the value of work is expected to increase from a record $12.9 billion in 2021/22 to peak at $15.4 billion in 2023/24.

Not surprisingly, activity is in the near term is being driven by a record pipeline of public sector megaprojects relating passenger rail in major cities.

Most of these are concentrated on the East Coast, with Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria expected to account for 77 percent of major project work.

These include Cross River Rail, Sydney Metro, Inland Rail (spanning Queensland, NSW and Victoria) and Melbourne Airport Rail Link (see chart).

Meanwhile, activity in Western Australia will increase over the next two years on account of the WA Government’s METRONET program. Historically, rail construction work in that state has been driven by private sector work including that relating to resource and mining projects.

Finally, output will also rise in the Australian Capital Territory in 2023/24 thanks to work associated with the second stage of the Canberra Light Rail project.

Beyond 2023/24, activity is set to ease back as major projects move toward completion but remain at levels which are healthy by historic standards (see chart).

All up, BIS expects that $129 billion in rail construction and maintenance work will be completed over the 10 years to 2031-32.

This is well up from the $96 billion worth of work that was completed over the previous decade.

In terms of new rail construction, activity will be driven by strong population growth and a shift toward more sustainable forms of transport (transport accounts for slightly under 20 percent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions).

Turning to maintenance, the report says a steady increase in work will be supported by strong demand for rail, aging of existing assets and necessary repairs (particularly in regional areas) and the addition of a large volume of new assets that will require maintenance.

Indeed, rail maintenance expenditure is forecast to average $2.2 billion per annum over the next five years (up 10 percent compared with the previous five years) before further increasing to an annual average of $2.5 billion over the five years to 2032.

Australasian Railway Association CEO Caroline Wilkie said the report confirmed that Australia was embarking on a period of railway construction and expansion which will transform the rail network for generations to come.

Wilkie says the benefits of this should not be underestimated, and encouraged the government to implement reforms which are designed to ensure best possible outcomes.

These include national approaches to procurement, local content policies and type approvals.

“The strong pipeline of rail projects recognises the essential role rail will continue to play as part of our public transport networks and freight operations,” Wilkie said.

“In the short to medium term, these projects will help meet Australia’s transport needs and enable our sustainable growth.

“Longer term, these projects will support our rising population and help achieve the country’s net-zero targets, by taking more cars and trucks off the road and encouraging greater use of sustainable transport options.

“This strong focus on new projects recognises the value of rail to our economy and community and addresses decades of historic underinvestment when compared to other transport modes.”


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