In recent years, aware of the increasing infrastructure needs, the Australian Government has encouraged the railway investments in both freight and passenger traffic.
With a surface area of 7.69 million square kilometers, Australia is both the largest island in the world and the smallest continent, with a territory of 3,700 kilometers from North to South and 4,000 km from East to West. It also governs eight other islands and the Australian Antarctic Territory. These peculiarities are also reflected in its connections and investments in mobility and communication networks. Currently, Australia has a population of almost 24 million inhabitants, although this number is expected to double by 2050. More than 80% of its inhabitants live in the Eastern and Western coastal areas, within a perimeter of 100 kilometers, a feature that has encouraged the urban transport.
The country is divided into six states and two territories: New South Wales (NSW), Queensland (QLD), South Australia (SA), Tasmania (TAS), Victoria (VIC) and Western Australia (WA). Canberra, meaning the “Meeting Place”, is the national capital and the center of government.
Structure of the Railway Sector
In this extended area characterized by a very concentrated population, the road transport has become an ideal means for freight delivery and urban mobility. That is why Australia’s railway network became the seventh largest in the world with more than 33,000 kilometers. Its structure responds to the peculiarities of this expansive country with a population highly concentrated in the cities located in the Eastern and Southeastern Coasts: Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide and Canberra, the capital. The most determinant factors for infrastructure development are the long distances between cities and production centers (extractive and agricultural sectors). The network has different sizes. In most cases, in the State of Queensland, Tasmania and in the metropolitan area of Perth, narrow track gauges (1,067 mm) are used for the transport of sugar cane. The international track gauge (1,435 mm) is predominant on inter-state lines, as well as in the States of South Australia, the Pilbara (Western Australia) mining area, New South Wales and the Northern Territory. The broad track gauge (1,600 mm) has been implemented in the State of Victoria; although it is the less extended in the country. The electrified sections representing 10% of the network (3,222 kilometers) are observed in the metropolitan areas: Sydney and Melbourne (1,500 VDC) and Brisbane and Perth (25 kV AC). Most of the railway infrastructure is owned by the federal or state Australian Government, which is also responsible for its maintenance and new developments; even if the operation and service management are carried out by private companies. Among the main players in the sector are operators such as Sydney Trains, NSW Trains, Metro Trains Melbourne, Yarra Trams and Transdev. For the freight transport, Aurizon (formerly, QR National), Genesee & Wyoming Australia and Pacific National are some of the major freight operators in the network, while Great Southern Railway, NSW TrainLink and Queensland Rail are the main long distance railway passenger operators. Metro Trains Melbourne, Sydney Trains, V/Line and Adelaide Metro provide railway passenger services in major suburban areas. In addition, an important number of private mining railways also operate in the country.
In recent years, aware of the increasing infrastructure needs, the Australian Government has encouraged the railway investments for both freight and passenger traffic. Its objectives consist of improving national productivity, supporting freight transport, decongesting growing cities and improving links to adjacent areas.
In the budgets for 2017-18, 20,000 Australian dollars (€ 13,543 M) are allocated for infrastructure modernization works in all areas. Among these, there are seven key sections. First of all, the “National Railway Program”, for which an investment of 10,000 million Australian dollars (€ 6,832 M) has been approved for the next ten years.
New and Better Links
This initiative is aimed at improving urban and regional railway networks in the main cities. In addition, there is a special package for the State of Western Australia. Moreover, in Victoria, the railway link to the Melbourne Airport, the improvement of the “Murray Basin” freight corridor and the “Inland Rail” project, which links Melbourne to Brisbane, deserve a special attention. Finally, there is an impetus given to faster links, especially to the regional ones.