Bechtel in talks to help build Australia’s new Inland Railway

US engineering giant Bechtel is reported to be in talks over joining a consortium fighting to build a major new rail line stretching 1,595km between Brisbane and Melbourne in Australia.

Bechtel joining would boost the project team’s credibility in the eyes of the Australian federal government, which must choose between two rival visions of the US$8.8bn Inland Railway scheme that is needed to boost freight capacity, the consortium’s chief said.

"The government does not believe the private sector is stepping up to build this project, but the interest by Bechtel shows otherwise," said Martin Albrecht, chairman of National Trunk Rail (NTR), a Brisbane-based company bidding for the line (reports the Brisbane Courier Mail).

Bechtel would be in charge of engineering, procurement and construction management for the NRT line, Albrecht said.

NTR is competing with the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), a state-owned company that is proposing an alternative, 1,700km route that uses segments of existing track.

The NTR consortium, which includes engineer Aurecon, project manager Calibre and the consultancy Principalis, is arguing for a public-private partnership approach to developing the freight rail link, but says the private sector would be put off by ARTC’s plan, which it says would take too long to build.

"The NTR proposal is shorter, straighter, flatter and faster that what ARTC is proposing and there is definitely interest in that," Albrecht said in a media release last month.

"We are proof that the private sector is interested in inland rail, but only if it is the right solution delivered in the right timeframe – the NTR solution would be delivered in less than six years from approvals."

Albrecht told the Courier Mail that the line was vital to improving Australia’s national productivity, which would enable it to take advantage of the recent signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement.

Rob Moffat, the general manager of NRT, has said said the new, purpose-built track would be able to handle double-decker container wagons, unlike ARTC’s proposal, which would largely use existing track.

NTR’s plans are now being assessed by Infrastructure NSW.

The ARTC says that its version of the line would cover 1,700km and would make the most of earlier investments in the Australian rail freight network.

Warren Truss, the federal government’s infrastructure minister, said an inland rail network was needed to meet the rising demand for freight, which is expected to treble along the eastern seaboard by 2030.

The Federal Government has committed US$220m to get pre-construction activities under way, including detailed corridor planning, environmental assessments and land acquisition.

Photograph: Trucks on the Hume Highway, which runs between Melbourne and Sydney. The Inland Railway could boost freight capacity and relieve road congestion (Andrea Castelli/Wikimedia Commons)

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