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Australian Inland Rail Expressway: a century of planning

By Everald Compton - posted Thursday, 15 April 1999


It was in 1887 that a railway from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria was first planned, roughly following the Burke and Wills route. It foundered through a lack of co-operation amongst the three States through which it was to pass. This, combined with the economic recession of 1893, was sufficient to put it on the back burner for fifty years.

In 1942, General Douglas Macarthur proposed to build a rail link from Cloncurry to Darwin for the defence of Australia. Even though he proposed to build it free of charge to Australia using American Steel and Labour, it was rejected by the Australian Government.

A Victorian, Sir Harold Clapp, took it up again in 1949. He actually persuaded the Chifley Government to agree to build a defence railway from Melbourne to Darwin via Bourke, Longreach and Cloncurry and the Cabinet passed a minute authorising its detailed planning.

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But, it lapsed when Chifley lost the 1949 Election and the States would not co-operate with the new Government. The Snowy Mountains Project gained its life as alternative.

In the 1960’s, Sir Garfield Barwick took it up, but the Holt Government declined to take it any further. They didn’t think it was important to the development of Australia.

In the 1980’s, two eminent engineers, Dr Ken Davidson of Toowoomba and Professor Lance Endersbee of Melbourne, working separately, revived the concept. Subsequently, Ross Miller, then Mayor of Toowoomba, and Barry Donaldson of the Progressive Rail Association in Southern New South Wales did extensive work on it. But, again, no governments were prepared to put their weight behind it.

Then, in November 1996, a group of business leaders led by Everald Compton of Brisbane, met in Sydney and decided to undertake the project using private capital.

Their company, Australian Transport and Energy Corridor Ltd (ATEC), now has the "in principle" support of the Governments of Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, Northern Territory and the Commonwealth as well as the support of the Opposition in all of those five Parliaments. ATEC has received similar support from sixty local governments along the route.

In conjunction with, Abigroup Ltd, who are supported by Obayashi Corporation and Macquarie Bank, ATEC plans to build the Railway in six sections, each to be owned by a Community Infrastructure Corporation.

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The aim is to "drive the first spike" of the first section of the railway into the ground on the banks of the MacIntyre River on the border of Queensland and New South Wales at Midnight on 31 December, 2000, to mark the beginning of a new millennium of development for Australia.

Most Australians believe that a century of planning has been long enough. The time has now come for the creation of Australia’s "Steel Mississippi.

Scope Of The Project

Throughout 1997 and 1998 and continuing through 1999, the Directors of Australian Transport & Energy Corridor Ltd (ATEC) have held many meetings with Ministers and Members of the five Parliaments involved in the creation of the Australian Inland Rail Expressway. Since June 1998, ATEC has been joined by Abigroup Ltd, and associated companies, in advancing the Project.

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About the Author

Everald Compton is Chairman of The Longevity Forum, a not for profit entity which is implementing The Blueprint for an Ageing Australia. He was a Founding Director of National Seniors Australia and served as its Chairman for 25 years. Subsequently , he was Chairman for three years of the Federal Government's Advisory Panel on Positive Ageing.

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