Inland Rail, Australia’s biggest freight rail transport project in 100 years, was identified as a priority infrastructure project by Infrastructure Australia in 2016.

The construction of the A$10 billion freight rail line – with a 10-year delivery schedule – will complete the backbone of the national freight network between Melbourne and Brisbane via regional Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. Comprising 13 individual projects, and spanning more than 1,700km, it is the largest freight rail project in Australia and one of the most significant infrastructure projects in the world.


SMEC, in a joint venture with Arup, is providing technical and advisory services on the project, drawing on our global portfolio of interconnected skills and subject matter experts.


Inland Rail is a key project supporting economic growth for Australia by creating a reliable freight link with a transit time between Brisbane and Melbourne of less than 24 hours. The project will enable a cost effective and efficient movement of goods across Australia’s vast east coast. A study undertaken by Ernst and Young Australia shows the possibilities for investment along the rail line can generate up to A$13.3 billion in added value for regional communities over the first 50 years of operation, this is in addition to the A$16 billion increase in gross domestic product.

of steel used, equivalent to 5 Sydney Harbour Bridges
cubic metres of cut and 16 million cubic metres of fill, with limited cut/fill balance
This project is, in many respects, unprecedented in its size and scale… Our teams have been pushed to challenge the boundaries of what is technically possible and even what has been established as industry practice. Through this process, we’ve been able to innovate and develop solutions that, in addition to delivering exceptional value for Inland Rail, can also benefit the wider industry.”
———— Catherine Das Gupta, SMEC’s Rail Manager for Queensland and the Northern Territory
freight rail line
of tunnels, up to 250m below the existing surface level.

Stepping beyond a ‘business as usual’ mindset

A key example of innovation in action is the development and implementation of new suite of earthworks specifications with a move from a prescriptive to performance-based approach.

Formation and bulk earthworks make up around a third of the Inland Rail’s capital cost. The previous earthworks specifications did not adequately address the varying geotechnical solutions and technical challenges along the route, including different soil types and sourcing of suitable materials.

Working with a broad range of stakeholders and subject matter experts, we identified an opportunity during the concept development phase to move to performance-based earthworks specifications. Compared to the prescriptive methods, these specifications are agile enough to provide for design optimisation and encourage new methods of construction and materials sourcing with an aim of providing geographically sensible earthworks solutions that don’t rely on importing high volumes of high-grade materials.

“Developing and implementing project specifications is a major undertaking that is rarely seen in the Australian rail industry,” says Dr Richard Kelly (Geotechnical Subject Matter Expert on the SMEC-Arup Joint Venture) “These performance-based specifications represent current industry best practice and have delivered value engineering for the program’s earthworks, whilst also presenting opportunities for advancement in engineering and design of railway earthworks throughout Australia.”

Successful implementation has driven positive outcomes on the Parkes to Narromine (P2N) project. This is 103.7km section is the first Inland Rail project be completed and was commissioned in September 2020. It is estimated that the alternative earthworks solutions supported by these specifications will save the project over $100 million in costs. They also provide a legacy to the rail operator and maintainer for use beyond the Inland Rail project.

Expertise at work

SMEC, and our JV partner Arup, are providing engineering and technical advisory to our client through specialist support across the disciplines that make up the delivery of the railway system. A full-time core team of almost 50 experienced engineers is based in our client’s Brisbane office, supported by a wider group of nearly 150 Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). This has developed a highly collaborative structure between the joint venture partners and our client, enabling a team environment in which innovation is able to be fostered and capitalised upon.

In addition to providing program-wide and project-specific advisory services, the team has also developed a range of technical strategies and documents including standard design drawings, program requirements specifications and social performance reporting framework. As the program moves forward into the next phase, the team has also undertaken optimisation reviews across several projects to ensure the client is receiving value for money solutions.


The outcomes

Improved infrastructure and an effective national freight operation will not only provide supply chain benefits but will also lift Australia’s global competitiveness whilst delivering substantial cost savings for local producers. SMEC’s engineering, geotechnical and construction capability and specialist support have played a key role in the current delivery of Inland Rail and for rail infrastructure projects and maintenance well into the future.

“It is a great opportunity to work with and lead such a talented team on a project like Inland Rail.  Every day we are contributing to the future of Australia’s rail and transport network,” said Lyndsey Bannister, SMEC-Arup JV Project Manager.



Get in touch with our global specialists to discover how SMEC can assist with the delivery of your next project.