This article appeared in the August/September issue of Logistics & Materials Handling.
Over the next decade, Australia’s new Inland Rail is going to reinstate rail as a viable option for the east coast’s rural producers. The new InterLinkSQ Intermodal Terminal and Industrial Precinct in Toowoomba, Queensland, is strategically positioned to connect the country’s exports by road, rail, air and sea.
InterLinkSQ is a new intermodal and industrial precinct currently under construction in Toowoomba, 170km to the west of Brisbane, that will offer a Toowoomba-to-Port shuttle via rail by June 2018, and link with the Inland Rail in 2024. InterLinkSQ is strategically located at the junction of three major highways – Gore, Warrego and New England, by the Toowoomba Second Range Crossing, and eight kilometres from Toowoomba’s new domestic and international airport.
Crucially, the 200-hectare development sits along both the new Inland Rail route and the established Queensland regional rail network, including the West Moreton line, which connects directly to the Port of Brisbane. Prior to the Inland Rail connecting to InterLinkSQ, the development will utilise the existing rail infrastructure by creating a shuttle from Toowoomba to the port of Brisbane, creating efficiencies in logistics by allowing for more goods to be exported.
Transport inefficiencies are prevalent in the region – for example, approximately 200,000 tonnes of chickpeas were left in the ground in the Darling Downs region in 2015–2016 due to an inability to move the goods to port as a result of a lack of road transport.
By creating a rail shuttle from Toowoomba to the Port of Brisbane, InterLinkSQ will allow road transport to move more efficiently in regional areas. By moving freight via rail from InterLinkSQ, trucks can be removed from Brisbane’s already congested roads, explains Michelle Reynolds, CEO, InterLinkSQ.
“For every train from InterLinkSQ to the Port of Brisbane, around 54 trucks will be removed from the urban and passenger road networks,” she says, noting that a 2015 Deloitte Demand study reported that the Port of Brisbane was keen to promote freight on rail and the need for development of inland terminals, citing a need to avoid the road-based congestion expected to confront the port in the coming ten years, should no modal shift to rail occur.
“Along with increased productivity for road operators and improved safety standards on urban roads, for every container (Twenty-Foot Equivalent Unit, or TEU) that is transferred from InterLinkSQ to the port of Brisbane by rail, rather than road, there will be a reduction of 125kg of C02 emissions,” she adds. “These same trucks can then operate in higher productivity configurations in regional and rural areas to consolidate the increased freight volumes expected as our producers increase production volumes to meet the growing requirements of our export markets.”
InterLinkSQ features a Global Logistics Centre with an open-access rail terminal, plus a 140-hectare industrial park. Its $235 million rail transfer centre is currently under construction, with rail services set to commence in June 2018. While the precinct is set to become a major freight hub for goods moving between major metropolitan centres such as Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, Perth and Darwin, a key goal of its establishment has been reaching rural producers. “South East and South West Queensland, and areas of northern New South Wales have long faced freight transportation inefficiencies,” says Michelle. Unable to access rail freight services, these regions have been forced to rely on road transportation. “Inland Rail is not only about connecting Brisbane and Melbourne, it’s about connecting region to region, and regions to ports.
“In talking to some producers, they have told me that freight costs can be up to 50 per cent of the cost of the product by the time it gets to port. InterLinkSQ will be a linchpin in helping those rural producers maximise supply chain efficiencies.”
InterLinkSQ will provide access to the key agricultural and mining regions to the west, as well as access to growing international markets via road, rail, air and sea, Michelle adds. “Reduced transport costs will allow producers to lower the cost of exported goods, making Australian produce more competitive.
“Toowoomba acts as a funnel for the major export regions of the Darling Downs and Surat Basin, over the Great Dividing Range and to the Port of Brisbane,” she says. “This region mainly produces coal, grains, cotton, meat and pulses.” The terminal has been planned to meet both current and forecasted future demands – initially it will have a capacity of 96,000TEU, this is expected to rise to 750,000TEU. Over the next ten years, the precinct will be positioned to become a “port of destination” for shipping, Michelle explains. “InterLinkSQ is a game-changing project, primarily funded by 86 local families,” she says.
“The InterLinkSQ project has been developed to boost the Toowoomba economy and create much needed efficiencies in the rail freight industry. It is a community project, developed as a result of direct need from businesses in the region.”
InterLinkSQ will initially move freight from the Darling Downs in Southern Queensland to the Port of Brisbane, Michelle adds. “The project’s initial rail freight offering from June 2018 will save farmers around $50 per TEU, according to a report done by property and infrastructure specialist APP,” she says. “The ability to locate businesses on the InterLinkSQ site with direct access to rail will bring additional savings to local businesses, allowing the region to grow exponentially.
“The implementation of rail, both nationally and locally in Southern Queensland, creates efficiencies in the logistics chain allowing farmers to produce more goods at a lower cost, thereby enabling produce to be more competitive in the global market.”