Australia’s freight volumes are expected to double by 2050. To prepare for such increases, the existing transport network, which is already heavily congested around Sydney, must be enhanced.
Inland Rail is a freight rail spanning more than 1,700 km that will connect Melbourne and Brisbane via regional Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland.
This fast freight infrastructure will transform how we move goods around Australia. It will better connect producers and manufacturers to markets, streamline the transport of goods, and generate growth opportunities for Australia’s regions and economy, now and well into the future.
Inland Rail is being delivered on behalf of the Australian Government through the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), in partnership with the private sector.
Golder was engaged to complete the detailed site investigation for design and construction of a 128 km section of the overall Inland Rail program. The section extends from Gowrie to Kagaru in South-east Queensland.
The final design of this section includes 128 km of new dual-gauge track; 8 km of tunnel (including a 6.2 km tunnel through the Toowoomba Range); 10 railway viaducts and 51 rail bridges; and 11 crossing loops. Golder had previously conducted a preliminary geotechnical site investigation for the feasibility phase of this section, demonstrating our expertise and capacity to manage a site investigation of this size and complexity, and deliver results promptly.
For a section including such extensive and multi-faceted engineering and construction challenges in complex geological and topographic conditions, it was vital to gather comprehensive geotechnical data to address and manage ground risks and to instill confidence in the project’s progression. Golder set about the challenge of determining the soil stability and general geology of the site to identify potentially unsafe rock or soil conditions that could adversely affect the integrity of the infrastructure.
For the detailed site investigation, Golder led a team that included three other consultancies. The Golder team conducted extensive geotechnical, hydrogeological, and environmental site investigations along the full length of the corridor – a mammoth effort spread out over a very large area that posed significant logistical challenges.
Our investigations involved as many as 13 drill rigs and 60 site personnel to complete the work at: 515 test pit locations; 500 borehole locations, including inclined boreholes and inclinometer installations up to 260 m deep; 112 geological mapping locations; and reconnaissance and construction of approximately 25 to 30 km of temporary access tracks in difficult terrain areas.
We conducted a contaminated land assessment where existing rail corridor is proposed to be upgraded, and an extensive laboratory testing program on soils and rock, including specialised Tunnel Boring Machine and aggregate testing.
Golder’s in-house geophysics team conducted 12.8 km of seismic refraction surveys, electric resistivity imagery surveys and cross-hole seismic surveys in steep terrain, as well as downhole imagery in locations of interest. Hydraulic stress conditions were tested at 31 locations using an in-situ testing method that was relatively new to Australia.
We installed 50 groundwater monitoring wells and vibrating wire piezometers (VWPs) with automatic data loggers (one to approximately 260 m depth) and delivered a quarterly surface water and groundwater sampling program along the investigation area. The team undertook two 7-day pumping tests to better understand the effects of pumping on underground aquifers. We also installed above- and below-ground telemetry stations at selected monitoring well and VWP locations, making ground water level available on Golder’s GAUDI (Golder Associates Universal Data Input) web-based platform.
This extensive investigation program was made possible by a complex logistical and project management program, including direct client involvement through the land access approval and closeout processes, as well as a dedicated Golder site superintendent, field managers, and full-time on-site health and safety presence.
Golder was also instrumental in setting up and managing a sample and core storage facility in Toowoomba, including constructing core storage racks, which served as our central sample processing and storage facility. A dedicated Golder team established a tracking system used to manage over 11,000 laboratory samples and 1,500 bulk sample containers, as well as processing and professionally photographing 2,000 bedrock core boxes.
Although the geology posed many challenges, Golder applied innovative techniques that yielded a better understanding of the conditions and technical approaches to reduce and manage risks for this nation-building project. Golder’s team demonstrated great resourcefulness and tenacity in the face of numerous logistical challenges and delivered the final reports to our client on schedule so that ARTC could continue to progress the design and procurement process.
When fully operational from 2027, Inland Rail is expected to greatly reduce reliance on road trucks for freight movement, delivering benefits such as less road congestion, lower fuel use, reduced carbon emissions and improved road safety. As Australia’s population expands over coming decades, this major infrastructure investment will help to futureproof the freight network to meet growing demand, keeping Australian businesses connected to their customers via a secure and efficient supply chain.