Infrastructure Australia has left the North Coast Connect project off its priority funding list.
Infrastructure Australia has left the North Coast Connect project off its priority funding list.

Funding snub as $5.3bn Coast fast rail fails to stack up

Infrastructure Australia has sent a Coast fast rail proposal back to the drawing board, saying benefits highlighted in the project's business case failed to stack up against its $5.305bn cost.

A business case evaluation summary scheduled for public release on Friday said Infrastructure Australia had excluded the North Coast Connect proposal on its infrastructure priority list.

The proposal aimed to reduce rail journey times between Brisbane and the Coast from 75 to 50 minutes.

It included a new dedicated rail track along the existing North Coast Line between Brisbane and Beerwah and a new rail corridor to connect coastal centres including Maroochydore, Kawana and Caloundra.

Corporate firms SMEC, Stockland, Urbis and KPMG made up a private consortium which completed the detailed business case after receiving federal funding.

A government website said the detailed business case was started in September 2018 and was completed in December 2019.

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Infrastructure Australia received the bid in August last year.

Its summary of the business case said the project aligned with government policies to support regional connectivity, reduce urban congestion and provide an attractive alternative to private vehicle trips.

"However, the North Coast Connect project is not currently identified in Queensland's transport strategy and it is unclear how the proposal aligns with the Queensland Government's passenger rail plans," the summary read.

It said the Beerwah to Maroochydore section of the proposal was protected by the State Government for future public transport options.

It also acknowledged benefit cost ratio data provided in the business case that showed the costs of the project would outweigh the social, economic and environmental benefits.

"The challenging terrain in sections of the proposed route, the presence of environmentally sensitive sites within the project area and the level of design detail present project delivery risks," it said.

The report said the consortium had indicated it would not be leading the delivery of the project and had not confirmed who would be responsible for delivery.

"This contributes to project delivery risks," the summary read.

But Infrastructure Australia said the decision did not mean it could not be swayed with a better pitch.

"We would welcome the opportunity to review a revised business case that includes a stronger case for the proposal, a balance of the costs and benefits, and which illustrates how the delivery risks can be managed," the summary read.

Fairfax MP Ted O'Brien said the priority list snub did not mean the end of fast rail for the Coast.

"This provides us the guidance we need to take it to the next level," Mr O'Brien said.

He said he would reach out to Transport Minister Mark Bailey to discuss how the project could progress.

He said the project had been assessed in isolation to a broader fast rail connection bid that would also include Brisbane links to the Gold Coast and Toowoomba.

"While the business case still requires more work, Infrastructure Australia has provided some direction by way of suggesting the need for a broader southeast Queensland fast rail network to be considered," Mr O'Brien said.

He said while the government took Infrastructure Australia's advice seriously, its recommendations did not preclude federal or state governments from moving ahead with a project.

He said southeast Queensland's 2032 Olympic Games bid was "going along very strongly".

"Our Olympic proposal will not be subject to any one transport project," he said.

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