The AustralAsia Railway Project is far more than the engineering feats of 1420 kilometres of shiny steel, the new Elizabeth River Bridge built across a tidal estuary south of Darwin, the restored 1918 Fergusson River bridge, culverts built for tropical storms and desert stretches built to withstand melting heat.
The project signified the growing self-confidence of the Northern Territory in forging its own economic growth, opening up a trade route to the north, boosting tourism with the thousands of train buffs travelling on the Ghan, justifying a brand new port to act as a terminus for the railway and opening up mineral provinces along the corridor to feed Asian smelters.
As part of the Northern Territory Government’s strategic land use plans, a significant stretch of industrial land behind the port and rail terminus was set aside for transport and logistics activities. Under the management of the Land Development Corporation, this has seen the rapid growth of the East Arm Business Park, freight consolidation yards and warehouses associated with the railway and port.
The modern, deep water port in turn proved to be strategically important infrastructure supporting the Northern Territory’s vision of becoming an oil and gas supply hub. Facilities at East Arm Port were a catalyst for further investment in a common user area (a shared area of hard stand managed by the Land Development Corporation) and proposed marine supply base that will support the arrival of INPEX’s proposed LNG plant at Wickham Point.
The unexpectedly rapid growth of the minerals trade has, in turn, accelerated the reclamation of land, investment in bulk minerals handling facilities and expansion of the Port.
The AustralAsia project was nation-building, pioneering in its successful transfer of risk between government and the private sector and successful in contributing to the Northern Territory’s economic growth and growing self-reliance.
Its completion and successful operation are the realisation of a dream first articulated before European settlers raised the English flag on Darwin’s tropical soil of a railway that could link northern and southern shores, build a flourishing trade route with Asia and overcome the isolation of Australia’s most sparsely settled lands.