ILWS - Charles Sturt University
ILWS - Charles Sturt University

Reviving Regional Railways (2008- ongoing)

Strategic Research Area

Environmental Justice and Governance for Social Change



Investigators/ Researchers

Adjunct Associate  Professor Ian Gray


Governments often indicate their intentions to facilitate greater use of our railway systems for freight. This may involve reducing, or at least slowing the growth of, the number of heavy trucks on regional and urban roads. It can also mean simply finding enough transport capacity to meet the growing needs of industry while reducing the costs of transportation.Rail freight train

Despite the loss of many lines and services, regional railways do convey freight, but very little in proportion to road transport other than with respect to minerals and grain. Such extensive use of roads by heavy vehicles imposes a range of environmental and social costs. This is especially so in rural areas where passenger vehicles have to share minor roads with heavy trucks. In addition to health, safety and environmental concerns, the consequent road maintenance costs often fall on local government. These issues are related to governance and administrative practices which have deep historical roots.

Restoring a substantial regional rail freight system poses many problems. The first issue for research is about explaining why the railways of south-eastern Australia have come to convey so little general freight, and finding the historical turning points which show how change occurs. In order to do this, we are looking at the case of petroleum.

Fuel was transported by train for around 90 years in New South Wales, until the last movements were transferred to trucks in 2010. The movement of fuel is controversial due to its dangerous nature, so the debate over change brought forth some interesting arguments. More importantly, the case of fuel brings forth the elements of 'path dependency'. That is, we will be able to see the points at which a process of change became embedded in forces which would be very difficult to turn around.

Ultimately, with the help of the literature on freight transportation and policy, and some international comparisons, we may be able to show how change of the kind occasionally espoused by governments can be brought about.


A Youtube video (May 2016)  by Adjunct A/Prof Ian Gray "Rail Freight for Regional Development", based on a paper presented at the Sustainable Economic Growth for Regional Australia Conference (SEGRA) Bathurst, October 2015 by Adjunct Associate Professor Ian Gray. The video was revised in June 2016 with new footage from the USA.

SEGRA 2015 Adjunct A/Prof Ian Gray gave a presentation on "rail freight for Regional Development  based on a paper authored by  Adjunct Associate Professor Ian Gray, CSU. Philip Laird, Hon Principal Fellow University of Wollongong and Nick Montague, Department of Transport and Main Roads, Qld.

Getting on the Rails Symposium, was held at the Albury-Wodonga CSU campus in September 2014 and attended by  28 representatives from regional councils and businesses, rail interest groups, transport consultants and regional transport committee members.  Presentations by Reid Mather, from the Victorian Alliance of Councils for Rail Freight (Rail Freight PDF and Adjunct A/Prof Ian Gray (Regionalisation of Rail Freight PDF

Regional Rail Revival Seminar, held at Blayney in May 2013 with the Lachlan Regional Transport Committee and Blayney Shire Council. The Keynote Speaker was Mr Ed Zsombor, Director of Railway Services for the Canadian Province of Saskatchewan. Around 120 people attended.  The Lachlan Regional Transport Committee has updates on the Blayney-Demondrille railway (as discussed among other things at the Blayney Seminar in 2013)

Gray, I. Rumbachs, R. and Baines, W. (2011) 'Centralisation, government policy and path dependency: the decline of rural freight railways in New South Wales' paper presented at the conference of the Western Social Science Association, Salt Lake City.

Gray, I. (2009) 'Maintaining the power of central governments: regional land transport in the Australian Federation, 1850–2007', Journal of Transport History, 30 (1): 22-39.

Gray, I. (2009) 'Spatial/political relations and the uncertainty of regional railways', Australian Journal of Multidisciplinary Engineering, 7 (2): 179-187.


The project has promoted a better informed debate and a broader range of options than might have been apparent otherwise.  In August 2016, seven years after supporters of the revival of the Blayney-Demondrille line first met, the NSW State Government announced that $5 million would be invested to reinstate the Maimuru (north of Young) to Demondrille (near Harden) railway. Under the NSW Government's Fixing Country Rail program, several million more dollars were allocated among smaller projects. The Blayney-Demondrille project stands out for the breadth of community engagement, including the ILWS seminar held at Blayney in 2013, as well as its level of funding. Community support for the project remains strong.

August 2016CONTACT:                                       

A/ Prof Ian Gray Charles Sturt University – Wagga Wagga