Overpass: $24m white elephant


Are there more pressing civil works on which $24m of public money could have been be spent rather than the railway overpass nearing completion on the Stuart Highway some 20 km south of town?
The Town Council, the Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Central Australia (TCA) think so.
Yet the overpass “was identified by the Northern Territory Government as a priority project” according to a spokesman for Warren Truss, Federal Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, which is providing the cash.
“The Australian Government will continue to work with the Northern Territory Government to identify and deliver transport infrastructure improvements in the Northern Territory,” says the spokesman.
This makes it clear the funding could have been applied to a variety of projects.
So who in the NT Government “identified” the project? It was the Department of Transport.
Why? The department says in a statement to the Alice Springs News Online: “Because it was the last rail overpass required on the Northern Territory National Highways.”
What makes that a requirement? That’s something we would have liked to ask Clare Gardiner-Barnes, but “she is not available for an interview,” as were were told.
We sought to put this and other questions to her as the chairperson of the Transport Infrastructure Investment Industry Advisory Group (TIIAG), which we understand is a group putting to the government the views of the public, or a significant part of it, ensuring these views are taken notice of.
p2227-Clare-Gardiner-BarnesAs it turns out Ms Gardiner-Barnes (pictured) is also the Chief Executive of the Department of Transport.
This seems odd: Here we have a lobby group that is chaired by the person who is also heading up the instrumentality which is being lobbied. It gets worse.
The Department of Transport said in response to questions about the project from the News: “The Department also collates feedback from stakeholders as to what their priorities are.
“For example, the recently formed Transport Infrastructure Investment Industry Advisory Group has provided input into the 2015-16 budget formulation.”
So Ms Gardiner-Barnes, in her dual role, would be in an excellent position to enlighten the public about how her department obtained “feedback from stakeholders” on the overpass or other projects projects. If the council, the Chamber and TCA are not the town’s major “stakeholders,” then who is?
But not only is she unavailable to answer questions, a departmental minder refused to disclose the identities and contact details of the group’s other members, insisting that we provide questions in writing to her, and to her alone.
We declined to engage in an endless toing and froing of emails on the grounds that an interview is more economical: It had taken this minder five days to provide just the name of Ms Gardiner-Barnes.
The overpass will certainly not bring a single additional visitor.
It is hardly an accident hotspot.
The red lights are clearly doing the job well. Does Ms Gardiner-Barnes have evidence to the contrary?
A set of boom gates, costing a tiny fraction of the overpass, would have make things just perfect. There is a far more frequented level crossing on the Stuart Highway not far north of Port Augusta.
Even for motorists encountering the sparse rail traffic it wouldn’t be a major inconvenience, given the 16-hour plus drive to Adelaide, or five hours to the Rock.
And in the exceedingly rare event that emergency vehicles need to cross when a train is approaching, the train can be signaled to stop briefly to let these vehicles past.
So why build this white elephant when there are much more urgent and useful projects begging for money?
Stuart Ord, General Manager of TCA, who has a seat on the TIIAG, says his group is “always advocating for access improvements to tourism products where it believes tourism outcomes for Central Australia can be improved.
“A case in point is the sealing of the 43km section of the Larapinta Drive between Hermannsburg and Namatjira Drive turnoff west of Hermannsburg, a project which has been championed at the TIIAG.”
Mr Ord says the TIIAG was only established in November 2014 and “the project mentioned commenced well before the establishment of that group”.
So if the Department of Transport did not use the TIIAG to “collate feedback from stakeholders as to what their priorities are,” how did they do it?
Mr Ord, Mayor Damien Ryan and Kay Eade, CEO of the Chamber of Industries, all say they have not been consulted by the department about the overpass.
Mr Ryan says the national highway may need an overpass but so does Alice Springs, cut in halves by the railway line.
Mr Ryan says: “The western side is not protected in a fire or other emergency when a train is on the track.”
He says he has long advocated an underpass or overpass at the Larapinta Drive rail crossing, “to join the town together”.
The emergency services – police, ambulance and fire brigade – are in the middle of the town.
The Todd, when is flood, is cutting off the eastern suburbs, he says.
Ms Eade says “our infrastructure is behind third world countries” and investment decisions should be made to stimulate employment opportunities and economic growth.
Roads to mining projects are one example.
She says the overpass is providing a temporary stimulus for “a firm based in Darwin with an office in Alice Springs” but it has no long term economic benefits.


  1. Visitors to Alice Springs from down south (like us) will enjoy the fantastic view up on top here, so why don’t you all stop sooking and build a flash restaurant and rest stop there?
    P.S. It’s a shame none any of you have any creative talent at all up there now.

  2. Perhaps it’s the big brother of that $200k pedestrian crossing that had a brief life south of The Gap?

  3. Tourism Central Australia refutes the suggestion in this article that it considers money could be better spent on “more pressing projects”. This was never stated to the journalist and TCA has no comment to make on the veracity or otherwise of the overpass project.

  4. Would it perhaps have something to do with the salt mine south of town and the rare earths mine to our north. Mining trains are far longer than normal rail so an over pass may be required.

  5. I reckon it’s the mining industry pushing this – probably just one of many changes coming our way as mining takes off.

  6. @ Peter Basset: Is he just an incompetent illiterate unsuccessfully attempting irony, or just a complete twit?
    @ Steve: This would make a crossing in town even more important.

  7. A one kilometer long train travelling at 60 km/h would move through the crossing in one minute.

  8. Do not worry there are plenty of white elephants in town. Look at the new mall, the new lawcourt will be no exception, and they want to build a new railway station for one train a week.
    All iron ore mines in the NT are shut due to low price of ore. Ranger mine has been closed for years the crossing at Gemtrees could use up grading – it is unsafe.

  9. Does anyone have the smarts to realise that a kilometre long freight train and a triple road train meeting at that crossing would have zero chance of stopping. Can you imagine the catastrophic conscequences? It happened in Darwin so they built a crossing. Smart.
    As for Damien and Co, having this crossing builds up the case for an overpass or underpass on the Larapinta crossing.
    Finally good to hear from you Basso, you and Marlene could run the scenic Cafe on top. Cheers.

  10. Hal: Fair suck of the sauce bottle! You are being way too logical!
    Peter: In ya dreams. From my memory that crossing to the Tavern at the Gap was $400K to instal and $600K to “remove”. Perhaps Mr Editor can put us both straight. But yep, our same Dept Transport. Gotta love em!
    It’s all about ticking boxes. The National Road network isn’t “supposed” to have rail crossings! It’s in our Bill of Rights! (You’d think we were a rich country with money to burn). Don’t hold your breath for Larapinta Drive unless it somehow gets onto the National Road network. Now, there’s an idea Mr Mayor! (Can’t explain the Port Augusta one … maybe the boffins never drive that far and haven’t seen it?? Why would you when you get a business class air-ticket?) But now, Hall, it’s my turn to suck the sauce bottle.
    Finally, just imagine how much of the Outback Way could have been sealed for that money … (shakes head).

  11. You philistine, Fred. Rubbish tip sculptures are public art! Can I say how beautiful and (amazingly graffiti free) is the fence between the highway and the railway yard. Sorry Fred.
    Must agree though with the Gemtree crossings. Always take those crossing slowly expecting cattle / horses / camels to bolt through.
    My apologies too for misspelling your name not once, but twice Hal. Once is a typo, twice is unforgivable!
    Sure the error was caused by the dreaded auto correct. Editors too aren’t what they used to be! Still the responsibility is mine alone.

  12. Hi Mark … us editors try hard but the skill of mind reading at a distance still eludes as from time to time. I corrected Hal’s name.
    Re pedestrian crossing costs: You will find the answers by googling this site.
    Keep you comments coming. We appreciate them greatly!

  13. Let’s not confuse public works with public art.
    The sculpture at the rubbish tip, the new perentie on the Undoolya roundabout, the fence between the rail yards and the highway, many of the murals around town, the Stuart statue so beloved by so many indigenous children – all these add to the aesthetic enhancement of Alice.
    Good public works make it easier to get around town to enjoy them.

  14. Indeed Hal.
    Commenting on the Department of Transport response: “The Department also collates feedback from stakeholders as to what their priorities are.” Apparently the public who use the road and overpass aren’t “stakeholders”. I don’t recall being asked. Were you?

  15. Does anybody remember the truck that took out a train near Bendigo? Many deaths and lives ruined for some who survived.
    There are thousands of these overpasses around Australia and I think we can be confident that there is a prioritisation done, particularly on highways with a view to ensuring such disasters are avoided.
    Alice Springs number came up and we can be thankful for that.

  16. @ Mark: It’s a great sculputure, however the price tag which came with it was ridiculous.
    Monies could have been better spent on more worthwhile projects. It certainly is in a good spot.

  17. @ Mark, posted April 13, 2015 at 4:14 pm:
    You ask if I was consulted. I don’t remember being asked, but had I been, I would have ignored it.
    It works like this: First a government, any government whether local, State (Territory) or Federal, decides what it wants to do within its own chambers.
    Then, but only if the matter is controversial enough, it holds a public consultation. Then it does what it wants to do, what it has already decided to do.
    It has probably always been so, but with the emergent pre-eminence of executive power, that is clearly the way it now plays.
    The view from the top of the new overpass will be outstanding. Let’s enjoy it.

  18. I have been to see the Mona Lisa, the Vatican and all of its arts, van Gough museum, Nelson column, etc, these are works of art, the so called works of art at the rubbish tip, is in the right spot.
    How many tourist will actually see it. Now the statue of Stuart is well worth its money and the sculputures at Aileron are spectacular.


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