A senate committee has heard that for Inland Rail to unlock investment in regional Australia industry requires certainty about the future of the project.
Speaking to the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport and References Committee Inquiry on the management of the Inland Rail project, Australasian Railway Association (ARA) CEO Caroline Wilkie said that the rail industry was ready to invest.
“There has already been significant investment in terminals and other infrastructure at regional hubs to serve the Inland Rail project when it is up and running,” said Wilkie.
“Further investment – and all the benefits that come with it – will only follow when business and industry finally have certainty about the future of the project.”
Also speaking at the inquiry was Inland Rail CEO Richard Wankmuller who noted that Inland Rail has been cited as a catalyst for the growth of regional cities such as Wagga Wagga, Parkes, and Moree, the so-called bushtropolises.
Already, on the Parkes to Narromine project, Inland Rail construction has created 833 sustainable jobs of employment for six weeks or more, and $100 million has been spent in the regional community around Parkes.
Questioning from senators looked at the uncertainty of the route, particularly through Queensland. Such speculation on the route is limiting the ability of the rail sector to make investments off the back of Inland Rail, said Wilkie.
“ARA has members that need certainty regarding the commencement of construction and ongoing operation of Inland Rail. Continued public speculation about the route is destabilising for companies and causing stress and unnecessary hardship for those both on the government’s existing route and communities such as Cecil Plains and other communities not on the current alignment.”
Senators also raised the competitive pressure rail freight is facing from other modes of transport. With rail taking a declining share of freight between Sydney and Melbourne and Sydney and Brisbane, reducing transit times to under 24 hours would enable the rail freight to be more competitive. Ensuring that the Inland Rail route allows for a transit time of under 24 hours between Melbourne and Brisbane will be critical, said Philip Laird, an academic at the University of Wollongong.