Inland Rail independent flood panel members announced

The federal and Queensland governments have announced the members of the independent Inland Rail flood modelling review panel.

The five members are Mark Babister, Tina O’Connell, Ferdinand Diermanse, Steve Clark, and Martin Giles.

The panel will analyse flood modelling done by the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), after local landholders on the Condamine River floodplain raised concerns with the modelling.

Babister will chair the panel and is the managing director of specialist water engineering firm WMAwater. O’Connell, Clark, and Giles are also from independent water engineering consultancy businesses. Diermanse is an expert researcher at Dutch applied research institute Deltares.

“We have now finalised the members of the independent panel of international experts and their terms of reference,” said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack.

“Collectively they have more than 130 years’ of experience and will use their knowledge to analyse existing flood modelling and the proposed engineering solutions against national and state guidelines and industry best practice. This process is independent of the ARTC.”

The review by the independent panel follows a comprehensive design process for the section from the Border to Gowrie. AECOM and Aurecon provided an analysis of corridor options in 2016-2017 which was overseen by an independent project reference group. Arup and SMEC reviewed compliance of the flood modelling and hydrology reports against industry standards.

The Southern Darling Downs Community Consultative Committee had John Macintosh from Water Solutions provide quality assurance of the already undertaken work.

“The rigorous approvals process put in place by the Australian and Queensland governments means that before a sod is turned the project has undergone robust and transparent analysis, including independent community feedback and multiple layers of expert peer review,” said McCormack.

“The panel will test and provide expert advice on all existing flood models to ensure that they are fit-for-purpose while the ARTC continues to progress the design, consultation and approvals processes required to get construction underway. The panel is not tasked with reviewing alignment options.”

The independent panel was a precondition of the agreement between the federal and Queensland government signed in 2019. Queensland Transport Minister Mark Bailey said that the final results and evaluation will ensure that floodplain and river crossings meet state and national engineering requirements.

“The panel members’ conclusions will also inform the Queensland Coordinator General’s assessment of ARTC’s draft Environmental Impact Statements for this state. The findings of the panel will be publicly released once their work has been completed.”

Industry calls for certainty on Inland Rail route

The Australian Logistics Council (ALC) has criticised last-ditch attempts to re-route the Inland Rail project from the Queensland border to Gowrie.

Another review of the controversial route over the Condamine River floodplain was confirmed in early June, with the so-called forestry route back on the table. The route, via Cecil Plains, was previously considered but ruled out in favour of the current route because of the extra length. ALC CEO Kirk Coningham said that previous reviews had already found the best route.

“With construction on the project already underway, some groups are now attempting to have changes on the Border to Gowrie section of the route. Despite the fact that extensive and independent analysis of corridor options has previously confirmed the route chosen in 2017 is the best option, there is now a further review taking place.”

The review of the forestry route is in addition to a review of the hydrology and flood modelling of the current route, which is being conducted by an independent expert panel.

An extended route would limit the effectiveness of the entire Inland Rail route, said Coningham.

“The whole point of constructing Inland Rail is to provide a safe and efficient freight rail link for Australia’s east coast that permits a transit time of 24 hours or less for freight between Melbourne and Brisbane. Altering the route to the more complex one being advocated by some will make travel times longer and will make construction a more complicated and costly exercise,” he said.

“At a time when Australia should be moving ahead with shovel-ready infrastructure projects that can deliver economic development and employment opportunities for communities, it is disappointing that those benefits are being delayed by another review process.”

A recent study of the Inland Rail route found that the line would create a long-term benefit of $2.9-3.1 billion to gross regional product and 560-590 full time equivalent jobs in the 10th year of operations.

“ALC calls on all parties to respect the findings of this latest review once it is concluded, so that certainty is maintained and this once-in-a-generation freight rail project can start delivering benefits for local workers, businesses, exporters, and consumers,” said Coningham.

Further scholarships awarded as part of Inland Rail

Four undergraduate scholarships worth up to $20,000 each have been awarded to Charles Sturt University students and three scholarships worth the same amount have been awarded to La Trobe University students.

The scholarships are part of the Inland Rail Skills Academy program which aims to enables students who live close to the rail alignment to undertake study and grow into careers that will enrich the regions, said Inland Rail director community & environment Rebecca Pickering.

“These scholarships, and any employment opportunities they unlock, will act as a catalyst for positive change in many regional communities along the Inland Rail project alignment,” said Pickering.

The scholarships cover costs such as accommodation, equipment, relocation, as well as daily necessities. ¬¬¬