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. ¬¬¬

Industry welcomes appointment of Inland Rail expert panel

Pacific National and Wagner Corporation have welcomed the establishment of an independent panel of experts to resolve concerns regarding flooding along the Inland Rail route.

The two companies have joined as part of an initial business agreement to develop a rail freight and logistics hub in Toowoomba, alongside the Inland Rail corridor.

“Expert advice and reassurance about flood modelling and engineering solutions is urgently needed for both affected regional communities and future potential investors,” said Pacific National CEO Dean Dalla Valle.

The expert panel was formed in April 2020 and seeks to understand and alleviate the concerns of landholders on the Condamine floodplain, who have raised issues with the flood modelling which guided the design of Inland Rail. The panel’s draft Terms of Reference are currently available for public comment.

Dalla Valle said that the formation of the panel and the adoption of its findings is essential to realising the estimated $13.3 billion in benefits of the freight rail line.

“Make no mistake, in the current economic climate, private sector investment along the Inland Rail route will quickly dry up if this project gets ‘stuck in the mud’ on the Condamine Floodplain.”

As a leader of a locally-based business, non-executive chairman of Wagner Corporation John Wagner said that the panel was a step in the right direction.

“I’m heartened to see the Australian Government placing a keen focus and effort on resolving any remaining hydrological and engineering issues of the Inland Rail project across the Condamine Floodplain.”

Pacific National and Wagner Corporation highlighted that once the project passes its final hurdles, the community will immediately benefit.

“Inland Rail is largely a shovel-ready project, meaning hundreds of Queensland construction workers, contractors and suppliers can be mobilised quickly to help revive regional economies hard hit by years of drought and now the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic,” said Wagner.

The partnership between Pacific National and Wagner Corporation is one example of the step change that could occur in Australia’s logistics network and supply chains. The companies are exploring the development of a rail to air intermodal terminal in Toowoomba that could export rail borne freight internationally from Toowoomba, via the Wellcamp international airport, located next to the proposed intermodal terminal. The logistics hub would also enable primary producers in the Darling Downs access to the national rail freight network, said Wagner.

“Wellcamp Business Park is the perfect place to develop a major logistics hub in south east Queensland. The Darling Downs is one of the most productive agricultural regions in Australia, while Toowoomba is an incredibly progressive and vibrant regional city.”

Dalla Valle also highlighted the community benefits that come with getting more freight on rail.

“Integrated with Inland Rail, a future Wellcamp Logistics Hub would help reduce road accidents and fatalities, traffic congestion, vehicle emissions, and road ‘wear and tear’,” said Dalla Valle.