The railroad out of recovery: Michael McCormack’s vision for rail

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack sets out how rail transport could lead Australia out of a COVID-19 recession.

In July 2019, prior to the arrival of COVID-19, governor of the Reserve Bank, Philip Lowe called on governments around the country to invest more in infrastructure. Cutting the official cash rate to a then-record 1 per cent, Lowe said that more spending on infrastructure was needed.

“This spending adds to demand in the economy and – provided the right projects are selected – it also adds to the country’s productive capacity. It is appropriate to be thinking about further investments in this area, especially with interest rates at a record low, the economy having spare capacity and some of our existing infrastructure struggling to cope with ongoing population growth,” he told the Darwin business community.

Much has changed since that speech, but in some ways, Lowe’s words could be read, word for word, again, with added emphasis, as the cash rate is now 0.25 per cent and spare capacity in the form of unemployment has only risen.

To hear how the federal government and opposition are responding to this call for an infrastructure-led recovery, earlier in 2020, Rail Express spoke to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack and his shadow, Catherine King. The below interview with McCormack has been condensed and edited for clarity and length. To read Rail Express‘s interview with Catherine King, follow this link.

THE ROUTE AHEAD FOR INLAND RAIL
It’s a project that all major parties support, however Inland Rail has been a headache for the government and the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) since objections have been raised to the route over floodplains in northern NSW and Queensland. With the rail industry looking for certainty over the project, governments are hoping to increase the project’s momentum.

Rail Express (REX): In June this year there was another review announced about the project, this time looking at the so-called forestry route. Can you provide industry with some certainty about the project, particularly that critical stage between the NSW-Queensland border and Gowrie?

Michael McCormack: It’s important that regional Australia understands that by the mid-2020s when this project is completed that it is going to bring the benefits that have been talked about since the 1890s. There’s been independent analysis, there’s been hydrological reports, there’s been everything you would expect to be in a project of this size, scale, and scope. With the Condamine Plain, I appreciate that some local people have some issues with the selected route and so to certainly make sure that we’ve got the right route we’re looking at that forestry route. We’ll put the ruler over it, we’ll have independent analysis of it, we’ll have a hydrological study of it, just to make sure that the right route is eventually selected.

REX: Currently, we have forestry route review and then we have the independent panel who are reviewing the hydrological modelling on the original route, what happens if the conclusions out of both come into conflict?

McCormack: Of course we need to take on board the expert advice, to make sure that the full benefits are passed on, making sure that we can get goods from paddock to port within 24 hours. When you talk to people as I have in the Toowoomba area, and you take Jill Allwright, she’s got a cereal producing factory there, she moved to Toowoomba eight years ago. She set up her company and she’s really looking forward to Inland Rail because freight is over 20 per cent of her operating costs.

REX: I imagine businesses up and down the line such as Allwright’s would appreciate a connection to the ports of Melbourne and Brisbane as well?

McCormack: Well they will, and they’re already benefiting and during COVID-19 when so many industries have been shut down and so many jobs have been lost it’s heartening and rewarding to see that along the Parkes to Narromine section work has just continued and that’s employing thousands of people directly and indirectly.

REX: But in terms of the direct connection between Acacia Ridge and the Port of Brisbane for double stacked trains which is such a significant aspect of what makes Inland Rail competitive, how are you going to ensure that a rail connection is built, if not when the line is opened, soon afterwards?

McCormack: We’re working through those issues with state government as well as local governments. The NSW government for instance has put a special activation precinct around the Bowman area at north Wagga Wagga and invested heavily into that, and so there is buy in there for state governments, there is buy in there for local governments and of course private entities as well. We will continue to work with and negotiate with and embrace all the activity involved with Inland Rail and it’s been a collaborative project.

A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD FOR FREIGHT
Without freight rail continuing to operate throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Australia’s supermarkets shelves would be empty and commodities would be sitting at farms and mines, never making it to market. To ensure that this critical link in the logistics chain continued to operate, governments stepped in, allowing freight to cross otherwise closed borders. In May, the ARTC provided some financial relief for rail freight operators by extending payment terms for current access charges and deferring a consumer price index increase that was scheduled for July. Rail freight operators are still concerned however, with more empty containers being transported by sea, and a lack of competitive neutrality with road freight.

REX: Freight rail has rightly been recognised for the critical role it has played during the COVID-19 pandemic, how are you going to ensure the competitiveness of rail freight continues after the crisis?

McCormack: Some of the real heroes in COVID 19 have been train drivers and intermodal workers, who have delivered. We’ve got this national freight and supply chain strategy since August 2019 when states and territories agreed with the federal government to sign up to the 20 year plan and we’ve got a five year national action plan. We’re tackling the growing and changing freight task and Inland Rail is going to dovetail into that.

REX: One of the concerns of the rail freight industry has been about a lack of a level playing field between rail freight and road transport. One positive thing that we saw come out of the crisis was that the ARTC extended the payment terms for current access charges and suspended CPI-tied increases to the fees.

McCormack: We need everybody to be a player in this regard and yes there have been pressures on rail, I understand that, but that’s why Inland Rail is so important. That’s why the Victorian rail revival and other projects that we’re doing, both transpoting people and transporting freight, are just so crucial and that’s why we are investing so heavily. I am talking to ministers of all political persuasions to get the right outcomes. Is crucial that we get all the right investment in track, the right investment by states in rollingstock, and we bring about benefits for all.

REX: But for those particular fees, for the road transport industry, CPI increases heavy vehicle road user charges have been suspended for about half a decade, while it just happened now for rail. Is there a possibility to extend that to create a more competitive rail freight environment?

McCormack: We do want a more competitive rail freight industry and that’s why we are investing so heavily in it. At the end of the day, businesses and private individuals if they want to get something transported from one side of the country to the other or indeed from one town to the next, they’ll always make decisions based on cost. We want every stakeholder in the country to be competitive, whether it’s air, rail, road, or indeed whether it’s our sea lanes and our maritime freight, has a part to play in this.

Michael McCormack
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack.

AN INFRASTRUCTURE LED RECOVERY?
Infrastructure will undoubtedly play a role in getting Australia back to work after the COVID-19 recession, but what form that infrastructure will take is still up in the air. While some jurisdictions are looking for zero emissions mobility and rail to play a larger role, funding announced so far has brought forward a number of smaller roads projects around Australia, to ensure that planning times are reduced. While the age of the megaproject is not over yet, what shape those projects take could be very different in the future.

REX: What projects are you looking at in terms of bringing forward work or funding and is there a change in preference in terms of wanting to do smaller projects that can get started straight away?

McCormack: Well I can almost say watch this space because it was of course really genuinely pleasing to be working with the states and request that they bring forward some of the projects that we’ve asked them to. I wrote to them late last year and I sent another letter to them early this year when COVID-19 really started to take hold on all aspects of the economy.

REX: There’s two projects, for example, that are sitting with you right now awaiting federal approval; the Murray Darling Basin Rail Project and Melbourne Airport Rail. Is there any indication that you can move forward on either of those?

McCormack: I’ve actually messaged Victorian Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan about that and other infrastructure projects. There’s a lot happening in Victoria, a lot happening with Commonwealth money of course, and we want to make sure that whether it’s Murray Basin Rail or Melbourne Airport Rail, it’s something that’s been talked about for years and years and we’re delivering.

REX: In particular with the Melbourne Airport Rail Link, your colleague Treasurer Josh Frydenburg has suggested that super funds should bring forward more investment in infrastructure and this is one project where a consortium of super funds said they want to build a tunnel from Sunshine to Southern Cross station. Are you leaning towards a tunnel or an above ground option?

McCormack: Let’s continue to talk about that. There are some announcements that are soon to be made, whether it’s Melbourne, whether it’s our capital cities or whether it is our most rural and remote and outback towns. There’s plans being drawn up whether it’s tunnels for rail, tunnels for the Coffs Harbour bypass or whether it’s just getting that long awaited bitumen on roads in outback dusty Queensland cattle tracks.

THE FASTER OR HIGH-SPEED RAIL DILEMMA
In a speech delivered to shadow cabinet in May, Anthony Albanese reaffirmed Labor’s commitment to building a high-speed rail link between Melbourne and Brisbane, via Sydney and Canberra. As a nation-building project it would certainly be iconic, but could COVID-19 actually turn Australia’s long held dream of high-speed rail into reality?

REX: The leader of the opposition brought up high-speed rail but you have suggested you wanted to focus on faster rail. Could you give us an indication about your thinking about why you’d like to focus on faster rail rather than high-speed rail?

McCormack: I can remember holding a community conference in my home town of Wagga Wagga when I first was elected back in 2010. The late Brian Nye headed up the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) back then and I invited him to speak. I was amazed at how many people turned up but even back then, the cost of high-speed rail a link between Sydney and Melbourne via Canberra, it had a price tag then on it of $114 billion. That figure has just escalated and while there have been moves to protect and preserve the corridor so that we can ultimately do something along these lines you have to have the willingness, the capacity, and also the commuter interest to do it.

Australia is a big country and we don’t have the population that some of those countries which have invested heavily in high-speed rail do. In Australia we’re investing in the infrastructure fits the bill for what we’re doing right now.

High-speed rail, I’d like to see it in my lifetime, but we’re a big country and we’re very densely populated in our capital cities. There are opportunities of course for this type of investment but given the fact that it’s going to be very difficult to with COVID-19 to actually find that sort of investment anywhere in the world at the moment, there are other priorities at hand.

Final approvals passed for Narrabri to North Star Inland Rail

The environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Narrabri to North Star leg of Inland Rail has been approved, paving the way for construction to begin before the end of 2020.

The EIS is one of the final approvals required for the project, with the section already approved by NSW planning authorities.

The leg from Narrabri to North Star involves upgrading 186km of existing rail corridor and 2.3km of new track construction.

Inland Rail was one of 15 projects fast tracked under federal government regulation in June this year. This enabled the project to pass state and federal approvals quickly and be ready for construction sooner.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said that by passing this latest stage in approval, more benefits could flow to the communities along the alignment.

“Inland Rail will play a key role in getting our economy back on track because it means more people in jobs and it means more productivity for so many industries and local businesses,” he said.

“On the Parkes to Narromine section, 1,800 jobs were supported and more than $109 million was spent with 99 local businesses – we’re looking forward to seeing Northern New South Wales enjoy similar benefits soon with construction on this section starting later this year.”

Federal member for Parkes, Mark Coulton, said that the experience of the recently completed first stage, from Parkes to Narromine, would indicate how the next sections would play out.

“The first recently completed section – Parkes to Narromine – provided a significant boost to businesses across a range of industries, including concrete supply, transportation, fencing, earthmoving, accommodation, hospitality and security in what has been a difficult time for many rural businesses with drought, fires and now COVID-19,” he said.

“Northern NSW has a proud history of agricultural excellence – the long term benefits of this transformational project will better connect our region to east coast ports and create new supply chains to better move the produce and products we are famous for.”

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann highlighted that Inland Rail is one of the nationally significant infrastructure projects that hopes to restart the economy after COVID-19.

“Inland Rail will support more than 5,000 jobs in New South Wales during construction and as each section is completed, more fast and reliable rail services will become available to industry and regional producers across Australia,” Minister Cormann said.

“Large scale infrastructure projects are a key driver of growth – driving investment, boosting economic development, creating many news jobs and opportunities for local businesses.”

New procurement process for Inland Rail contracts

The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) will speed up and de-risk the procurement process for Inland Rail in a new procurement and packaging plan.

Inland Rail CEO Richard Wankmuller said the plan was developed in response to feedback from industry.

“Industry has clearly sent a message that Inland Rail needs to work more closely with project proponents to accelerate project tenders, maximise opportunities to participate and de-risk procurement processes. Doing so will deliver the greatest benefit for government, industry and small and medium regional businesses,” he said.

The plan will provide to industry opportunities on a number of projects, and the ARTC is currently seeking registrations of interest in civil works packages on three sections, Narromine to Narrabri, North Star to Border, and Border to Gowrie.

The procurement plan will cover other sections of Inland Rail, including:

  • Albury to Illabo
  • Illabo to Stockinbingal
  • Stockinbingal to Parkes
  • Narromine to Narrabri
  • North Star to NSW/QLD Border
  • NSW/QLD Border to Gowrie
  • Kagaru to Acacia Ridge and Bromelton

Wankmuller said that the project has opportunities for large and small businesses.

“By investing now and getting tenders out faster, this mega-project is offering tender packages ideally suited to a range of suppliers and contractors, big and small,” he said.

“Inland Rail is also being predominantly delivered – 90 per cent – in regional Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland away from the overheated metropolitan infrastructure markets meaning there is greater opportunity for regional Australia to reap the rewards.”

Chief Executive of the Australian Contractors Association Jon Davies said the procurement approach improve social and economic benefits that come from investment.

“It has never been more important for industry and Clients to work together collaboratively in order to efficiently deliver projects and leverage their social and economic benefits”, he said.

“We welcome ARTC’s new approach to procurement and our members look forward to working with ARTC and the Inland Rail team as these new opportunities arise in coming months.”

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said the works packages would spread the benefit of the project.

“Inland Rail’s construction is providing a boost for local businesses and communities at a time it’s most needed,” said McCormack.

“By dividing this nation-building project into smaller parts, more local businesses can bid for this valuable work, contributing to Australia’s future.”

Construction of the Parkes to Narromine section was recently completed, and a contract for the construction of Narrabri to North Star is expected in the coming weeks.

First section of Inland Rail complete

The first section of Inland Rail, linking Parkes and Narromine in the NSW Central West, has been completed.

A ceremonial opening of the line was held today, September 15, at Peak Hill, where the first shipment of steel was delivered to begin the project in January 2018.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said that today marked a historic point in the project.

“Inland Rail is nation-building and today recognises a great milestone in this transformational infrastructure,” he said.

“Inland Rail is an investment in Australia – in our economy, in our regions and in the capacity of our future freight network.”

Industry welcomed the breakthrough on this stage of the project, which when complete will link Melbourne and Brisbane by rail in under 24 hours. Chair of the Freight on Rail Group Dean Dalla Valle said this would improve the competitiveness of rail.

“In the past, trucks would do the ‘first and last mile’ between rail terminals and ports, warehouses, distribution centres and manufacturing plants. Today on some key transport corridors – notably between Sydney and Melbourne – trucks are doing every mile,” he said.

“A typical 1,500-metre interstate freight train can haul up to 220 shipping containers – equivalent to approximately 180 B-double return truck trips.”

CEO of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) Caroline Wilkie said that with this section complete, the rest of the project should soon follow.

“The promise of Inland Rail has already generated significant activity in the Parkes region as the community readies itself for the opportunities better rail freight connections will bring,” she said.

“It is now critical that the project’s swift progress across the rest of the route is supported so even more communities and businesses can benefit in this way.”

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said the 1,700km freight rail link would improve Australia’s entire freight network.

Long-haul rail is cheaper, safer and more reliable than road, that’s why the Australian Government is enhancing the national freight rail network through our investment in Inland Rail,” Cormann said.

“The shift from road to rail builds resilience in our freight network – not only will Inland Rail deliver a long-term freight solution for Australia to meet the needs of our growing population – it is also a critical investment supporting an efficient Australian economy.”

A focus for the Parkes to Narromine section has been the involvement of locals, with 760 contributing to the project and $110 million spent with local businesses. Work on the project included a rebuild of almost 100km of existing rail track and a new 5.3km connection between Inland Rail and the Broken Hill line.

Steel for the project came from South Australia, concrete sleepers were sourced from Mittagong and culverts came from Tamworth. The final ‘golden clip’ which McCormack hammered into place to signify the completion of the project was one of 365,000 sourced from a supplier in Blacktown, Sydney.

Construction is expected to commence on the Narrabri to North Star leg before the end of 2020 with a contractor to be confirmed soon.

The commemorative plaque marking the opening of the P2N section of Inland Rail. Credit: Amanda Lee.

EIS released for North Star to Border section of Inland Rail

The NSW government has released the environmental impact statement (EIS) for the North Star to Border (NS2B) section of Inland Rail.

With the EIS now on public exhibition, locals along the alignment are invited to make submissions to the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment.

The NSW component of the NS2B section will involve upgrading 25km of existing, non-operational track and the construction of 5km of new track.

There will also be civil works including the construction of bridges, viaducts and culverts, as well as improved level crossings, grade separations, and crossing loops.

Another 9km of the section runs through Queensland, and will be approved through a separate EIS process.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said the 30km leg was essential in ensuring freight efficiencies.

“We know how important Inland Rail is to the nation — reshaping how freight is moved across the nation while generating more than 16,000 jobs and providing a $16 billion boost to the national economy when and where it is needed most,” McCormack said.

“To deliver Inland Rail and realise these important regional jobs and economic benefits we must ensure the project complies with strict state and commonwealth legislation – the years of work that have informed the NS2B EIS will not be complete until communities have their say.”

The NS2B section crosses the Macintyre River floodplain and community feedback has been involved in the project’s reference design.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said that the project would have immediate and ongoing benefits.

“Inland Rail’s fast and efficient freight service will support national productivity and deliver local benefits through construction and operation, which is why I welcome this opportunity for communities along the alignment to engage with the planning and design.”

Local member and Minister for Regional Health, Regional Communications and Local Government Mark Coulton said that the project, once it has progressed through planning approvals, would have a positive impact on the local economy.

“Inland Rail will support around 5,000 jobs during construction across NSW and could support hundreds more for northern NSW by its 10th year of operation.”

Submissions can be made online and the EIS will be displayed at communities near the alignment.

Final preparations before construction begins on Narrabri to North Star Inland Rail

The final shipments of steel rail and concrete sleepers for the Narrabri to North Star section of Inland Rail have arrived as the last planning approvals are finished.

With these deliveries completed construction can take the next step forward, with the planning process fast tracked by the NSW government and approved on August 13.

A final contractor is yet to be announced, however three shortlisted tenderers were announced in December 2019. These are: Lendlease Engineering, a joint venture between Downer EDI and Seymour White named RailFirst, and Trans4m Rail, a joint venture between Rhomberg Rail Australia, BGC Contracting, and SEE Civil.

Construction is expected to begin later in 2020.

So far, 21 trains have delivered 24,775 tonnes of Australian-made steel, with the last of the 2,474 165-metre long lengths delivered in the last week.

42 trains have delivered 116,396 Australian made sleepers from Mittagong and 224,939 sleepers from Wagga Wagga.

Federal Member for Parkes Mark Coulton said that once construction begins, local businesses and communities will benefit.

“As we near construction on the next section of the project, benefits are going to flow via local industry and supplier participation, employment and workforce development in communities surrounding the Narrabri to North Star section,” said Coulton.

With the Parkes to Narromine section of Inland Rail nearing completion, communities along the alignment there have seen the impact that the construction phase has had.

“On the first section of Inland Rail between Parkes and Narromine, we saw more than $100 million spent with local businesses and nearly 700 locals work on the project. There were 99 local businesses that supplied goods to the project in some form,” said Coulton.

“Inland Rail is a project that creates opportunity and jobs in the short, medium and long-term – with the local jobs created in supply contracts like the rail and sleepers, the future jobs and investment during construction, and the enduring benefits that will come from the enhancement and expansion of regional supply chains.”

approvals

Inland Rail investment requires route confirmation

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.

Inland Rail

Wrong time for delays on Inland Rail

All parties should respect the outcome of the latest reviews into Inland Rail, and get on with the transformational project, writes ALC CEO Kirk Coningham.

In mid-June, Prime Minister Scott Morrison delivered a major economic address in which he announced that to hasten the pace of Australia’s post-COVID-19 economic recovery, the federal government would move to cut approval times for projects under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

At the end of 2019, approval processes associated with this act were taking an average of 90 days – the Prime Minister has committed to reducing this to 30 days by the end of 2020.

At the same time, the Prime Minister also unveiled a list of 15 major infrastructure projects nationally that are on what he termed the “fast track” for expedited approval under a bilateral model agreed between federal, state, and territory governments.

At the top of this list was the Inland Rail project, which regular readers of Rail Express will know is one of the most iconic freight infrastructure projects ever undertaken and will play a significant role in modernising our supply chains. Inland Rail will allow a transit time of 24 hours or less for freight trains between Melbourne and Brisbane via regional Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland.

Yet, with construction on the project already underway, some groups are now attempting to have changes on the Border to Gowrie section of the route in Queensland.

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 at the request of the federal government.

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.

This latest review process seems to run counter to efforts to expedite the construction of Inland Rail, and unlock the economic, employment and regional development opportunities that the project offers to areas that have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The enormously successful Inland Rail Conference presented by ALC and the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) in Toowoomba last year clearly demonstrated a high level of support for the project from the communities along its proposed alignment. Many local businesses have already been making investment decisions based on the route chosen in 2017.

Eleventh-hour attempts to alter the approved route of the Inland Rail project are causing uncertainty for investors and local communities, placing a brake on employment growth and regional development opportunities at a time the economy can least afford it.

Inland Rail has been talked about for decades. The last thing local communities or the economy need now is for those benefits to be placed at risk by endless reviews of modelling that has already been thoroughly examined and re-examined.

Once this latest review of the is concluded, it is incumbent on all parties to respect its outcomes and turn their attentions to expediting construction. That way, this once-in-a-generation freight rail project can start delivering benefits for local workers, businesses, exporters and consumers that are now needed more than ever.

Inland Rail grants support sustainable communities

Local communities along the Inland Rail route alignment have benefited from grants of between $1,000 and $4,000 to support community groups.

The grants are the fifth round of the Inland Rail Community Sponsorships and Donations program and are focused on the Riverina and Central West regions of NSW.

Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said the grants were in addition to the benefits that have flowed from the construction of Inland Rail.

“We are already seeing the immediate benefits from Inland Rail, with more than 690 local jobs and businesses boosted by the $100 million in local contract commitments flowing from construction of the Parkes to Narromine section,” he said.

The grants are hoped to contribute to local and regional prosperity, well-being and sustainability through the support of events, projects, and activities.

The latest rounds of grants have been tailored to the conditions that are a result of COVID-19. Grants for events and activities must comply with current state restrictions, and applicants are encouraged to put forward projects that require funding for online or digital delivery or include work to be carried out by local businesses and with local suppliers.

While Inland Rail is expected to bring in benefits of up to $13.3bn to communities and regions along the alignment, the grants announced now are ensuring communities can be sustainable now to benefit in the future, said McCormack.

“Supporting the sustainability of these and other communities along the rail corridor is paramount and the Inland Rail sponsorships and donations program is yet another example of how communities can benefit from this unique project.”

Successful recipients include:

$4,000 to the Junee Basketball Association for the purchase of scoring benches at the local recreational centre.

$4,000 to the WIRED Lab Cootamundra to upgrade online infrastructure that will enable community members to participate online.

$4,000 to Silo FM 89.5 Inc. for the purchase of new broadcasting equipment for community radio.

$3,500 to Kurrajong Waratah for the purchase of a weatherproof shelter for the community gardens as part of the Hildasid Farm Project.

$2,837 to the Central West Astronomical Society for the purchase of a data projector and batteries.

$1,136 to Wirrinya Progress and Sports Association for the purchase of tennis court nets for children’s activities.

$1,100 to the Parkes Que Club to provide domestic violence bags for women and children.

Wagga Wagga

Contracts awarded for Wagga Wagga intermodal facility

Wagga Wagga council has approved two contracts to begin the construction and operation of the Riverina Intermodal Freight and Logistics (RiFL) Hub.

The intermodal facility will connect producers and exporters from the Riverina region to the Inland Rail line.

Construction of stages two and three of facility will be carried out by Canberra-based Huon Contractors. Visy Logistics will operate and manage the RiFL Hub terminal and master siding in a public private partnership between Wagga Wagga Council and Visy Logistics.

Once complete the terminal will be the only inland terminal capable of servicing a 1,800m long train configuration.

Stage two of the project involves a 4.9km rail master siding and intermodal terminal area and is funded through a $14.4 million grant from Transport for NSW’s Fixing Country Rail Program.

Stage three of the project will create the industrial area surrounding the Hub. Across 60 hectares, the work will include fitting fibre to the premises internet in the existing Bomen Business Park. These $29.2m works are funded through the NSW government’s Growing Local Economies program.

Wagga Wagga Council general manager Peter Thompson said that having such a facility would put Wagga Wagga on the map for interstate rail freight.

“The partnership with Visy cannot be understated. This company moves significant amounts of freight volumes each year and seeing a large percentage of that processed and distributed through a strategically located freight terminal between Sydney and Melbourne has Wagga Wagga on everyone’s radar.”

Huon Contractors director Adam Howard said the company would be looking for local involvement.

“Having grown up in Wagga, I’m proud that Huon Contractors will be building this project. We intend to utilise local contractors and suppliers as much as possible to deliver this project.”

In July, Deputy NSW Premier and Minister for Regional NSW John Barilaro opened public consultation on a new special activation precinct for the adjoining Bomen Business Park, which is hoped to drive businesses to take advantages of the connections offered by Inland Rail. The plan targets manufacturing, agribusiness and freight and logistics business as prime beneficiaries of improved freight connections.

Once complete, businesses located at the RiFL Hub will be able to get their freight to 80 per cent of the Australian population within 32 hours.