While NSW Farmers have gone for the jugular over the northern NSW route for inland rail, the Coonamble mayor says “it’s time to move on” over the snub to his town.
The Australian Rail Track Corporation released more information last week about the proposed route from Narromine to Narrabri, having already rejected a route via Coonamble or on the Box Ridge Rd at Gulargambone.
The preferred option is along Curban Rd to Mt Tenandra, south of Gwabegar and on to Narrabri.
Coonamble shire mayor Michael Webb said it was time for landholders to drop their anger over the route and come to a sensible solution. He understood the ARTC was doing its best to consult landholders over the route, but some farmers had “put up a wall”.
“They still haven’t finished consulting on what will be the final route. So far as I know they are going to talk to every landowner, but some have decided they don’t want it at all. We wanted the line to come to Coonamble but it wasn’t to be. We have to move on. They’ve made a decision and they’re not going to change their mind.”
The ARTC upgraded the area proposed for inland rail corridor last week, with a blue area shown on the map on its website showing its preferred corridor from Narromine to Narrabri.
Farmers are concerned that the route will go through prime broad acre farming areas and pose flood mitigation risks.
NSW Farmers issued a strident attack on the Federal Government’s rail proposals accusing it of ignoring local concerns.
Farmers president Derek Schoen said farmers had grave concerns about the way ARTC was “designing routes without consulting communities” and also that the Federal Coalition was not listening to farmers’ concerns on the rail route.
“NSW Farmers supports inland rail – but this support does not represent a blank cheque. Our members support a route which is efficient and delivers the best outcome to rural and regional communities. Many doubt the options released achieves this balance,” he said.
“For many months now, NSW Farmers has sought advice from the ARTC about their decision to exclude Coonamble from the track’s route. These questions have been met with non-answers – the Minister’s press release and the Options Report does not justify the benefits of the selected route, or justify and outline the costs, benefits or drawbacks of any alternatives.
“In fact I wrote to the Minister outlining NSW Farmers’ concerns about the proposed preferred route. To date, no formal response has been received and we are disappointed the Minister did not take up our offer to host him for a meeting in Coonamble to discuss community concerns about the route and the reasons for its selection over alternatives.”
“NSW Farmers now understands, unofficially, that the cost of running inland rail via Coonamble would potentially add $100 million to this $8.4 billion project, around 1.2 per cent of the so-far budgeted total cost. The Options Report, released for the first time today, indicates that options via Coonamble ‘were discounted due to the additional transit time’, but still does not identify the actual time difference. What is so secretive about this information that it cannot be fully disclosed?”
Mr Schoen said farmers were losing confidence in the ARTC to deliver the project.
“The inland rail is the WestConnex of regional New South Wales. No factory owner in Sydney would tolerate so little consultation before being told their business was being split in half – why should a farmer do the same?”
“The ARTC is charged with building a railway line across some of the most productive cropping country in eastern Australia. Farmers have a right to understand what options are being looked at, and to suggest that alternatives be considered which may reduce the impact on farm businesses. We have, to date, seen limited evidence that this has occurred.”
“The ARTC Options Report talks about the ‘extent’ of community and stakeholder consultation. Yet it appears to have ignored community requests to ‘minimise impact to cropping’ and ‘aim to utilise existing rail lines, road corridors, property boundaries as much as possible’. Without proper metrics around these consultations, these appear to be only cursory obligations aimed at ticking the consultation box, rather than delivering practical outcomes for affected farming communities.
“Farmers across New South Wales have been closely watching developments with inland rail in Queensland. It appears that, despite deep community concern there about the preferred route and its impact on rural communities, the Commonwealth Government has now decided to also thumb its nose at rural communities in New South Wales. This is so disappointing.
“This ‘we know best’ approach from the Government in Canberra is not welcomed by rural communities – and many would arguably expect more from representatives of a party which claims to stand up for regional Australia. Farmers want inland rail, but they do not want a second best outcome delivered as a political fix if a proper outcome can otherwise be delivered.”
Work is not expected to start for at least two years on the $8bn project from Melbourne to Brisbane.