Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack found very little love from the room of frustrated landholders in Gilgandra last week who aren’t buying the Nationals’ rhetoric on Inland Rail.
Doug Wilson, Gilgandra, was among those keen for a better explanation on the push for the Melbourne to Brisbane travel time to be inside 24 hours.
“Why don’t you go back to big business and say you can’t do it in 24 hours?,” he said.
He was among several people who wanted a better answer, another asking how the trains would benefit inland NSW “because if it’s going stop, you’re not going to get it there in 24 hours”.
Member for Parkes Mark Coulton said there had been a few misconceptions around this issue.
“One is the Inland Rail is not a train. The Inland Rail is the track the trains run on … and there’ll be multiple operators using that track,” he said.
“There will be a rail line (ie. the trunk line) – with other interconnecting branch lines on it – that has the ability to run a higher capacity train which will ultimately lead to lower freight rates for produce along that line and so there will obviously be companies that will focus on the intermodals,” he said.
“I’m hopeful in the longer term that we will see opportunity for other businesses to operate by either value adding of agricultural produce, or maybe completely different businesses that will want to move to (new) locations (ie. Narromine, Parkes, Narrabri, etc),” Mr Coulton said.
Mr McCormack, also the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, said the idea of the efficiencies of scale of this project was also to get trucks off the road.
“Our freight task is going to double in the next 20 years and we’ve got to make sure that for safety purposes and for logistics purposes, that we get more freight off the road,” Mr McCormack said.
However, concerns about studies – or lack thereof – of the greenfield route from Narromine to Narrabri remained an impasse.
“I get the feeling today that you’re wanting us to move from phase one, which is the concept and in your opinion is concrete, and you’re wanting us to come on board with the next phase, which is phase two,” but, “and I think everyone here agrees, we don’t think you got phase one right,” said Jo Marchant, Cobboco.
“So we’re not prepared to get on board yet, and my question is, there’s been talk about an independent inquiry into the route selection – why do you not agree with that?”
“If we’re proven wrong, then we might embrace this Inland Rail, if all our questions are answered.”
Mr McCormack said where ever the line was positioned it would impact on some people “and irrespective of what ever we do, they’re not going to want it”.
“The corridor is quite wide in parts. That will get narrowed down to 60 or 100 metres,” he said.
“I don’t believe we need to do an independent study because quite frankly we’re not going to take the line through Coonamble. It is going to go where it is.”
However, Ms Marchant had the audience’s support when she said “we’re not prepared to move to the next phase”.
“And our farm – fourth generation, handed to us as a soldier settlement block from World War I – if our farm has to take it, we want to know this is the best possible route, and that there haven’t been back room deals done. I want to see proof and the methodology that this is the right route,” Ms Marchant said.
“This is our our livelihoods that you’re comparing to minutes, you’re comparing to months. Get it right – and get phase one right and then we can move on to phase two, because at the moment I can’t move past and I know there’s probably a lot of other people here that can’t move past.”
Mr Coulton said this was why her area was the widest part of the corridor.
“The process now through the EIS (environmental impact statement) is where there is direct consultation to make sure that within that broad corridor there is the best result,” he said.
This is our our livelihoods that you’re comparing to minutes, you’re comparing to months
ARTC Inland Rail Program chief executive officer Richard Wankmuller said his team was working on getting background data online, but no deadline was given.
The forum attracted people from Parkes, Narromine, Coonabarabran, Coonamble, Narrabri, Dubbo, Walgett and locally.
Meanwhile, three consultation committees are being established for Narromine, Gilgandra and Narrabri.
Committees chair, Michael Silver, independently appointed by NSW Department of Planning and Environment, will determine dates, times and locations, with the first meeting expected on December 18-19, pending availability of committee members.