While circumstances contrived to keep Prime Minister Scott Morrison away, a number of dignitaries were on hand for the symbolic sod turning ceremony just outside Parkes as the start of the Inland Rail works between Parkes and Narromine are set to begin.
Part of the $9.3 Billion, 1700 kilometre works from Melbourne to Brisbane, the Parkes-Narromine section saw the first sod turned by Deputy Prime Minister and member for the Riverina, Michael McCormack, using a historic shovel made in 1912.
The shovel, which arrived via special delivery on a train, has only been used six times previously, all by Prime Ministers, with McCormack the first deputy to turn soil with the antique.
The Parkes-Narromine section of the project will begin shortly with the first 5.3km of new rail to be built, and approximately 98km of existing track being upgraded.
While there has been some conjecture over how the project will affect farmers along the inland rail corridor, Mr McCormack believes there will be substantial long-term benefits.
“While there are 50 to 60 farmers impacted by this project, we are doing everything to minimise the inconvenience on them and make sure they are properly compensated,” he said.
“This project will see significant boosts to regional and rural communities.
“For every dollar of the $9.3 Billion spent on this project, there will be a return of $2.62.
“Growers will be able to have their produce in port or at markets within 24 hours.
“This 1700km ‘corridor of commerce’ will make such a difference for small businesses and farmers.
“It will get their products, the best in the world, from paddock onto the inland rail to our ports and our markets very, very quickly.”
Assistant Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Mark Coulton, said the project, which is due for completion in 2024-25, will open up more domestic markets for NSW farmers.
“We will link every capital city by standard gauge rail for the first time ever,” Mr Coulton said.
“Already I have farmers that are seeking markets out in malt factories in Victoria from northern NSW.
“They are seeing the advantage of cheaper freight rates.
“That is starting now and will only escalate when this line is completed.”
ARTC CEO, John Fullerton heralded the ceremony as the beginning of a historic project for Australian rail.
“The sod-turn for Inland Rail is a significant, momentous occasion and it’s fitting to celebrate it at the site where the first greenfields section of Inland Rail will be built,” Mr Fullerton said.
“When Inland Rail is operational, Parkes will be an important hub with double stacked, 1800 metre trains connecting west to Perth and Adelaide and along the east coast between Melbourne and Brisbane.
“Australia’s rail system has always been essential to the freight supply chain and once built, Inland Rail will enhance the national freight rail network – creating jobs, reducing supply chain costs and making Australia more competitive by linking-in with other major infrastructure to connect cities and farms to markets; faster, safer and more efficiently.”