Inland Rail: controversial section gets federal go-ahead


The final section of the Melbourne to Brisbane rail has been selected despite community concerns

Inland Rail: controversial section gets federal go-ahead
Darren Chester is forging ahead with the Inland Rail project.

 

One of the most controversial sections of the proposed Inland Rail project has taken a step towards completion.

Federal infrastructure and transport minister Darren Chester announcing the preferred corridor between Yelarbon and Gowrie in Queensland.

Coming on the back of a review into the final four options, the long-awaited decision will place a line through Pittsworth, Brookstead and the Wellcamp-Charlton industrial precinct.

The 2km-wide corridor chosen will be investigated by the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) for formal assessment and approval.

Acknowledging the community worry, Chester says it was a decision "based on rigorous technical analysis and consultation with community and industry representatives."

"I appreciate that many in the community have been seeking certainty about the alignment," he says.

"All options present challenges but it is my view, based on the available information, that the corridor via Wellcamp and Charlton is the right decision.

"The Government has chosen this route because: as much as possible it uses existing rail corridors; it goes past Wellcamp Airport, which didn’t exist in 2010 when the original route was considered; and it is significantly more economically viable option than the alternative routes."

Promising to "work with" those impacted – a contingent of farmers and business people concerned with the impact on Darling Downs’ Condamine flood plain and water quality – Chester says it will take "the best part of 18 months to two years" before the investigative process will be completed, leaving "enormous amounts of opportunity for the community to be involved".

Reiterating the sentiments, ARTC CEO John Fullerton says "ARTC is determined to engage and consult as widely and openly as possible so that we understand those concerns.

"In return, our aim is to give people greater understanding of the rigorous engineering and other studies that we must undertake to gain the necessary approvals to build and operate Inland Rail."

The ARTC says it is holding information sessions for the local community in the coming weeks.

Four routes were considered for the project. One through Warwick, which was taken off the table as it was the most expensive.

The original route – developed in 2010 – was dropped because it avoided the new industrial hub and airport at Welcamp.

The last unsuccessful option, through Leyburn-Felton, was $180 million more expensive, more time-consuming and utilised less existing infrastructure than the route through Millmerran, Brookstead and Southbrook.

The project, which will connect Melbourne to Brisbane, was promised $8.4billion in funding by the federal government in May. 

Impact on trucks

For members of the transport and logistics community, Chester gave a clear indication that rail is the way he wants freight moved in Australia.

In response to a question on the decision to cross the Condamine flood plain, the minister highlighted the "broader national benefits to be achieved through improved economic links" and the social benefits of placing freight on rail.

"The more heavy vehicles we can take off road and replace that with freight moving on rail, the more lives we'll save on our roads," Chester says.

"So there are very significant social and economic benefits to be gained by this project, but notwithstanding that, I recognise there are going to be individual landholders impacted and we need to try and minimise those impacts as much as we possibly can."

Field studies

Ecology surveys are beginning in Queensland to further advance the progress of the Inland Rail project.

Involving sections of the proposed railway between Gowrie to Kagaru, the studies will examine the area’s flora and fauna movements across spring and summer.

 "With Inland Rail progressing, it is important to get these ecology surveys underway to inform the design and broader environmental assessment of this Inland Rail section," Chester says.

"The field studies and investigations will help identify and understand animal and plant species in the area including their habitats."

The most technically complex sections of the project, the routes will require major tunnelling through the Toowoomba ranges.

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