INLAND RAIL: Decision met with criticism, concerns
IT WAS to be the decision the Darling Downs had been waiting for since May when the Federal Government pledged $8.4billion for the Inland Rail project it says will transform Australia.
But a last-minute venue change as critics got wind of the long-awaited announcement meant it was almost derailed.
Federal Infrastructure and Transport Minister Darren Chester acknowledged the controversy surrounding his preferred rail corridor, a 2km wide stretch which will cross the Condamine flood plain on to Brookstead and Pittsworth before it links to the Toowoomba Enterprise Hub at Gowrie.
"I'm under no illusion about the level of concern some members of the community along the preferred alignment," Mr Chester said.
Those concerns relate to the impact on nearby land and businesses, as well as flooding risks across the Condamine flood plain.
"Flood mitigation is going to be a critical aspect of the detailed design phase," he said.
"I understand what people have concerns about, what impact a project like this might have on their community until they see the detailed design work.
"I deeply respect local knowledge, and I want the locals with generational information.
"Combine that with some of the best technical minds in the nation (I'm) sure we can resolve the issues they put forward."
Mr Chester said the base route mapped out in 2010 was the cheapest to build, but did not take into account the Wellcamp airport and industrial precinct currently under construction.
He said the preferred alignment was the second cheapest, costed at about $180 million below that of the Leyburn route.
The line through Warwick was the most expensive, he said.
"When that base route was first developed, there was no consideration there would be an international airport at Wellcamp and very little consideration the Wellcamp industrial precinct would be developed in that area," he said.
"It would be foolish for any government to not consider that very considerable investment that has occurred there, and the future business that is going to occur there in terms of moving the freight task in that region.
"The process has been absolutely above board; I stand by the process and I stand by the integrity of people like Bruce Wilson."
Mr Wilson AM will lead the public consultation sessions.
Concerns over region's reliance on Inland Rail project
THE head of the region's emerging intermodal rail hub hit out the Federal Government's preferred alignment, criticising why the cheapest route wasn't chosen.
InterLinkSQ CEO Michelle Reynolds said the alignment would not increase freight volumes and flew "in the face of long term land-use planning for the Charlton Wellcamp Enterprise Area".
"I feel for the people whose properties are affected by this alignment and who have had only a matter of weeks or months notice," she said.
"I could understand if there was a good operational or commercial reason behind the decision, but I am at a loss as to the basis of the current decision."
Ms Reynolds was one of a small group of impacted stakeholders who met with Federal Infrastructure and Transport Minister Darren Chester after a media conference yesterday.
She said while Mr Chester acknowledged the concerns put forward by InterLinkSQ, more work needed to be done with regards to boosting the region's industry which could benefit from the Inland Rail project.
"The decision has been made and now we, as the freight, and in particular rail freight industry, have a massive responsibility to ensure that we get every single dollar of value out of the investment that the government is making in Inland Rail," she said.
"Too many Queens- landers have the perception that Inland Rail is the sole solution to our rail freight woes.
"For Queensland, Inland Rail provides us with a standard-gauge connection to the rest of Australia - something already enjoyed by every other state on the mainland.
"In our region, we already have some of the world's finest, most innovative and productive agricultural producers."
Ms Reynolds said more discussion was needed on how the tri-state project would bring tangible benefits to Toowoomba and the wider Darling Downs.
"Our current transport networks are at or nearing capacity," she said.
"This is of particular concern for shippers of chickpeas who are, for the third year running, facing a transport crisis in order to get their product to port and through to Indian and Pakistani markets within a tight shipping window.''
InterLinkSQ covers 200 hectares, and work began on the hub this year.
Final rail route 'above board': Groom MP
THE Inland Rail build is expected to bring 800 jobs to the Darling Downs and more than $2 billion in its lifespan.
But the decision on the NSW to Toowoomba link has been engulfed in speculation the Federal Government was influenced by private enterprise.
It comes as an ABC report yesterday revealed that Toowoomba Regional Council Mayor Paul Antonio paid $4900 for another rail option to be considered, which altered the base case from 2010 to run closer to a quarry he owns in Millmerran.
It was not the route chosen by Federal Infrastructure and Transport Minister Darren Chester.
The quarry reportedly will supply basalt during the rail line build.
Cr Antonio was quoted on the ABC as saying: "Regardless of where the rail line goes over the next 100 years, that basalt on my hill will be used. It will benefit either myself or whoever owns that property."
He did not return The Chronicle's calls yesterday.
Groom MP John McVeigh said he was confident the final decision was above board.
"There are concerns with some interests in that industrial area either being challenged in terms of competition for their own activities, and whether or not some of them had undue influence over the final decision-making process," he said.
"It includes the area in which the Gardner family is developing their activities, the Pulse Data centre, for example, and significant activities between Cecil Plains Rd and the Warrego Hwy, and includes the broader area north of the Warrego Hwy down into InterlinkSQ's development which is under way now.
"I think it is erroneous to suggest that that route is just about one big development in the broader industrial hub, ie the airport, because it's a massive area and there will be tremendous developments in the decades to come.
"Economically we will see on the Darling Downs in the order of about 800 jobs involved in the construction in the task itself, so that is quite significant."
Australian Rail Track Corporation CEO Jack Fullerton said the Darling Downs region "stands to gain more than $2.2 billion in economic activity" from the project.