AFTER the emergence of a report suggesting an inland rail route via the Southern Downs would be cheaper than one via Millmerran, local political figures have struck out at the Australian Rail Track Corporation.
Member for Southern Downs Lawrence Springborg last week tabled the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation report, and said the blasé response from the ARTC was "not surprising”.
"They have said nothing,” he said.
"It reinforces their lack of transparency, and their lack of noticing what people want.”
In light of the feedback, the ARTC yesterday announced it would revisit the 2015 SMEC report.
"While our first assessment of the SMEC report did not present a compelling case to adopt an alternative route, we recognise there has been extensive feedback from stakeholders and the community on this matter and we will be undertaking further detailed analysis as a result,” an ARTC spokesman said.
"This work will begin shortly and we expect to be able to share the results before the end of the year.”
The report, which was published last year but never made public, according to Mr Springborg, revealed a route through Karara and Leyburn would be $100 million cheaper than the preferred Millmerran route.
Mr Springborg said the ARTC's initial "dismissal” of the report was a convincing case for their "secretive” planning.
"They have an exclusive monopoly to choose at a whim, the corridor they want by using hundreds of millions of dollars worth of public money,” Mr Springborg said.
"When public money is involved, we need the highest level of transparency.”
Southern Downs Mayor Tracy Dobie stood beside Mr Springborg in demanding more from the Federal Government-owned corporation.
"It's clear that the options must be revisited in an open and transparent way that engages all stakeholders, and the ARTC must seriously consider the Southern Downs route before any final decision is made,” she said.
"Our region has effectively been frozen out of discussions about the Inland Rail.”
The ARTC spokesman said the preferred alignment (Inglewood to Gowrie) in the 2010 Alignment Study was identified because it allowed for shorter journey time, reduced costs and enabled greater freight volumes.
He went on to acknowledge instilling community confidence as one of the ARTC's priorities.
"We understand the community needs to have confidence in the final alignment and we want to be able to provide the community with clear and comparable findings from the assessment of the preferred alignment compared to others,” he said.
Cr Dobie said while the group might have been doing something for community confidence, it was doing little with the council.
"The ARTC has chosen to ignore us, and it's astonishing that they have said they were aware of the 2015 SMEC report, but that the alternative didn't demonstrate any advantage,” she said.
"Instead they're choosing to continue pushing for a route option from a report prepared five years earlier in 2010.
"The SMEC report, which favours a route through the Southern Downs, is evidence that there is significant merit associated with using an existing rail corridor.”
Mr Springborg agreed, saying he would not stop asking questions of the ARTC until it could properly ground the reasoning behind the selected route.
"I can't have confidence in this process when we keep getting slick spin answers,” he said.
"Give us the information on how you've calculated these times, give us all these things, because there can be no commercial confidence from the government-owned corporation if we don't know these things.”
The ARTC spokesman defended the processes and said the group practised its transparency through the following:
A total of 24 meetings/technical sessions/workshops with councillors and council technical management between March and June 2016;
A total of 20 individual peak body briefings;
Community information sessions where 393 community members attended the Yelarbon to Gowrie, Gowrie to Helidon and Helidon to Calvert community information sessions. Yelarbon to Gowrie (233) and Gowrie to Calvert (160);
Community information cards were mailed/distributed to 1100 landholders for the Yelarbon to Gowrie study area and 1500 landholders for Gowrie to Helidon / Helidon to Calvert projects; and
Thirty posters were placed in shops, libraries and community noticeboards.