Inland rail link could ‘put us on map’
THE option of the Melbourne to Brisbane inland rail route coming through the west of Warwick is back on the table, opening up carriage-loads of possibilities for our region.
Federal Member for Maranoa Bruce Scott met with Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss Tuesday night to put forward "the more viable option" of using an existing corridor which comes through Warwick instead of the current preferred route through Millmerran.
"This is Australia's most ambitious rail project and it will significantly improve freight movements - including agriculture and coal - within the Maranoa," Mr Scott said.
"I met with the Warwick Chamber of Commerce last month and we discussed possible routes by taking advantage of existing infrastructure in the Southern Downs and I was able to highlight these to the Deputy Prime Minister."
If the Melbourne-Brisbane rail route was to pass through the existing corridor west of Warwick, it would open up many economic possibilities for the region such as attracting new - and big - businesses to town.
Gary Hayes, who has lobbied to boost the Rose City's rail network for years, says it would "put us on the map".
Mr Hayes has met with former deputy prime minister and head of the inland rail implementation group John
Anderson and says the group "hasn't finalised a route from Toowoomba to Yelarbon", which opened up the option of it coming through Warwick.
"We're very hopeful that it will; it does make a lot of sense to use the existing corridor (from Yelarbon to the west of Warwick then on to Toowoomba)," Mr Hayes said.
Both Mr Hayes and Mr Scott highlighted the biggest downsides to the current rail route (shown in the map, pictured right) was the fact it ran through prime agricultural land as well as flood-prone land, which if built up to accommodate new rail lines would be a huge impact on floodwater flow.
But for now, Mr Hayes was positive about the economic benefits it would bring to the Southern Downs.
"In the longer term it will give businesses a chance to relocate here and still get cheap freight from Sydney and connectivity through to Melbourne and put us on the map," Mr Hayes said.
"Certainly distribution would be one of the things that could come here but also manufacturing, for example if you could get your primary items via container rail you can do any of the manufacturing you like.
"If (the rail line) goes west of Warwick out near Leslie Dam we can supply water as long as we can supply electricity so that could open up possibilities for business to grow there."
Mr Hayes hopes to meet with deputy chairman of the inland rail group Paul Antonio to discuss a way forward for both Warwick and Toowoomba to keep lobbying the Federal Government.
Benefits for our region
Warwick Chamber of Commerce member and Southern Downs Councillor Neil Meiklejohn says the inland rail coming through the west of Warwick could bring "enormous benefits" for the region.
"From a parochial perspective I welcome that (a route through Warwick) is back on the radar," Cr Meiklejohn said. "That's what council has been pushing for; we've certainly had a range of stakeholders suggesting it has a very strong benefit because it takes away lot of issues like acquiring land and developing another corridor because it already exists.
"(A line through the west of Warwick) will protect valuable agricultural land on the other planned corridor so it's fantastic news that it's formally being considered by the Federal Government."
Cr Meiklejohn said he would like to discuss the Southern Downs route option with the working committee.
"The construction process alone will be an enormous benefit for our region, but also the ongoing things into the coming decades," he explained.
"Understanding this will be many years before it links up... but inevitably once you get that rail line coming through the region it opens up a lot of possibilities to develop our freight network."
Cr Meiklejohn said not to expect too many things in the short term if a rail corridor was opened here again, but in the longer term it could mean other freight opportunities to connect to a high-speed rail link.
"We already have a great trucking industry here so we need to expand that, we need to ignite rail transport and we have the announcement that Wellcamp Airport have secured the Qantas link out of Brisbane west," he said.
"All these things - rail, road and air - need to work together to create opportunities. Economic development wise we need council and local businesses to work together."
When will it happen?
Bruce Scott said the Federal Government was committed to deliver the Inland Rail over the next 10 years and have allocated $300 million from the 2014-15 Budget with extensions over the next four years.
"It's not imminent; it's very careful planning and involves a lot of economic studies, so it could be a couple of years away before the final route is determined," Mr Scott said.
"One of the benefits under the 30-year regional plan, if we were to decentralise you could see more freight distribution centres like in Warwick now, but with affordable land outside of the cities not only for distribution but also factories near the rail line.
"It really is all about reducing trucks on the road between Melbourne and Brisbane."
But that's not to say we'll see a reduction of activity in the trucking industry, with Mr Scott saying we'll see "many many more trucks on the road" in the next 10 years when the freight industry in Australia is set to double.
Mr Scott urged the Warwick Chamber of Commerce to "make contact" with the inland rail group again to push the Southern Downs route option, while the route has not yet been decided.
- Inland Rail will deliver a transit time of 21 hours for freight between Melbourne and Brisbane, 7 hours less than the current congested route through Sydney and the NSW North Coast line.
- The route would be 1731km and would provide a competitive freight price with road.
- Inland Rail will provide a second link between Queensland and the southern states, ensuring resilience and for the existing rail network.