A MULTI-BILLION dollar railway which will link local producers to Brisbane and Melbourne is gathering steam, with construction set to begin in 2015.
And for Moree, the project could see the construction of a new railway development outside of town.
Federal Member for Parkes, Mark Coulton, said the Inland Rail Implementation Group would hand down a report before Christmas which would detail projected costs and a construction commencement date.
“Preliminary work is happening right now with surveying and soil testing out in Northern NSW and Southern Queensland,” he said. “It will be done in stages. I believe it will start with the rebuilding of existing tracks so that they are up to class one standard before filling in missing links.”
Speaking at the National Local Roads and Transport Congress this week in Tamworth, the chair of the implementation committee, John Anderson, said the first of those missing links would likely be the section of track linking North Star with Yelarbon.
The former deputy prime minister said the project would be funded through a combination of public and private investment and was expected to cost between $5 billion and $6 billion.
Mr Coulton said the beginning of construction would represent both the end of a decade of speculation and the start of another long haul.
“It’s been talked about for a long time,” Mr Coulton said. “The current implementation committee has been working for half of this year and was allocated $300 million dollars by the federal government for preliminary work. Part of the group’s report will be on finance and a time frame, but basically it’s expected the whole thing will be a 10-year project.”
With freight the project’s “bread and butter” Mr Coulton said existing primary producers would be set for major gains, while the opportunities would emerge for new horticultural ventures in North Western NSW.
“The reason this is being built is to handle major freight between Melbourne and Brisbane and compete with existing freight being moved on the Newell Highway and expand that freight capacity,” he said. “The real winners in our area will be exporters, whether they produce grain or any agricultural produce, as they will be given improved access to existing ports in Newcastle and Sydney but also new access to the north to the Port of Brisbane and to Toowoomba, which is set to become a central freight hub.”
The member for Parkes said the construction of the project itself would represent a “significant investment” for Moree.
“In Moree there will be a realignment to the north and, also, I believe that we will ultimately see the development of a new area for the line,” he said. “These will be large trains, they’re not the sort of thing you want running through the middle of town, and because of their size and the fact that it will require quite a bit of space loading and the like, I suspect that we will see a new development outside of town.”
Mayor Katrina Humphries said the project was “exciting” and would tackle one of the big issues facing local producers.
“It’s going to make a massive difference to our grain management and grain haulage movement,” Cr Humphries said. “They’re talking perhaps of a saving of $20 a tonne for our farmers getting their wheat to port which is an enormous saving and makes us so much more competitive.
“It’s a major project, possibly one of the biggest infrastructure developments undertaken in Australia for many, many years and I’m a great believer in infrastructure, particularly when the chips are down. It keeps people working and it keeps wheels going around.”
At this stage, commuters are not poised to jump on the bandwagon. Mr Coulton said that he was not aware of any plans to operate a commuter train, though said it was “not an impossibility”.
“It will be an open access line so there is nothing to stop a private company if they want to run a train themselves but at this stage no-one that I am aware of is talking it.”