NSW Farmers is a passionate supporter of inland rail. We have called this new steel highway the “WestConnex of regional New South Wales” – it has the potential to fundamentally change the way farmers do business, reduce supply chain costs and open up new markets for our food and fibre.
However, we are deeply concerned with the lack of transparency and poor consultation which has characterised the project to date. We are particularly troubled by the inability of the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) to provide data and modelling to support its selection of a preferred route for the 307-kilometre long section of new railway between Narromine and Narrabri.
NSW Farmers position
NSW Farmers has long advocated for the development of inland rail.
Implicit in this support, however, has been a recognition that the railway’s construction would carve through highly-productive cropping and grazing country. Our support is predicated on the selection of the right route, which minimises the impact on farming businesses yet maximises the benefit to rural and regional communities.
Through the development of inter-modal hubs, connections of inland rail to the existing country regional rail network and to the east-west main line, the inland rail has the capacity to transform the agricultural supply chain in New South Wales.
Around 400km of new railway lines will be constructed across western New South Wales in order to connect Melbourne and Brisbane. The line will be constructed by the ARTC, the Australian Government-owned railway authority which has responsibility for managing access to Australia’s standardised rail network.
The inland rail has been designed to compete directly with road transport; the rail’s service requirement is to travel from Melbourne to Brisbane within 24 hours, or less than the time for a truck undertaking the same journey.
Why are we concerned?
For many months now, NSW Farmers has sought answers to questions about route selection and the responses from the ARTC have been poor. As recently as January the ARTC promised to release modelling to support their preferred route option and then, three weeks’ later, refused to release this data, citing commercial concerns that doing so could jeopardise the $9.3 billion project.
NSW Farmers accepts that building a new railway line will result in impacts to farmers and farm businesses. However there is no evidence that the ARTC has sought to minimise these impacts (for example, by using existing rail corridors), nor have they given any justification as to why their preferred route option is superior to other options. More than 300 landholders are proposed to be impacted along this route, with some farm businesses being split in half.
Why does inland rail matter to farmers?
Australia’s agricultural supply chains have developed in a hub- and spoke style, with state capitals providing a hub of port and related infrastructure being fed by spokes of inputs from agricultural regions.
These systems have also limited competition; in New South Wales, the rail network is directly-linked to the ports at Newcastle, Port Botany and Port Kembla, reducing competition from other ports in other states.
Freight costs represent up to 40 per cent of post-farm gate costs for growers. Finding more efficient means of transporting goods from the farm gate to the customer, whether they are in Sydney or Singapore, is essential to drive on farm productivity, innovation and competitiveness.
The concept of an inland rail linking the agricultural zones of western New South Wales to the ports of Melbourne and Brisbane has long been mooted. NSW Farmers has long-championed the cause, recognising the benefits for farmers which come from better transport connectivity, greater competition and improved supply chain efficiency.