NSW Inland Rail route remains a hot debate

Published: December 2018 | Edited By: Kaaren Latham.

Inland Rail project linking Melbourne and Brisbane creates controversy, with conflicting opinions and farmers' properties on the line
Train track crossing signs
Photography by Matt Beaver.
WHILE work is underway on some sections of the Inland Rail project linking Melbourne and Brisbane, controversy continues to surround parts of the route chosen through NSW. A 307km section between Narromine and Narrabri will bypass the existing rail corridor in favour of a different route, affecting up to 300 properties.So should the needs of trade for fast freight trump the right to farm? 

The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) has confirmed at a Senate Estimates hearing that no socio-economic analysis has been carried out. Instead, the route is based on an assessment of construction costs, the service offering, and a multi-criteria analysis, carried out by an engineering expert. The ARTC says the Inland Rail needs to be able to provide a service offering that competes with road – or freight operators will not make the switch to rail. This means a trip of under 24 hours, at a cost comparable to or cheaper than road, with 98% reliability.

But NSW Farmers says the wishes of big business have trampled on the rights of farmers. The Association estimates using more of the existing rail line for the section between Narromine and Narrabri, instead of cutting through farms, will add just 24 minutes to the trip, and just 0.01% to the cost of the project. It is calling on the government in Canberra to explain to farmers, landholders and rural communities why a proper analysis has not been conducted. We ask key figures on either side of the debate to explain their views.
Adrian Lyons, a Coonamble farmer and chair of the Inland Rail Taskforce at NSW Farmers
"The proposed Narromine to Narrabri corridor is causing significant disruption to farmers, and is pitting them against one another. We’re lobbying to prevent farmers having their properties cut in two without any evidence that’s the best outcome.”

The Coalition government is spending $10 billion of taxpayers’ money on this project, and I think [Prime Minister] Scott Morrison has to start asking questions about why the proper process hasn’t been followed. At the moment, it seems the interests of transport companies are dictating terms – they’ve said they want the trip to be “less than 24 hours” to be competitive, and the ARTC hasn’t even been asked to consider how the route impacts the communities along the corridor. There’s no way major infrastructure would cut through capital city suburbs without a socio-economic analysis of the different options, so why is it okay in this case? 

We know and accept that some landholders will be affected. But if the current proposed corridor between Narromine and Narrabri is the right one – prove it. Do a proper assessment of the economic gain of going through a highly-populated area in order to save what we estimate from official reports is 24 minutes, versus the sacrifice being demanded of hundreds of farmers.

The proposed Narromine to Narrabri corridor is causing significant disruption to farmers.

We believe an inquiry is necessary and should be independent of government. The multi-criteria analysis has been conducted for the Environmental Impact Statement and only focuses on one route. There needs to be a social and economic analysis that compares other possible routes.

The community’s dealing with extreme drought, and anxiety levels are already high. That’s not being helped by a flawed consultation process which is creating more uncertainty. There are people potentially affected who still haven’t been directly contacted, and others told the route was, then wasn’t, then was, going through their farms. That’s just putting farmer against farmer.  

It’s simply not good enough, and due diligence should have been done before anyone was approached. The Coalition government, and Mark Coulton as the local member, need to be held accountable for the disruption this process has caused. 

I want the Inland Rail to go ahead, but that support doesn’t come with a blank cheque. The Association’s taskforce and policy staff have put their shoulders to the wheel to lobby for our members, to prevent farmers having their properties cut in two without any evidence that’s the best outcome. It’s three years before the last of the track is due to be laid. That’s more than enough time to get this right.
Mark Coulton, Assistant Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment and Federal Member for Parkes
Mark argues there have been years of research and the accepted corridor delivers the best overall outcome. “I’m passionate about Inland Rail – it will deliver strong economic benefits not just to farmers, but to local communities.”

I think part of the problem is that Inland Rail has been talked about for so long that people weren’t really engaged when consultation on the route was happening a few years ago – they thought it was just another pipedream. However, I can assure you that farming representatives have been involved from the start, and multiple studies have been done to define the corridor using recognised, comprehensive processes and standards. 

That work is continuing, with the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) being developed and community consultative committees being established. This process will narrow the corridor from around 5km to 50m. Suggestions to delay this process for additional analysis will simply extend the uncertainty for landholders, many of whom will find they start to fall outside the corridor as the EIS progresses.

I strongly encourage affected landholders to get involved and make sure they have maximum input. There will be opportunities to point out slight route variations that could make a major difference to their businesses, as well as discussions around fencing, stock movements and compensation.

Having said that, it’s important to realise we’re building a 1,710km rail line, and there are many contentious sections. Changing the alignment to meet all these concerns adds up and would threaten the efficiency of the project. Inland Rail is one of the reasons I headed to Canberra. I’m passionate about it, as I believe it will deliver strong economic benefits not just to farmers, but also to local communities.

It’s true that large transport companies have a strong interest. The expanding freight task in eastern Australia makes Inland Rail economically viable, and its main task will be moving freight from one capital to another without stopping. 

But local communities are already working out how to establish manufacturing sub-divisions and logistics hubs to take advantage of the higher capacity, faster trains able to use improved infrastructure feeding into Inland Rail and linking to Sydney and Newcastle, as well as interstate to the west.

As a farmer for 30 years, I understand that if we’re going to compete with other countries for markets, we have to be as efficient as we can. As a politician, I am committed to it having the minimum possible impact on the communities I represent.  

Key Figures
  • 300Properties affected by the Narromine and Narrabri route.
  • 2024Anticipated first year that trains will run on the new Melbourne to Brisbane route.
  • $9.3 BillionInvestment by the Australian government in the ARTC.
  • 5,000 The number of NSW jobs that will be created by the construction and operation of the Inland Rail.
  • 70% - of Inland Rail will use existing infrastructure/rail corridor. 
  • $2.6 Billion - Government-predicted boost the Inland Rail will bring to the NSW Gross State Product.
  • 1,710km - Route between Queensland and Victoria, through NSW.

- Finding even ground: the Inland Rail network
- Rail transport critical for grain supply chains 
The big Inland Rail questions answered

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