The announcement the Australian Government will allocate $8.4 billion in the 2017-18 Federal Budget to Inland Rail has ended the speculation, according to Parkes Shire Council’s general manager Kent Boyd.
After decades of lobbying from farmers and rail freight supporters such as Parkes Shire Council, the Inland Rail is no longer a myth.
Mr Boyd and mayor Ken Keith said this is the real deal.
“It’s different this time because both sides of the government are for it,” Mr Boyd said.
“It’s unlikely they’d back out of it now.”
The Inland Rail – a 1700km freight rail network connecting Melbourne to Brisbane through regional NSW – is expected to open a range of opportunities for Parkes, according to council.
The best advantage going for the town is its location.
Parkes is the only point where both the east-west rail line (Sydney to Perth) and the Inland Rail line crosses.
Parkes is also the first point from Sydney to Perth where freight trains can double stack its containers.
And despite being 400 kilometres inland, 80 per cent of Australia's population can be reached by road in less than 12 hours from Parkes.
“That puts us in a very enviable position,” Mr Boyd said.
“Right now Parkes can access all of the ports, except for Brisbane, you have your choice of ports.”
The Inland Rail will use more than 1100km of existing track, with upgrades planned where necessary.
The 107km from Parkes to Narromine will be upgraded to allow trains to travel at maximum speed, with work expected to begin this year.
Additional works will be made to the 173km track from Stockinbingal to Parkes to accommodate double stacking containers in the future.
Cr Keith said they were blown away when they heard the government had allocated $8.4 billion.
“I was expecting over $1 billion...we’re ecstatic,” he said.
“Our time has been vindicated,” Mr Boyd added.
Mr Boyd said they are also hoping there will be linkages from the Inland Rail line to the east-west line.
“The hard work for Parkes Council begins now,” he said.
The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) will be releasing community consultation reports on the impacts of the Inland Rail in Parkes, which Cr Keith is expecting to see in June.
He and Mr Boyd also met with ARTC CEO John Fullerton and executive director for the Inland Rail Peter Winder in Parkes on May 17.
Council has been pushing for the town to become a freight hub as far back as 1969, earmarking Goobang Junction for the location, when Jack Scoble was mayor.
Discussions of the Inland Rail began to emerge in the mid 90s.
Cr Keith has chaired the the Melbourne-Brisbane Rail Alliance for the last 11 years and recalled the Inland Rail really began to gather momentum in 2006.
At the time council rezoned Parkes National Logisitics Hub land on the town’s outskirts – setting aside 500-600 hectares for major freight and logistics companies – in the hope that the Inland Rail would one day become a reality.
Logistics and supply chain company FCL – who are now Linfox – was the first to secure land back in 2000.
“They saw big potential in Parkes,” Cr Keith said.
SCT Logistics came along in 2008, and there is an active development application for 200 hectares that once belonged to Terminals Australia, that Pacific National is expected to finalise.
There’s been a series of studies on the Inland Rail over the years, from initially highlighting four routes to refining the economics and current route.
“It’s a real game changer, there has already been stakeholders meetings with industry operators, such as Woolworths,” Cr Keith said.
“The Inland Rail went from a longer range priority for the government’s advising peak body Infrastructure Australia to a priority project.”
Mr Boyd added that it will benefit Sydney as well by taking traffic out of the city and potentially may open passenger slots on passenger trains.
Then there’s the reduction of export costs and better freight rates for local farmers.
“To me that’s hitting the jewel in the crown,” Cr Keith said.