Inland rail meeting, Gilgandra reveals no final route determined

Consultation: Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack with Member for Parkes Mark Coulton during a 2017 visit to Dubbo. Photo: JENNIFER HOAR
Consultation: Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack with Member for Parkes Mark Coulton during a 2017 visit to Dubbo. Photo: JENNIFER HOAR

In order for the Inland Rail Narromine to Narrabri project to work it must go through farmland, Member for Parkes Mark Coulton said.

A community meeting was held in Gilgandra this week to discuss the project. Approximately 200 people attended, many of whom were farmers whose properties the line will cut into.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, Member for Parkes Mark Coulton and CEO of Inland Rail Richard Wankmuller also attended.

The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) is delivering the multi-billion dollar project. 

The exact location of the final Inland Rail route within the Narromine to Narrabri study area has not been determined yet.

There has been much negativity around the government’s corridor rail line, with many central west landholders upset they had not been contacted before the announcement.

Mr Coulton said there has been mistakes made in the past in regards to the lack of consultation.

“Ultimately we can’t build the railway line that needs to work without going across someone’s farm. There’s no silver bullet,” he said. “That’s the reality and we’re trying to work our way through that.”

An ARTC spokesperson said they are currently undertaking feasibility and design work which will help confirm where in the study area the final 40 to 60-metre-wide rail corridor is proposed to go.

“The final decision rests with the NSW Government and approval of the project Environmental Impact Statement,” the spokesperson said.

“A section of the Narromine to Narrabri study area goes through the Pilliga State Forest and then runs parallel with the Newell Highway approaching Narrabri from the south and passing through the western outskirts of the township. This route was strongly supported by the community in 2016 and 2017.”

The Narromine to Narrabri project comprises of approximately 307km of new track.

“Inland Rail will continue to work with landowners and communities to try as much as possible to reduce impacts to farms and other property, particularly houses and farming infrastructure,” the ARTC spokesperson said.

“Where direct impacts are unavoidable, Inland Rail will work with farmers to minimise impacts on their operations and to minimise the land that Inland Rail may need to acquire.”

“Where impacts are unavoidable, and compensation/acquisition is required, Inland Rail’s preferred approach is to enter into voluntary negotiations with landowners to reach agreement.”

Compensation was one of the main topics at the meeting, as were calls for a complete review into the corridor.

The ARTC spokesperson said where impacts are unavoidable, and compensation/acquisition is required, Inland Rail’s preferred approach is to enter into voluntary negotiations with landowners to reach agreement.

“Everyone’s circumstances will be different. There will be flexibility for people that negotiate what they need,” he said.

Mr Coulton said a review would more likely look at the data available and would come up with the same recommendation, which would delay the final narrowing down of the corridor. He said the idea of no-one being impacted by going on existing lines was not true.

“There is less farmers impacted if you use the existing line, but not a lot less and it takes an extra period of time to negotiate that area and then the project becomes inefficient…,” he said.

The ARTC spokesperson said they will progressively narrow the study area down to a final focus area of 100 to 150-metres from Q1 2019.

“We hope that a proposed final rail corridor of 40 to 60-metres determined from within that focus area, can be identified by the end of Q3 2019,” the spokesperson said.

Mr Coulton said the project will lead to a more efficient freight network and opportunities will be created for other industries to relocate to regional Australia.

“I think over a period of time we will see a relocation of businesses to take advantage of the line,” he said.

NSW Farmers president James Jackson previously said it is time the Coalition Government explain to rural communities why they are sacrificing the farm for the Nationals’ pet $10 billion project.

Mr Coulton said he thinks the idea that they are that are sacrificing farms is overstated.

The Government has committed $9.3 billion for ARTC to develop and build Inland Rail, with additional funds to come from a partnership with the private sector and ARTC’s balance sheet. 

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said getting Inland Rail right would not be possible without genuine community engagement, and the Town Hall meeting was one part of the ongoing communication between the ARTC, Government and the community.

“The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process, which requires a comprehensive, detailed and regulated review of the socioeconomic impacts of the Inland Rail route, is the only way to give regional communities confidence that any impacts will be addressed, and I strongly urge all community members to stay involved throughout the process,” he said.

NSW Farmers inland rail taskforce chair, Adrian Lyons, summed up the mood of the community meeting by offering to work with the government and the Australian Rail Track Corporation to help progress the project to reality, subject to more information and verification of the correct route.

“There was nothing said at…. (the) meeting that NSW Farmers has not been outlining for more than 12 months – it remains the case that the community has deep reservations about inland rail,” Mr Lyons said. 

“It is fair to say that the community, from as far south as Illabo and Junee through Narromine, Narrabri, North Star, into southern Queensland, including Millmerran, remains deeply unimpressed by the way this project has been managed – people from all of these communities, and many others, travelled to Gilgandra yesterday, a demonstration of their concern with the project’s delivery to date.”

He said country people are passionate about their communities. 

“They know their country well and want to work with authorities to ensure this project stands the test of time.  By working together we can achieve the outcome desired and in a way that benefits the community,” Mr Lyons said.

“This railway is a significant investment in regional New South Wales.  It behoves all of us to ensure we invest taxpayers’ funds as wisely as possible – without community support for this long-overdue project, it risks being derailed before it gets going.”

This story No silver bullet for Inland Rail route: Coulton first appeared on Western Magazine.