“It’s bigger than Elvis, even in Parkes.”
These were the words of Prime Minister Scott Morrison in a video that was shown at an iconic gathering at the east-west freight train line in Parkes on Thursday.
He was of course talking about the historic moment that took place, the turning of the first sod to mark the beginning of construction for the Brisbane to Melbourne Inland Rail line.
“I don’t need to tell you just how important this project is...because you’re the ones who have been calling for this to happen,” Mr Morrison said.
“It will drive significant investment in the communities themselves through the creation of around 16,000 direct and indirect jobs, and a $16 billion contribution to the national economy.”
Construction on the Parkes to Narromine section is expected to begin almost immediately, with the first train travelling on the new line by 2025.
A new chapter in Australia’s economic and freight development has been written, with the ceremony in Coopers Road kick-starting the creation of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in investment.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack joined other officials, stakeholders and dignitaries – like Inland Rail CEO Richard Wankmuller, ARTC board chairman Warren Truss, ARTC CEO and managing director John Fullerton, Parliamentary Secretary for Western NSW Rick Colless and local mayors – in turning the first sod.
A large number of employees from the Inland Rail’s construction contractor INLink were also present.
A double-stacked freight train especially provided by Pacific National for the day delivered a century-old shovel to the site, handed to the Deputy Prime Minister by Tomingley farmer Warren Skinner.
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This is just the sixth time the shovel has been used since it was made in 1912.
Parkes is the site of one of 13 individual sections of the 1700 kilometre rail line between Melbourne and Brisbane.
Construction of the project is beginning where the first 5.3 kilometres of new rail for Inland Rail will be built, and about 98 kilometres of existing corridors are being upgraded between Parkes to Narromine.
Once fully constructed, Inland Rail will enable faster, bigger, double-stacked trains to move more produce into domestic and international markets, at a lower freight cost.
It is expected to reduce transit times for freight movements between Melbourne and Brisbane by rail to less than 24 hours.
Inland Rail will include approximately 1100 kilometres of major upgrades and enhancements to existing track and construction of about 600 kilometres of new track.
Mr McCormack said the Inland Rail is a game-changer.
“It will deliver jobs, not just during the construction phase, but permanent jobs through increased freight,” he said.
“Right where we’re standing is the north, south, west and east intersection...This is right where it happens so it makes sense for it to happen here,” he said on Thursday.
“Parkes is going to boom in the future because of the Inland Rail.”
Parkes Mayor Ken Keith OAM said it was a very historic day for the Parkes Shire and its communities.
“I’m on top of the moon,” he said, referencing the moon landing almost 50 years ago.
“Parkes has been Inland Rail advocates for 40 or 50 years, it’s nice to be mayor as this comes to fruition.”
Mr Fullerton said the start of Inland Rail construction heralds an historic and important milestone not only for the regions but the whole of Australia.
“The sod-turn for Inland Rail is a significant, momentous occasion and it’s fitting to celebrate it at the site where the first greenfields section of Inland Rail will be built,” he said.
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“When Inland Rail is operational, Parkes will be an important hub with double stacked, 1800 metre trains connecting west to Perth and Adelaide and along the east coast between Melbourne and Brisbane.”
Mr Truss said with Inland Rail now in construction, the benefits and jobs are being realised around the nation with Aussie steel from Whyalla, concrete sleepers being fabricated in the NSW Southern Highlands, ballast coming from Parkes and culverts produced in Tamworth.
Mr McCormack and Mr Truss said they will continue to work with communities and farmers impacted by the project, saying they acknowledge their issues and concerns.
“You can’t build nation-building infrastructure without impacting someone,” Mr McCormack said.
Parkes Public School’s cultural dance group was involved in the formalities, giving a performance following a Welcome to Country by Wiradjuri elder Aunty Rhonda Towney and Lionel Lovett.
In July 2018, Australasian Railway Association and the Australian Logistics Council co-hosted the first Inland Rail Conference at Parkes which was attended by more than 400 people.
The second Inland Rail Conference will be held in 2019, with plans for the event to be held in Toowoomba on August 21-22.