NSW Farmers still has no answers about how route was chosen

Farmers still have no answers from the Australia Rail Track Corporation about how it selected the Narromine to Narrabri route. Here Doug Wilson, "Woodllea", Balladoran, chats with NSW Farmers president James Jackson about the project's merits.
Farmers still have no answers from the Australia Rail Track Corporation about how it selected the Narromine to Narrabri route. Here Doug Wilson, "Woodllea", Balladoran, chats with NSW Farmers president James Jackson about the project's merits.

Farmers and other landholders have an opportunity to share in the broader economic benefits of the Inland Rail’s construction, by supplying suitable materials direct from borrow pits and quarries, says the federal government. 

Landowners located near the proposed Narromine to Narrabri segment of the Inland Rail line in Central West New South Wales are being encouraged to register their interest with the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) to supply suitable building materials such as rock, gravel and soil.

The ARTC will pay an extraction fee per tonne to local landholders for supplying the right materials – according to required quality specifications and subject to testing – and the ARTC will also rehabilitate the borrow pits and cover them with topsoil.

The locally supplied products will be used to build rail embankments as part of rolling-out the 1700-kilometre Brisbane to Melbourne Inland Rail project.

This initiative is being led by the ARTC and is supported by the federal Liberal and Nationals government, which is already delivering the $9.3 billion for the Inland Rail, to reduce freight costs for farmers and move product more efficiently into growing domestic and international markets.

Acting Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack turned the first official sod to launch the Inland Rail’s construction at Parkes in Central-West New South Wales last December and welcomed the local supply initiative.

“It is estimated that the Narromine to Narrabri segment of the Inland Rail project will need to import in excess of 3 million cubic metres of fill material, or the equivalent of about 1200 Olympic-sized swimming pools,” Mr McCormack said.

Farmers remain unconvinced. NSW Farmers say it still holds reservations about the proposed 1700-kilometre route.

The first stage of Inland Rail, which involves upgrading 98 kilometres of track from  Parkes to Narromine in NSW’s west, and is being built by contractors Fulton Hogan and BMD Group, received approval from NSW’s Department of Planning and Environment in June last year, subject to conditions including the provision of environmental reports.

However, construction of the rail link is yet to start. The planning department told The Australian Financial Review it was waiting on the federal government-owned ARTC to provide final environmental reports before ‘‘the final assessment’’ of the first stage could be done.

‘‘Construction can only commence once this has taken place and approval has been granted,’’ a planning spokeswoman said.

‘‘This is anticipated in the next few weeks.’’

The ARTC this week asked farmers who live near the second stage of the project, which will run between Narromine and Narrabri and will involve building 300 kilometres of new tracks, to register interest in supplying quarry materials to build rail embankments.

ARTC will pay farmers a per-tonne extraction fee if they supply materials and will rehabilitate any land used, covering it with topsoil, an offer project director Duncan Mitchell described as a ‘‘pay dirt’’ opportunity.

But NSW Farmers’ policy director for cropping and horticulture Robert Hardie said farmers wanted the government to justify its decision to put the Inland Rail route through the middle of some of the most productive farmland in NSW and build new tracks to ‘‘shave off a couple of minutes’’ from the total journey time.

The current route is expected to allow freight to be moved from Melbourne to Brisbane within 24 hours once the trains start operating in 2025.

Mr Hardie said the Morrison government had ‘‘no interest’’ in addressing farmers’ concerns and that farmers had written to the federal opposition to ask how Labor would respond if it won the upcoming federal election.

‘‘Our chief concern is making sure that if we’re going to spend $10 billion of taxpayers’ money, which includes money from the farmers who are affected, that we get the very best Inland Rail project we can,’’ Mr Hardie said.

The ARTC said there were about 40 workers on the Parkes to Narromine section doing preparatory works such as surveying, geotechnical tests and fencing and building access roads and storage compounds.

The Narromine-to-Narrabri second stage of the project is still being designed, with an environmental impact statement due to be exhibited this year.