INFRASTRUCTURE Minister Darren Chester has challenged maverick MP Bob Katter to identify a better route for a controversial section of inland rail in Queensland.
The challenge follows Mr Katter’s announcement on Thursday that he was drafting legislation that change the federal government’s proposed inland rail route “to protect farms, property and livelihoods” on the Condamine floodplain.
Inland Rail must cross the Condamine floodplain to get to Toowoomba, no matter which alignment is taken.
Mr Chester said the federal government was committed to completing an assessment of the already announced preferred alignment, which crossed 16km of the Condamine floodplain.
“Inland Rail must cross the Condamine floodplain to get to Toowoomba, no matter which alignment is taken,” Mr Chester said.
“If Mr Katter is opposed to the preferred alignment, which has been announced, perhaps he could inform other communities which route he would prefer to take?”
Mr Katter has promoted a route closer to Cecil Plains that would incorporate a significant area of forestry country and require about a 6km crossing of the Condamine floodplain near Cecil Plains. The so-called ’forestry route’ would rejoin the existing, but unused, Cecil Plains-Toowoomba rail line.
The route’ has also been promoted by affected landholders, who have previously provides maps to both Mr Chester and inland rail builder, Australian Rail Track Corporation. The route would also avoid the dissection of farms between Millmerran and Inglewood.
“The legislation will set the guidelines to choose a route that achieves the operational service agreements, avoids crossing highly productive farming land, utilises brown field and less densely populated corridors and incorporates a community consultation process that includes all affected stakeholders,” Mr Katter said.
John Hill , the Katter party’s candidate for Condamine, said the legislation would look at a new alignment which has regard for community, cost, environment, safety and operations.
“Any attempt to cross the floodplain would cause unnecessary erosion and create enormous cost in construction foundations for the railway line,” Mr Hill said.
“People in this region must receive honest assessment of their concerns. Many submissions have been put forward and it appears that no honest evaluation has been done, and certainly no feedback as to why the various options have been found unacceptable.”
Mr Chester said building a project of this scale was always going to provide some challenges.
“My aim is to utilise local knowledge and the best engineering minds in Australia to construct a project that will benefit generations to come,” Mr Chester said.
“The Australian Rail Track Corporation is committed to finding engineering solutions to cross the Condamine that minimise the impacts and maximise the benefits of Inland Rail.
“We understand the concerns, and the ARTC has agreed to my request that work on the Condamine floodplain crossing is prioritised and that it is done with local input.”
Mr Chester said ARTC had agreed to fast track an engineering and technical study of the Condamine floodplain, which is expected to explain how the rail line will be constructed.
Nominations for community consultative committees close on November 24.