THE Queensland section of the controversial inland rail is shaping up as a political whitewash, with the project now almost certain to be routed from Yelarbon to Gowrie through Millmerran.
Despite promised community consultation and transparency, infrastructure and transport minister Darren Chester said an analysis had shown the Inglewood through Millmerran option was the least expensive, followed by the Wellcamp/Charlton option, Karara/Leyburn, and then the Warwick option.
The 1700km freight line is described as the spine of a national freight line network, linking Melbourne to Brisbane that is competitive with road transport. However, the Queensland section of the $10 billion project has proven particularly problematic because alternative studies have shown there are potentially better and cost effective routes.
The media release issued by Mr Chester on Friday is in stunning contrast to ongoing complaints from members the Project Reference Group (PRG), which was established by Mr Chester late year to assess route options and build community confidence in the process.
Such is the level of discontent in the group, Queensland Farmers Federation president Stuart Armitage has quit the group, on the basis he has lost confidence in the process.
Other members of that group chaired by former senior Queensland public servant Bruce Wilson have long maintained they have not been provided with sufficient detail to properly assess the differences between each of the alternatives being considered.
They complain they are not being shown the necessary figures being used by inland rail builder Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTA), which has refused to release the figures on the grounds such details are commercial in confidence. That is despite all the PGA members being obliged to sign confidentiality agreements to participate in the group.
PRG members say it is also not being revealed how the inland rail would be constructed on the Millmerran route across the agriculturally important Condamine floodplain.
“How can the community have confidence in this process if they are not willing to reveal how the line will actually be constructed,” one member said.
“There is 16km of deep black soil floodplain that has to be crossed if the Millmerran option is built the way ARTA is proposing.
“Will it be a massive levy with culverts? What impact would that have on some of the most agriculturally important land in Australia?
“We are just not being given the information we need that will enable this group to say this process is transparent and the best option is being chosen.”
Members of the group also say it is “very evident” that the detail provided to the community is heavily skewed toward the selection of ARTA’s preferred Millmerran option. An example is is the seemingly all out effort being made to discredit the use of the existing rail corridor which travels to near Warwick before being routed on a section of new track to the existing Allora corridor.
Critics say ARTA’s reluctance to use existing rail corridors is because the corporation would sell the rail system after it had demonstrated its commercial worth.
Mr Chester said the process in determining the best alignment was is important and would be a balance between community, economic, and environmental considerations.
“I can assure all communities which could potentially be affected by this critical infrastructure project that the Australian Government and Australian Rail Track Corporation will continue to engage with them as we move into the next stage,” Mr Chester said.
“In the long term we will also be working with locals to maximise the benefits of this major freight corridor at a local and regional level.”
Mr Wilson said the technical consultants are continuing their work and will provide further detail to PRG members at their next meeting.
“I will be providing the minister with the report on the transparency of the review process and an update on the continued community engagement,” Mr Wilson said.
A separate report will be provided to Mr Chester, which will detail the results of the MCA, technical aspects and comparative costings for each of the four alignment options in the Yelarbon to Gowrie region.
Mr Wilson said that it is important to remember that while all four options impacted farmland, this increasingly detailed process allows room for continued refinement of the chosen alignment to ensure a route of least impact.