In a tale as old as time, a lack of infrastructure on the Darling Downs and in south-west Queensland is stymieing development and causing a lot of opportunities to go unharnessed.
In a region that represents 25 per cent of Queensland’s area and is home to 25pc of Queensland’s beef herd and 70pc of the state’s grain and pulse production, that’s a significant restraint on economic prosperity.
Meeting in Roma on Friday, mayors from the Bulloo, Quilpe, Paroo, Murweh and Balonne shires, and the Maranoa, Goondiwindi, Western Downs, and Toowoomba regions discussed how best to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the Inland Rail.
Toowoomba Region Mayor Paul Antonio said the group had come together to speak for an area that needs to be represented.
“This region is a major food producing area and we are desperately short of infrastructure and understanding from all levels of government,” Mr Antonio said.
“We in Toowoomba are positioned to be an export hub and we’re positioned to be a logistics hub.
“Inland rail is critical to Toowoomba; it will mean an enormous opportunity to bring products to Toowoomba and the region to prepare for export.
“If we build this connectivity there’s potential for everyone out here.”
Mayor of the Maranoa Region, Tyson Golder, said with the Inland Rail project building momentum it was necessary the region use that to their advantage.
“We’ve got a lot of resources that aren’t harnessed and are undeveloped,” he said.
The Inland Rail project has continued to build momentum in Queensland with the State's Coordinator-General declaring the section between the New South Wales and Queensland border and Gowrie as a ‘Coordinated Project’ this week.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Michael McCormack said the announcement was an important step for the key Queensland link.
“With this declaration the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) will start the environmental impact assessment phase, involving detailed environmental studies and community consultation,” Mr McCormack said.
“Inland Rail in Queensland will be dual gauge and will enable agricultural and bulk freight from south-east Queensland to travel to market faster and at a lower cost.”
Federal Minister for Finance Mathias Cormann said Inland Rail would open up a new freight option for southern Queensland, improving efficiency and competitiveness for producers.
“Inland Rail is set to boost economic development and investment, including in regional Queensland and will return $16 billion to the national economy during the delivery phase and into operation,” Mr Cormann said.
Despite government hyping up the benefits of the ‘iconic’ Inland Rail plan, Port of Brisbane chief operating officer Peter Keyte said Inland Rail was fundamentally flawed and that agricultural exports through the Port of Brisbane would not benefit from it until a dedicated freight line through Brisbane's south-eastern suburbs was built.
“The last mile from Acacia Ridge to the Port is like a bottleneck,” he said.
Overhead electric wires on the Brisbane suburban rail network prevent the transit of double-stacked containers and Mr Keyte said this ‘bottleneck’ effect had seen more and more freight be transported by road.
“In 2006 almost 13pc of containers were transported via rail to Brisbane, but that has dropped to less than three per cent,” he said.
“In 10 years there’ll be double the trucks on the roads. This is not an anti-truck story, it’s a balance story.”
Instead, the Port is pushing for the Inland Rail project to be extended from its current end point at Acacia Ridge to the port proper by way of a dedicated freight rail connection.
Toowoomba Region Mayor Paul Antonio said news of the signing of a new Trans Pacific Partnership offered new opportunities for beef producers.
“An efficient, integrated transport network is vital to maintaining supply to all customers,” he said.
Currently, 50pc of Queensland’s agriculture exports go through the Port of Brisbane with 55pc of that agricultural export coming from the Darling Downs and south-west Queensland.
With a rail terminal that is under-utilised and clear evidence of significant untapped potential in the Downs and south-west region, Mr Keyte said the port was “well-positioned” to handle anything the region could send their way.