BARNABY Joyce - or at least his office - has put paid to thinking that the Inland Rail may be shifted off the agriculturally important Condamine River Floodplain.
While affected farmers say they were encouraged following a meeting with the deputy prime minister last Friday on the back of a scathing Senate inquiry report, the door has now been squarely slammed in their faces.
"The Inland Rail alignment is settled - it has been refined over a number of years and delivery is well underway," the deputy prime minister's statement to Queensland Country Life reads. (Note: Mr Joyce's office has advised that the statement was issued by a spokesman for the deputy prime minister.)
"The Border to Gowrie section that includes the Condamine crossing has been developed by world-leading rail engineering experts and enhanced through community consultation.
"ARTC's flood modelling and the reference design for the crossing of the Condamine floodplain has been thoroughly reviewed by the International Independent Panel of Experts for flood studies in Queensland."
Mr Joyce's hardline statement is particularly unsettling for affected farmers because the flood modelling is still not complete, the design and costings have not been released, and the project is still to be approved by Queensland's Coordinator General.
Adding to the confusion Queensland Country Life has obtained a letter (see below) to a landholder from ARTC dated as recent as July 20 requesting permission to conduct further flood modelling.
In addition, the Senate inquiry's report titled 'Inland Rail: derailed from the start' is scathing of the Australian Rail Track Corporation's plans and approach to the construction of the project, including its consultation with the local community.
The blunt tone of Mr Joyce's statement is also likely to unsettle Agriculture Minister David Littleproud and Senator Susan McDonald, who have both been vocal critics of the controversial floodplain route.
"The Border to Gowrie section has been subject to multiple studies and reviews, including in 2006, 2010, 2015, 2016, 2016-17, 2017 and again in 2020," Mr Joyce's statement reads.
"The review in 2017 found that the current Border to Gowrie alignment which provides the best outcome for the Inland Rail project in terms of 24-hour transit, service reliability, availability and cost competitiveness was far superior to alternative routes via Mount Tyson and Warwick.
"In 2020 a further independent assessment confirmed that, on a like-for-like basis, the Border to Gowrie Reference Design route selected in 2017 is superior to an alternative route via Cecil Plains proposed by stakeholders and offers the best path across the Condamine."
Millmerran Rail Group chairman Wes Judd said he was disappointed by the deputy prime minister's statement, saying that at last Friday's meeting Mr Joyce appeared to determined to "fix the mess".
"This is not what the deputy prime minister told me, David Littleproud and Senator Susan McDonald when we met a week ago," Mr Judd said.
"I think the spokesperson (who wrote Mr Joyce's statement) needs to speak to the deputy prime minister before making comments that are frankly ridiculous.
"The alignment has not been settled. There is a proposed alignment in a draft EIS that everyone has problems with except ARTC, who I suspect drafted the comments for the spokesperson.
"The alignment is far from settled and the deputy prime minister knows this because he told us so last Friday.
"We want Inland Rail that builds up agriculture, doesn't tear it down like the ARTC route across the Condamine River Floodplain near Millmerran will do."
Mr Judd said the South Western rail corridor, which heads from the Goondiwindi to Warwick and then to Toowoomba, should still be considered.
"It should've been properly considered five years ago," he said.
"It has been a rail corridor from the NSW border to Toowoomba for more than a century."
Mr Joyce's hardline approach comes as ARTC begins its search for a new Inland Rail CEO, following the departure of Richard Wankmuller.
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