News and op-eds

Inland Rail dubbed ‘dog of a project’ by Labor senator

February 10, 2021

MY party received just 16 per cent of the vote in Millmerran at the 2019 Federal election so you could imagine my surprise in January last year when I was driving into the town and was greeted by a big sign saying, “welcome Labor Senators”.

What prompted this unusual show of support? Community frustration at the Federal Government and the Australian Rail Track Corporation, the Government Authority tasked with building the Inland Rail.

Locals are angry over the failure to listen to their concerns about the Inland Rail route that has been chosen from the QLD/NSW border to Gowrie, just outside of Toowoomba.

Just over 12 months on from this experience and even more problems have been identified with this project in Queensland. In December the Deputy Prime Minister tipped in another $5b of taxpayer dollars – this is before they detail how the rail line will get down the range and into the Port of Brisbane.

Because of the size of these double-stacked 1.8km long trains they are too big to get to the port meaning that the trains are due to terminate at Acacia Ridge which is still a long way from the Port of Brisbane.

Two weeks ago the Senate Committee looking at this issue heard evidence from the Mayor of Logan about how the ARTC and Federal Government have ignored the concerns of local residents who are going to be impacted by the increased frequency of trains heading through Logan into Acacia Ridge.

We heard alarming evidence from the trucking industry who estimate that there is going to be an extra 3000 truck movements per day between Acacia Ridge and the Port of Brisbane and surrounds. Not just any truck, but what is called an A-double, which is basically 3000 road trains a day through southern Brisbane suburbs. This is expected to grow to over 11,000 by 2040.

The Government have provided no plan on how this will be managed and have not engaged with the trucking industry.

It is frustrating that the Inland Rail project has been beset by so many problems in Queensland. Federal Labor are supportive of the project but it has been mismanaged in my home state. In separate evidence to the Senate Inquiry into Inland Rail Everald Compton and Jon Grayson were scathing of the project’s management.

Mr Compton has been called the Father of Inland Rail, and he said “I can say that I have never in 65 years seen a more incompetently managed and wasteful project than this one. It is a disgrace” while Mr Grayson who is a public policy and infrastructure expert said that “the management of the project to date has been a lost opportunity to capture innovation and to maximise export potential for rural and regional areas”.

The ARTC are just paying lip service to the legitimate concerns of so many Queenslanders who are going to be impacted by this project.

Unfortunately, the Federal Government have been no better, in Toowoomba late last year the Deputy Prime Minister, who is responsible for Inland Rail, dismissed the concerns of local farmers, residents and business owners when he told them “It’s time to get on with the job” and suggested that “the landholders haven’t accepted the decision”.

There is also the cost of the project, only recently the Government stumped up an extra $5b, taking the tally to $17.6b, this is without detailing how the project will get down the Toowoomba Range and into Brisbane. That stretch alone is estimated to cost 50 per cent of the total budget for 10 per cent of the distance of the total Inland Rail project, but it would still stop at Acacia Ridge in suburban Brisbane.

The Government seem intent on arrogantly ploughing on, dismissing the concerns of the Millmerran farmers as the ARTC claim they know better, ignoring the residents on the train line from Acacia Ridge to Beaudesert who are going to have 14 1.8km trains through their suburbs and they just have their heads buried in the sand on the impact of an extra 3000 road trains on the streets of southern Brisbane suburbs once the trains stop at Acacia Ridge.

Gary Hardgrave the former LNP member of the impacted area on the Southside of Brisbane has criticised the plan to terminate at Acacia Ridge.

“It will be devastating for south side Brisbane if the plan is to just terminate it all at Acacia Ridge because it’ll just put more and more trucks on local roads which are not designed for it” going on to say “Acacia Ridge would have been the right termination point if this was 1920, but it’s 2021”.

The reality is, once the Inland Rail hits the Queensland border it is a dog of a project everywhere you look. Costly, disruptive to every community it touches and driven by an organisation in the ARTC that just doesn’t want to listen. Ultimately it is the Federal LNP Government that will have to fix these problems or be held accountable.

Anthony Chisholm is a Labor senator for Queensland