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4 January, 2021

OPINION: 'Inland Rail is going nowhere - it's a dream gone wrong'

Columnist and original Inland Rail founder, Everald Crompton AM, on how the Inland Rail will miss the mark.

By Everald Compton AM - COLUMNIST

THERE have been many attempts to build an Inland Railway across the Australian Continent from South to North.

The first was in 1893 when business leaders in Melbourne proposed a broad-gauge railway along the Burke and Wills track from Melbourne to Normanton where large deposits of gold had been found. It failed to get off the ground when New South Wales and Queensland insisted that the rail gauge would have to change at their borders. This type of stupid parochialism still exists today.

Prime Minister, Stanley Bruce, tried again in 1925 but failed to gain sufficient political support.

During World War 2, General Douglas Macarthur made an attempt to connect the Queensland Rail System with the Port of Darwin but was predictably blackballed by our Trade Unions when he proposed to use Negro labourers from America.

Just after the war, Ben Chifley planned to build a defence railway from Melbourne to Broken Hill, Bourke, Cunnamulla, Charleville, Longreach, Winton, Cloncurry, Tennant Creek and Darwin but, before he could start, he was defeated in the 1949 Elections by Robert Menzies who chose instead to build the Snowy Mountains Scheme.

I took it up again in 1996 and put together a consortium that planned to build it, using a mixture of existing rail, road and power corridors, plus some new connecting corridors in several places.

It would be a standard gauge heavy duty track and its pathway was planned to go from Melbourne to Albury, Wagga Wagga, Parkes, Dubbo, Narrabri, Moree, Goondiwindi, Millmerran, Toowoomba, Miles, Banana, Gladstone, Emerald, Longreach, Winton, Hughenden, Richmond, Cloncurry, Mount Isa, Tennant Creek, Katherine and Darwin.

There would be new or upgraded spur lines for use by exporters that would connect it to Port Kembla, Newcastle, Townsville, Karumba and Wyndham as well as Gladstone.

And we would build it with minimum inconvenience and adequate recompense to farmers and rural communities.

It was a sound and practical vision that would take a generation to build but every project must have a starting point and there were many places where a start could be made as such a vast project.

Finally, after two decades of frustration inflicted by leaderless politics and entrenched overbearing bureaucracy, a decision was made by the Turnbull Government to build the first section of the Inland Railway from Melbourne to Brisbane.

With no acknowledgement of my work, no hint of recompense and no letter of thanks, I was dispensed with, but such is life. The Federal Government’s Railway Company, ARTC, was commissioned to build it, using a government guaranteed loan of 9.5 billion dollars.

There was no point in feeling sad for myself. We had made a start.

But it was a disaster from day one.

The railway does not commence at the Port of Melbourne, nor does it finish at the Port of Brisbane. It is of no use whatsoever to exporters. It just goes from a freight depot in Melbourne to another freight depot in Brisbane.

Instead of using existing corridors, it pointlessly destroys the livelihood of farmers in many places and treats them brutally.

It is not designed to pick up rural freight. It is planned that freight trains will go non-stop both ways between two capital cities so as to be speedier that road transport.

There have been massive cost blowouts caused by incompetent management, causing the federal government to unnecessarily take out a further loan of five billion dollars. This is a gross waste of public money.

So, where does this leave us.

The railway will never get to Brisbane.

Indeed, it was never intended to as the cost of going through 3 mountain ranges and densely packed suburban areas is too costly and highly anti-social. And that still does not get it to the Port.

In addition, relations between ARTC and the Queensland Government are bitter and volatile.

Clearly, the Inland Railway must go where it was originally intended to go, ie, from Melbourne to Toowoomba and on to the Port of Gladstone, with Toowoomba, not Acacia Ridge, becoming the Freight Hub for all of South East Queensland.

Compellingly, the cost of building a railway from Toowoomba to Gladstone is cheaper than from Toowoomba to Brisbane.

ARTC claims that the track to Gladstone is financially unviable, but the track to Brisbane is massively unviable, yet they are trying and failing to build it.

Once at Gladstone, the track is ready to proceed north west to open up the vast inland plains.

Let’s make it happen.

Join the campaign to have ARTC sacked and replaced with visionaries who operate with skill and goodwill.

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