'Father' of Inland Rail calls for project to end in Toowoomba amid cost blowouts
The whole thing is a vast boondoggle. There appears to have been no comprehensive cost-benefit study of the idea. Judging by the similar Adelaide to Darwin link, it will remain largely unused and will not even cover the cost of its maintenance.
Rail is yesterday's idea. Only the huge output of mines needs it. Road transport is usually so much more convenient that rail will very rarely supplant it. Better roads are what is really needed
As the federal government seeks to rein in the multi-billion-dollar cost blowouts from the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail project, some are asking: Will it ever be completed?
The man who is sometimes described as the "father" of the Inland Rail, Everald Compton, believes the government should cut its losses and finish the line at Toowoomba, 100km short of its original destination.
"It will never get to Brisbane — I reckon hell will freeze over quicker than this railway gets to Brisbane," the retired corporate fundraiser told ABC's 7.30. "The cost of getting down the Toowoomba range is extortionate."
An independent review of the Inland Rail has already recommended the line finish earlier in Queensland than originally planned.
Review author Kerry Schott said the double-stacked freight line should finish at a locality called Ebenezer, about 50 kilometres west of Brisbane, with connections to the Brisbane port through road and single-stack freight networks.
The freight and logistics industry has accepted this.
"It's understandable, because of urban encroachment, because of the cost of building new rail through existing urban areas," says Hermione Parsons from the Australian Logistics Council.
But the council warns against cutting out any more sections, saying it is important to get rail freight as close to the port as possible.
"The Port of Brisbane serves a very large hinterland – Queensland, parts of the Northern Territory, parts of northern New South Wales," Dr Parsons said.
"And that port is an important part of Queensland's resilience."
The proposed Ebenezer terminal was not part of the original plan for the Inland Rail, and it's still in the very early stage of planning.
"A preliminary evaluation for an intermodal terminal has been completed," a spokesman for the Queensland Transport Department told 7.30.
"We are working across government and with our federal colleagues towards the completion of the business case."
Liberal Party MP Garth Hamilton says this will inevitably mean further delays for a project already years behind schedule.
"Every day that we're delaying, if we go through more reviews, we're going to see more cost blowouts," the member for the federal seat of Groom said. "There is no way that Ebenezer stands up.
"I'm calling for a pause here – I'm calling for a pause at Toowoomba while this is worked out."
Progress in Queensland 'behind the eight ball'
The Australian Logistics Council says the Queensland government should become more actively involved in the debate.
"I'd be worried if I was the Queensland government about the staging of the Inland Rail project from Melbourne all the way up to Brisbane as the last leg, because that means the freight only has one way to go, which is south," Dr Parsons said.
"The Queensland government needs to be working on this and it's a bit behind the eight ball."
ABC's 7.30 sought comment from Queensland Transport Minister Mark Bailey. His department provided a written statement saying: "The state government is reviewing the Inland Rail's recommendations."
The project proponent, the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), originally proposed to finish construction of all four Queensland sections of the Inland Rail by 2025. However, it has yet to complete any of its Queensland environmental assessments. "There has been lengthy delays in his process, particularly in Queensland," the independent review found.
"[This was] caused in part by immature design and poor environmental impact statements that need numerous changes and resubmissions."
The Australian Logistics Council says the fundamental problem was that construction started on the whole project before the endpoint was decided, but it is pleased the Albanese government remains committed to finishing the project.
"This project potentially takes 200,000 trucks a year out of the equation of freight transport — that's important — [and] 750,000 tonnes of carbon reduction," Dr Parsons said.
"We need rail; our country lags behind terribly in terms of rail investment, yet it is an incredibly important mode and we don't have enough of it."
Everald Compton's original vision back in the 1990s was for the line to continue north to the central Queensland Port of Gladstone — and he's still a keen advocate for this future extension.
"We've simply got to say let's get rid of the nonsense, let's do some nation-building," he said.
But Dr Parsons is more cautious. "That's an extra. We need to get back to the fundamentals of the intercity rail link between Melbourne and Brisbane."