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A last-minute attempt to change the route of the $10 billion inland rail project to pass next to the new $200 million Brisbane West Wellcamp airport at Toowoomba has been attacked by two of Australia’s key transport industry players.
The Australian Logistics Council yesterday warned the federal government, which has just injected $8.4bn of budget funding to get the ambitious freight rail project started this year, that even slight route changes to the planned Brisbane-to-Melbourne corridor risked undermining the project’s economic viability and delaying its completion.
Executives from the rival InterLinkSQ road and rail hub, 7km west of Wellcamp airport on the original 2010 inland rail corridor, simultaneously accused Toowoomba construction magnate John Wagner, who built and owns Wellcamp airport, of being motivated by greed.
Mr Wagner told The Australian last week he would invest $60m of his own cash in creating a road-rail-air freight transport hub adjacent to Wellcamp airport geared towards food and agricultural produce, as long as the inland rail track is shifted 15km east of its current route.
But no private funds will flow from the Wagner coffers if the freight rail project stays well west of Toowoomba, as intended — an alignment from 2010, when the international passenger and freight airport did not yet exist, and which Mr Wagner believes is now misguided.
Michelle Reynolds, chief executive of the InterLinkSQ road and rail hub, was deeply critical of Mr Wagner’s political push.
Ms Reynolds said incorporating Wellcamp airport with the inland rail project — and planning to include high-speed passenger trains, as Mr Wagner envisages — would be both dangerous and counterproductive for the burgeoning economy of the Toowoomba region.
She also questioned Mr Wagner’s motives and self-interest.
“Each freight train running to the Port of Brisbane would require hundreds of road trains and other heavy vehicles to service a single freight train; you simply can’t mix road trains with cars and passengers heading off to the airport for their holidays,” Ms Reynolds said.
“It is simply ridiculous and quite frankly, risking the lives of innocent people for the profit of one family.”
Ms Reynolds said the Wellcamp Airport is only 8km from the InterLinkSQ intermodal development and questioned why there was a need for Mr Wagner’s own freight and transport “hub” at all.
Mr Wagner believes that if Australia’s agricultural production is to ramp up to $100bn by 2025, as targeted, the export push will rely on good transport infrastructure and centres such as Toowoomba and Wellcamp becoming airfreight and food-processing hubs linked to Asia.
“We are not talking about changing the whole (inland rail) route, but just bringing this section (near Toowoomba) past the airport,” Mr Wagner said.
“We have to get out of the mentality of thinking short term; this inland rail is a 50 to 100-year national project and we say the game has changed with the airport now here.” The Australian Logistics Council’s managing director, Michael Kilgariff, is adamant the planned alignment of the Inland Rail project must be maintained to give certainty to industry, and ensure the 24-hour Brisbane-Melbourne travel times forecast in the business case are realised.
He condemned the 11th hour “speculation” and political campaign to incorporate Wellcamp airport being pushed by Mr Wagner and federal Nationals MP John McVeigh.
“The Inland Rail route was surveyed and planned seven years ago in 2010; (already) other organisations have made investment decisions about locating new freight infrastructure based upon that route, including InterLinkSQ’s intermodal facility, which is already under construction near Toowoomba,” Mr Kilgariff said. “To deviate from (the route) now would violate every principle of good planning.”
This article first appeared on www.theaustralian.com.au
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