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The consultation process for deciding which route the Melbourne-to-Brisbane inland railway would take in southern Queensland was "a complete farce", according to local farmers.
Federal Infrastructure Minister Darren Chester today announced the railway's path would go across floodplains north of the New South Wales border.
The chosen route is similar to the alignment known as the "base case" proposed by the Australian Rail and Track Corporation (ARTC) in 2010.
There had been four routes under consideration. Earlier this year, Mr Chester established the Project Reference Group (PRG) to address landholder concerns about the options and to allow local input.
One of the key objectives of the group, as outlined by the Federal Government, was to achieve "transparency" in decision making.
But local floodplain farmer Brett Kelly said the selection process lacked transparency.
"The PRG process was a complete farce in that we did not get any input, we could not question any of the engineering," he said.
The grain grower said group members didn't get to see the PRG's final report before the decision was made, and has labelled it a public relations exercise.
"At the end of the consultation process and the PRG process, the chairman wrote a report to Minister Chester," Mr Kelly said.
"We were not allowed to see a copy of that, which removes the transparency that we were promised with the process."
Mr Chester released the report last night to members of the PRG, at the same time as he notified them of the decision on the route.
"People are going to be disappointed by the decision if it impacts them directly, but the process has been absolutely above board," the Minister said. "I stand by the process."
The farmers are concerned drains under the tracks could get blocked with debris, creating a damming effect that could be "catastrophic" and "put lives at risk".
Mr Kelly also said there was little information on what engineering had been done to ensure flood risks would be mitigated.
"We did not get any input, we could not question any of the engineering," he said.
"We couldn't ask them [the engineers] to elaborate why all of a sudden this base case line was cheaper, when, according to the  SMEC [Snowy Mountain Electricity Corporation] report, it was actually dearer than other routes."
Speaking in Queensland today, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull ensured landowners would not be put in danger.
"It obviously goes across a floodplain but the engineering measures and design will take all that into account so that it does not adversely affect either property owners or environment interests by changing the way water flows," Mr Turnbull said.
Mayor owns quarry, 'stands to benefit' from inland railFarmers are also concerned vested interests may have attempted to influence the decision-making process on the route.
"I believe our mayor could profit in the tens of millions of dollars from the route going on this base case line," Mr Kelly said.
"He obviously has a large quarry that he can profit out of by supplying the ballast that will go underneath this railway line.
"Out of all the routes, the most ballast that would be needed would be underneath this particular route."
Toowoomba Regional Council Mayor Paul Antonio has championed inland rail for many years and has spoken publicly in support of the base case.
He owns a gravel quarry near Millmerran on the route chosen by the Federal Government.
In an interview with the ABC, Councillor Antonio conceded he stood to benefit from inland rail.
"Regardless of where the rail line goes over the next 100 years, that basalt on my hill will be used. It will benefit either myself or whoever owns that property," he said.
The ABC can reveal the Mayor personally paid $4,900 to have another option investigated — it altered the base case route near Millmerran and took the line to the very edge of his quarry.
Cr Antonio said he paid for the map to find an alternative that did not go through prime agricultural land in Millmerran, to help affected farmers.
After initially telling the ABC he gave the map only to one Millmerran farmer, he later conceded he provided the map to former industry minister Ian MacFarlane, who is now the chief executive of the Queensland Resources Council.
"Ian's a friend of mine and he has some influence in terms of protection of good agricultural land," the Mayor said.
He added he did not know what Mr Macfarlane did with the map.
However, the ABC has obtained a text message sent by Cr Antonio on September 11 to Millmerran farmer Russell Stevens that contradicts this.
"Macfarlane said he had been talking to the powers that be and they liked the option. Enormous advantage," the text said.
Mr Macfarlane did not respond to the ABC's questions about the map, however he said he was not lobbying for Cr Antonio.
Cr Antonio's proposed diversion is not part of the route announced by Mr Chester today.
But Mr Stevens, whose farm may be dissected by the route, said it was concerning the mayor appeared to have tried to influence the outcome.
"I think it's just disgraceful actually," he said.
"If they want to come through here they will drag me off here in handcuffs and a paddy wagon. I am not going."
Mr Chester today disagreed with any suggestion there had been political manipulation in the selection process.
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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