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Australia’s $15 billion Inland Rail project from Melbourne would be more than $4 billion cheaper if it used Toowoomba as a hub for local freight rather than extending to Brisbane, a study shows.
International freight, however, would be transported by rail from Toowoomba, through the Surat Basin, then exported from Gladstone, not Brisbane, the study released in February by AEC Group consultants shows.
Gladstone is asserting its case to be considered the destination of Australia’s now $15 billion Inland Rail project.CREDIT:AFR
There is still no confirmed costed and approved way to get rail freight from the Acacia Ridge freight processing centre – the destination of the existing Inland Rail route – to the Port of Brisbane, except by tripling the number of trucks driving through Salisbury and Acacia Ridge.
Deloitte Access Economics estimated in 2017 it could cost $2.8 billion to build a link from Acacia Ridge to the Port of Brisbane.
Gladstone, on the other hand, has an unconstrained port, with the 27,000 hectare Gladstone State Development area beside it.
Central Queensland University Chancellor John Abbott – a transport engineer and deputy chair of Regional Development Australia – asked the AEC Group to compare the economics of the rival Toowoomba to Brisbane and Toowoomba to Gladstone Inland Rail freight routes.
“If you add the $2.8 billion to go to the Port of Brisbane from the Acacia Ridge freight centre, that takes it to over $7.2 billion from Toowoomba to the port,” Mr Abbott said.
“So they are talking about 50 per cent of the cost for about 10 per cent of the distance.
“It doesn’t make economic sense.”
AEC Group’s in-depth study found it could cost $8.1 billion to build the 480 kilometre Toowoomba to Port of Brisbane link, and $3.4 billion to build the 646 kilometre Toowoomba to Gladstone link.
Mr Abbott said two major issues affected the proposed Toowoomba to Brisbane link.
The two routes compared
Toowoomba to Gladstone
Toowoomba to Brisbane
(Source: AEC Group February 2021 study of Toowoomba to Gladstone Inland Rail route)
He said the Queensland Trucking Association preferred Toowoomba as a future regional freight hub because the Acacia Ridge freight centre would still be three hours by Inland Rail from Toowoomba.
“In those three hours, truckies will have already picked up our container in Toowoomba, taken it to our client in Brendale or Helensvale or wherever, and be part of the way back to Toowoomba,” Mr Abbott said.
The chief executive of the Queensland Trucking Association, Gary Mahon, told an Inland Rail Senate inquiry on January 27: “You’ve now got the combination of a very capable area up in Toowoomba and the growth at the Port of Brisbane. It’s timely to look at where you might put the right focal point for that intermodal exchange.
“I would argue that Acacia Ridge has reached its capacity limits. To grow Acacia Ridge is going to be extraordinarily expensive.”
Toowoomba to Gladstone and Toowoomba to Brisbane Inland Rail routes compared by AEC Group consultants.CREDIT:AEC GROUP CONSULTANTS FEBRUARY 2021.
The second major issue is the yet-to-be-chosen, costed and tested freight link between Acacia Ridge and the Port of Brisbane.
Mr Abbott asked the federal government to pause plans for the Queensland leg of the Melbourne to Brisbane route, with comments now being sought on the draft environmental impact statement.
“In the current environment, I would have thought that the economics say you are crazy to spend that money, especially since you have already spent $3 billion in and around the Toowoomba Second Range Crossing.”
Everald Compton, founder of the Inland Rail project, agreed that plans for the Toowoomba to Brisbane leg should be paused and Gladstone Port re-evaluated.
“Brisbane was put in by the National Party, which was quite extraordinary,” Mr Compton said.
“John Anderson [former deputy prime minister] and Warren Truss [former infrastructure minister] believed Brisbane was needed to make it financially viable.”
Mr Compton said facts now disputed that as he added his weight to the emerging Toowoomba to Gladstone link.
“Toowoomba should become the freight centre for the whole of south-east Queensland. The railway should then go out through what is an already dedicated path through the Surat Basin to Gladstone,” he said.
Even though Toowoomba to Gladstone is further than Toowoomba to Brisbane, Mr Compton said the route would be cheaper because it wouldn’t require three major tunnels or go through expensive real estate.
This article first appeared on www.brisbanetimes.com.au
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