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The Government's decision to fast-track the 1,700-kilometre network shocks some impacted landholders who argue it's inappropriate while a federal inquiry is underway.
On Monday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison outlined a $1.5 billion infrastructure cash boost for 15 shovel-ready projects under the Federal Government's JobMaker plan to stimulate and set the nation's economy toward recovery.
But the announcement has been divisive for the already-controversial Melbourne to Brisbane inland rail project.
Gilgandra farmer Wanda Galley is still waiting to learn whether her property will be split in two by the 1,700-kilometre rail network.
"Overall the long-term implications of putting the alignment in the wrong place is of the utmost importance for everyone," Ms Galley said.
"Livelihoods, businesses, communities will all ultimately be affected. There are basically just too many unresolved issues and that's why an inquiry's being called upon."
A federal inquiry into the route was announced in September 2019 and a report is expected to be handed down this September.
Ms Galley said it was important the Federal Government's inquiry into inland rail was completed before anything is progressed, let alone fast-tracked.
"The Government's short-term job creation goal to generate employment during the construction phase should not jeopardise the multi-billion dollar project," she said.
"It's not something that should be fast-tracked if there are too many unanswered questions and an inquiry is underway. All of that should be dealt with first."
Fast-tracking answersAt the other end of the Narromine to Narrabri stretch on the route, Narrabri farmer David Scilley is looking forward to the track being laid.
A newly laid section of the Parkes to Narromine section of the inland rail.(Supplied: Australian Rail Track Corporation)"It'll mean a lot of infrastructure can look to be moved into northern New South Wales, it'd mean businesses could come out this way," he said.
"If you've got a rail infrastructure that's world-class it means things can get moving a lot easier."
Land acquisitions are expected to be finalised by the end of the year, but that may be sooner on the back of the Prime Minister's announcement.
As long as impacted landholders are adequately compensated during the construction, Mr Scilley said he supported the project.
He is also looking forward to finally having an answer so he start planning for the future.
"I think it's better in the long run that they get on with it. They don't want it dragged out too far," he said.
"These projects are big infrastructure projects. They need to be done properly but they also need to take into account the people who they're affecting."
Regional jobs and economic boostsA condition of inland rail's approval was for the project to provide construction jobs for local communities.
Parkes earthmover Steve MacGill has been working on the project for more than 18 months which has given his business consistent work through both the drought and COVID-19.
"We were the first civil contractor to start on the inland rail. Work started in November 2018 and we've been there pretty much every day since," Mr MacGill said.
"We've had around 16 operators and machines with them every day. A couple of young guys have come up through the ranks and had extra training with them. It's been very good."
The inland rail project has provided consistent work for some locals from November 2018 to June 2020, including crucial employment during drought and COVID-19.(Supplied: Steve MacGill)Mr MacGill said he has had a wonderful experience working on the network.
"With the drought, other work was slow. So it was good to have something to get the machines going every day. It's great to have a long-term project," he said.
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Mayor of the Parkes region Ken Keith says there have been widespread benefits right across the district.
"It's been enormous for the Parkes shire, they've nearly completed the Parkes to Narromine leg," Cr Keith said.
"It's created enormous jobs and enormous business opportunities for people in the shire. It's certainly enabled us to get through COVID-19 fairly well unscathed."
He said the inland rail project created many opportunities for small NSW towns.
"We've had accommodation running over 50 per cent when a lot of motels are closed up and down the Newell Highway through the COVID period," Cr Keith said.
"We've had one of the hotels serve something like 14,000 take away meals over the last three months."
'We've missed out'But further north, the mayor of the Narromine Shire, Craig Davies, is concerned the project has not delivered the locals jobs they were promised.
He said while inland rail has created 680 jobs, only 12 have been given to locals from the Narromine region.
"We had a number of community meetings where many local contractors were contacted, their names taken, and the expectation was we would see a lot of jobs and contracts for our shire. And that simply hasn't eventuated," Mr Davies said.
"The Government has made a commitment that they will ensure all communities are given opportunities with the building of inland rail and that's something that we are yet to see, and we expect to see.
"I'm sure our turn will come, but it needs to come sooner rather than later because those communities that haven't been funded to date are missing out on opportunities to communities that have been funded."
'Communicate with the community'Country Women's Association CEO Danica Leys says it is crucial there is clear communication with impacted communities about what fast-tracking will mean for them.
"This announcement is certainly lacking on detail. In principal, it's a good idea, and certainly we want to see jobs created and maintained and we want to see projects in regional areas," she said.
"Inland rail fits the bill for that, but we are still scratching for detail.
One of the most important parts for us, as CWA, is understanding what it actually means for the communities that stand to be impacted the most.
"I think it's prudent for the Government to get onto that ASAP and explain to communities what it means for them."
Ms Leys said her association still had some concerns about inland rail.
"We're certainly not opposed to the project, although we have had some fairly significant concerns about how the project is being executed," she said.
"They're still very live concerns and they're things that we've asked the Government and ARTC to address on multiple occasions. And they don't address them.
"There hasn't even been an EIS [environmental impact statement] lodged for a big section of the track in NSW yet — the Narromine to Narrabri section — which is all a greenfield section of track.
"So still a long long way away from being anywhere near having approval for certain areas of the inland rail track."
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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