The Inland Rail project was meant to be the jewel in the crown of our policy makers from the time it was first floated as a possibility during the Howard Government years.
But so far it has been a poisoned chalice for policy makers, who have copped a barrage of criticism over the project’s alleged mismanagement.
Logan City Council is one of the latest councils to weigh in on the issue at a Senate inquiry into how the development is being managed by the Australian Rail and Track Corporation (ARTC) along with the Queensland Government and Australian Government.
In his speech, Logan Mayor Darren Power condemned the management for failing to act in the interests of Logan.
He demanded better on behalf of the entire community.
“My fellow councillors and I demand accountability from the ARTC and the state and federal governments in managing the environmental impacts, which have the potential to degrade people’s quality of life along the corridor,” he said.
So what is the Inland Rail Project, and what’s all the fuss about it?
The Inland Rail is intended to supercharge the economy by cutting freight times and linking manufacturers with their markets more efficiently.
It also aims to reduce road congestion, resulting from an over-dependence on truck freight, and cater for the growing demand for interstate deliveries.
The proposed development is a 1,700km freight line connecting Melbourne to Brisbane via regional Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland.
ARTC predicts the line will “ensure a freight time of less than 24 hours and at a price point that is competitive with road freight”.
In its current form, the rail runs north from Melbourne through NSW via Parkes and Narrabri, and across the QLD border before hooking left through Kagura and north through parts of Logan and Acacia Ridge.
But the ARTC were not always in charge of the project, nor did they pioneer it.
Everald Compton was the founding father who first pitched the idea to the Howard Government in 1996.
He was then the Chairman of the Australian Transport & Energy Corridor, who lobbied the proposal to governments.
Everald remodelled his proposal from other attempts dating back to 1983.
Unlike the situation today, the line was never meant to go to Brisbane.
“It was all supposed to go Melbourne to Toowoomba, and to the Port of Gladstone as the first stage of going to Darwin,” he said.
“Gladstone’s got a first class port, you can get access to the port without destroying the town, and you go through all those agricultural areas in the Darling Downs and Maranoa for export purposes, and Toowoomba is a better freight centre.”
“And there’s already several freight sites in Toowoomba – there’s an international airport in Toowoomba that can handle the thing and that’s all been ignored by the ARTC.
This route was seen as a way to avoid needless economic, environmental, and social impacts.
It would support rural exports in isolated regions, reduce the environmental toll by using only existing routes, and limit the social impact brought about by land acquisitions.
Then the project changed hands. In 2011, the Australian Government announced it would loan money to the ARTC to deliver the project with a twist: it would go from Melbourne to Brisbane, passing through Toowoomba.
At that point, Everald no longer had a say in the project.
“The project should never have been considered to come to Brisbane,” he says.
“It’s got to go at a huge expense down the Toowoomba range through tunnels, then it’s got to get through the Minden Range, the Marburg Range, and another range, and finally fight its way through suburbs into Acacia Ridge.
“Then it’s got to be taken off the train at Acacia Ridge and go to the port.
“Any effort to expand Acacia Ridge would cause massive social problems in the area there, and so the whole thing has to be changed.”
What’s at stake for Logan?
Logan fits into the Inland Rail project under the “Kagura to Acacia Ridge” section.
This section is currently in the “Reference Design Stage” looking at the environmental and site considerations.
But before going into that, here are two of the biggest talking points on the Inland Rail over the last few months, which have some bearing on its rollout in Logan.
February 2021: You may have heard about the new push to use the Cross River Rail borers to dig two tunnels – stretching 16km – to connect the Port of Brisbane with the Acacia Ridge freight terminal, which links up with the Inland Rail.
A lot of people are questioning whether the port should, or more to the point, could handle the added traffic, with concerns also surrounding whether the port is deep enough for that.
Everald Compton also says the risk of cutting through high-density urban area is “financially outrageous” and socially unacceptable.
April 2021: The big talking point from early April was that the Morrison Government committed to electrifying the Melbourne to Brisbane line as part of a $3.5b package for stage two of the project.
Back in 2010, ARTC said that electrification – at that time – was not financially feasible as it could have added an estimated $2-2.5b to the project’s capital costs.
Under ARTC’s plan, Kagura to Acacia Ridge is considered a “rail enhancement” project, which means they would build upon existing infrastructure, with construction expected to start in 2023.
It also has the greatest bearing on Logan of all 13 projects contained within the Inland Rail network.
At 49km long, Kagura to Acacia Ridge intersects the city through Hillcrest, Forestdale, Greenbank, Boronia Heights, Kagaru, Greater Flagstone and North Maclean.
Upon project completion, the line will initially cater for 20-25 trains per day, ramping up to 45 trains per day by 2040.
The rail would allow for double-stacked freight trains spanning 1,800m, according to the ARTC.
That in itself is a hot topic. For years, Logan has been crying out for a passenger line from Salisbury to Beaudesert.
At the inquiry, Cr Power said that at some point in the last 30 years policy makers backtracked on their commitment to upgrade the existing state-owned railway into a pedestrian line, prioritising the freight line instead.
A business case for the pedestrian line was even rubber stamped by Mathias Cormann, who was then the Federal Minister for Finance, and Mark Bailey, the Queensland Minister for Transport and Main Roads.
On November 29, 2019, they announced a Bilateral Agreement that would see the state government work with the Federal Government to build a $20 million case for passenger rail from Salisbury to Beaudesert and Brisbane to Toowoomba, within scope of the Inland Rail.
The Australian Government and Queensland Government pledged $10 million each to the business case.
ARTC has clearly pointed out that – at this stage – they are not exploring the pedestrian line option and that it is matter for TMR and Queensland Government.
ARTC Principal Environment Advisor Shane Harris told a community meeting last November that as far as they are aware “there is no business case for passenger rail”.
ARTC Project Manager Kerrin Roberts told the same meeting that while passenger rail had been reserved in the planning documents, the decision depends on when and if they receive a business case.
That point about the business case is paramount. Any plans for a passenger line need to come the governments.
The Australian Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications said the business case would not be available for another two years.
That business case is investigating the construction methods, timing, community impacts, and how a passenger line could possibly be integrated with the planned Inland Rail.
That leaves residents along the rail line without answers for another two years.
Who knows what in Logan?
So far there have been 8 community consultations between November 2018 and February this year.
Those sessions have been facilitated by the Kagura to Acacia Ridge Consultative Committee.
“It’s like a public consultation, but it’s a pretence; it’s a facade,” Cr Power said in his statement to the Senate inquiry.
“It’s designed to pretend as if something is happening when it’s not and when the answers aren’t available.”
Cr Power projected that 38,000 residents of Greater Flagstone will live within one kilometre of the line once the area reaches maturity.
“Many residents are still in the dark about how their properties will be impacted by Inland Rail,” he said.
For many affected residents, this has been a drawn-out and anxiety-inducing process with no clear end in sight.”
Cr Power is also worried about environmental damages, plus the potential for the development to devalue properties and expose people to high levels of noise, pollution, and vibration.
So far, these are highly disputed grounds.
All along, ARTC has said they have upheld their responsibilities in terms of environmental testing.
But Cr Power is firmly against that assertion.
On the issue of “proposed mitigation measures”, he cited a lack of community consultation.
“I also want to raise the ongoing issues surrounding the lack of meaningful community consultation,” he said.
What Cr Power has said
What the ARTC has said
“Whilst some consultation on the proposed mitigation measures took place in December 2020 - and what a waste of time that was! - this was just a small step forward.”
“The mitigation measures identified during consultation were for the enhancement sites only - places where the track is being lowered or passing loops are being created - not along the full Kagaru to Acacia Ridge line, where the impacts will be felt.”
Findings from the ARTC community consultation meeting minutes from November 30, 2020:
- ARTC Principal Environment Advisor Shane Harris reported that his company had complied with Australian standards for environmental assessments in regards to noise and vibration.
- Significant vibrations are not expected from the development.
- Operational noise, vibration and air quality assessments have also been conducted.
“By 2041, 17,000 residents are anticipated to live within 500m either side of the route, while 38,000 residents will be within 1km.”
There’s no clear idea in ARTC reports as to where the mitigation measures Cr Power referred to will be installed or what form they will take. It appears to be too early in the process.
However, Mr Harris said that 26,000 houses would be affected across the whole route, and that 208 houses were flagged for further investigation in light of their assessments.
At the meeting, Stephen Harrison from Flinders Land Holdings questioned whether ARTC had factored into assessments the homes that were planned in future developments.
Mr Harris said they are currently reviewing the broader route outside of the project construction areas, including future development sites. That includes how far the noise may carry and whether barriers may be needed.
The ARTC claims it has conducted environmental assessments in line with national standards. However, Logan Mayor Darren Power disputes how thorough the ARTC has been. Here's a breakdown of what both parties have said.
There is no clarity surrounding the full extent of the ARTC’s testing or of the mitigation measures they might propose.
Some of the answers could be bound by commercial confidence, which is corporate speak for signed legal documents preventing information from being publicised while the project is being implemented.
This possibility was amplified by an unnamed councillor at the ARTC’s community consultation on November 30, 2020, who claimed the ARTC is getting local councils to sign different confidentiality agreements, thereby making it hard to know what is happening.
ARTC will not publicly release environmental reports until the Office of the Coordinator General decides whether the project should be subject to an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIS) – more on that shortly.
This move, according to the ARTC, was chosen over concerns that publishing the environmental reports would influence the Coordinator General’s final decision.
But Cr Power told the senate inquiry that this secrecy is not good enough.
“We had invited the ARTC into Logan City Council. We had them in our committee room. We asked them the questions. They didn’t answer any of the questions. It was a waste of time them coming. It was an absolute joke,” he said.
He also demanded a coordinated approach in the form of an Environmental Impact Statement to which the public could provide submissions.
“If the Kagaru to Acacia Ridge section were to be a coordinated project, this would offer a more transparent process and better safeguards against the potential for negative environmental consequences,” he said.
ARTC states on their website that they have submitted an application to the Office of the Coordinator-General to explore the possibility of making it a coordinated project.
If the application is successful the EIS would be carried out.
Who is responsible for what in the project?
The ARTC is contracted by the Australian Government to implementing the project’s business case.
Owned by the Commonwealth, the ARTC was contentiously awarded the project without tender, according to Everald Compton.
“The way it should have been done at the start was there should have been tenders called and the government railway [ARTC] could have tendered,” he said.
“I reckon without any trouble, I could find 3 or 4 consortiums in the transport industry who would make bids, but they’ve never been invited to.”
Testifying before the senate inquiry, Everald requested for the ARTC to be dismissed for mismanaging the project.
“I asked for them to be dismissed and put the whole project out to public tender, and to change the whole guidelines under which its being built and have a Melbourne, Toowoomba, Gladstone railway,” he said.
As for what the ARTC can and cannot do, it can only work within the remit of the business case it is provided by the state and Federal Government.
In that sense, the business case is the ARTC’s ticket to act. So, no matter how strong the calls for a pedestrian line, the fact is that it won’t happen if it isn’t prescribed in a business case in two years’ time.
The Queensland Government owns the train line which is being used for the project. This means that the ARTC cannot change the Inland Rail’s alignment without being asked to by the state government.
The project could be up for more shakeups depending on the agender of the incoming ARTC CEO, who will replace Richard Wankmuller around June when he retires.
Do you have questions about Inland Rail and its impact on Logan West?
Send your questions to Aiden at email@example.com