Its a sleepy little town
Rival inland rail link proposed
HIGH-SPEED trains would whiz passengers and freight between Brisbane and Melbourne overnight under an alternative $3.1 billion inland rail project to be show-cased at a conference later this month.
The local government-backed Great Australian Trunk Rail System rivals Everald Compton's front-running Australian Transport and Energy Corridor proposal, which has already won endorsement from various private sector players including Chris Corrigan's Patrick Corp.
However, Queensland stands to gain significantly under both plans.
The Brisbane-to-Toowoomba leg of GATR's proposed 1650km route would cost an estimated $1.1 billion and similarly incorporate a tunnel under the Great Dividing Range exiting at Highfields.
According to GATR's business plan, express trains travelling at up to 240km an hour along its open-access "steel tollway" would complete the trip overnight in just 14 hours – about half the time envisaged using ATEC's longer 1800km route – while slower freight trains would take 20 hours.
"The development of an inland rail network which can provide rail freight transmission in 14 hours between Melbourne and Brisbane, will enable overnight distribution along the east coast which will facilitiate major new logistics centres and freight villages as well as improve the cost structures of product distribution," GATR's business plan asserts.
GATR, chaired by former Queensland Rail chief executive Vince O'Rourke, estimates the project would take five years to build and another four years to start making money. However, the network was expected to be generating a return on equity of 46 per cent within 10 years and have repaid all debt within 35 years.
Other shareholding directors include John Waugh, former chairman of the Waggamba Shire Council centred on the Queensland border town of Goondiwindi, and Parkes Shire Council general manager Alan McCormack, Narromine shire councillor Des Edwards from the NSW Riverina district, Barry Donaldson of the Progressive Rail Association and investment banker Michael Goetz.
Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson, who has pledged $1.8 billion to upgrade the existing network, announced a feasibility study last month into possible routes for a new inland line as part of his goal as Transport Minister to push more freight off the roads and on to rail.
GATR's proposal – designed to meet the Federal Government's Auslink criteria – involves construction of 806km of new heavy duty standard gauge track and an upgrade of 844km of existing track and infrastructure which would involve negotiations with the Australian Rail and Track Corp, VicTrack, Patrick Corp and Queensland Rail.
Parkes, which would become a major freight hub on any inland rail route to bypass Sydney's congested lines, is a key backer of GATR's proposal dating back to 1989 when several local governments first teamed up to work on the plan. Parkes Shire Council has invited Mr Anderson to give the keynote address later this month at a one-day conference where the GATR project will be showcased to delegates from 35 local government areas along the proposed route.
Mr Waugh said GATR's "meticulously researched and costed business plan" had been sent to leading Australian and international banks to gauge interest in providing debt funding to augment a mix of private sector equity and government financing.
"We've sought the best advice and weren't going to go public with this project until we got things right," he said.
"We're not putting up anything that can't be substantiated.
"This is not something out of Disneyland because we have just copied what's happening in Europe and the US where rail is paramount."
GATR envisages a route not too dissimilar from ATEC's through Parkes, Moree, North Star, Inglewood, Millmerran and Toowoomba.
But according to an the business plan, the GATR network aimed to maximise the economic benefits of an inland east coast freight service by adopting the most direct route possible.
ATEC's proposed 1800km route had an estimated transit time of 25-30 hours while the existing 1970 km east coast trip now takes took 35-40 hours to traverse.
"The network proposes to charge access fees based on the spped required for transit," the GATR document explains "This will see high-speed freight rail and passenger rail charges reflecting the infrastrucutre cost and economic benefits of high-speed rail deliver."