Farmers urged to come to the party on access for inland rail

NSW Farmers president Derek Schoen signs a new access template with ARTC Inland Rail CEO Richard Wankmuller that improves access requirements, compensation avenues and remedial work for farmers.
NSW Farmers president Derek Schoen signs a new access template with ARTC Inland Rail CEO Richard Wankmuller that improves access requirements, compensation avenues and remedial work for farmers.

A seachange on the approach to talks over the inland rail route has seen NSW Farmers agree to a new template over access to farms for the project.

Only a few months ago, NSW Farmers was adamant that the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) had failed in negotiations with farmers and was not listening to their concerns.

But Farmers president Derek Schoen said a new land access agreement now clarifies protections for farmers and other landowners who will have contractors accessing their properties as part of studies and investigations for Inland Rail.

“We felt the original ARTC land access agreement template was overly simplistic and appeared to contain few protections for farmers and landholders”, Mr Schoen said. “Using our previous experience with land access agreements, we negotiated this updated agreement with the ARTC and we are now more comfortable with the revised template document. I reiterate that it is important for Inland Rail executives to continue visiting impacted communities to hear their concerns first hand. ”

Farmers said in a release that the revised template agreement now limits farmers’ liabilities in the event of an accident on their property linked to work undertaken by the ARTC. It also clarifies that information gathered by the ARTC, or their contractors, from landowners is used only for the Inland Rail project – there can be no forwarding of information to other parties for other purposes. The agreement also spells out how the ARTC will remediate any earthworks it undertakes.

ARTC Inland Rail CEO Richard Wankmuller said he welcomed the positive contribution of NSW Farmers but recognised that the two parties had not resolved differences on other matters relating to the Narromine to Narrabri study area.

Parkes mayor Ken Keith said farmers should understand that the shortest and most direct route between major centres was the best way for the benefits of inland rail to be realised for them.

He said putting up a wall against the ARTC was not the way to go, and farmers had to be proactive to make sure appropriate culverts, animal thoroughfares were built on their land.

“I’d encourage all farmers to get involved and talk about access with the ARTC. It is beneficial for everyone that there is the most direct route for inland rail. Also there has to be appropriately considered compensation for farmers.

“This project is much more than just moving freight from Melbourne to Brisbane, It’s about getting freight to all the major ports including Sydney. It will put us internationally on the map and improve our terms of trade.

“It makes sense to have the straightest route as possible.”

Not only will all rail lines head to Parkes, but also all roads, when the city hosts a major forum on the massive inland rail project on July 17 and 18. 

The forum is expected to be a precursor to the start of construction on the 106km Parkes to Narromine leg, with the awarding of a tender for the leg set to be announced.

Already on-the-ground work has started with tens of thousands of concrete sleepers delivered and some of the 14,000 tonnes of steel rail for the leg delivered. The rail comes in 165m sections.

Pacific National, which is building new east-west rail lines to connect to the north-south lines of inland rail, has started placing survey pegs in the ground near Parkes as part of the major rail works needed to join the two lines. A major turning circle will be created to allow trains to head in all four directions. Parkes has also commercial in confidence applications for businesses to set up in Parkes to be part of the new intermodal hub.

Parkes mayor Ken Keith said the July forum would include all stakeholders, construction companies, businesses and will be open to the public. He expected an announcement on the Parkes to Narromine leg on the back of the conference, with construction to start within weeks. The Australian Logistics Centre and the Australasian Railway Association has organised the forum.

The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) which is charged by the Federal Government with delivering the project, has provided an update on construction.

The ARTC said deliveries of 14,000 tonnes of steel rail began in January for the Parkes to Narromine section, following the awarding of the contract to Liberty OneSteel Whyalla Steelworks. Future contracts will be awarded for the remaining 262,000 tonnes of steel will be required to deliver the 1700km project. Contracts have been awarded for supplies including ballast, fastenings, culverts and turn outs.

The ARTC said $2 million of ‘future proofing’ works (LINK) were completed on four bridges in the Parkes to Narromine section. Field investigations including environmental and engineering studies as well as geotechnical work has been ramped up across the route in NSW, Queensland and Victoria.

ARTC is establishing four Community Consultative Committees for NSW greenfield projects. There will be three committees for the 307km Narromine to Narrabri section; and there will a committee for the 37km North Star to NSW/Queensland border section. Nominations will close next week, May 25. Contracts to be awarded for supplies including ballast, fastenings, culverts and turn outs for the Parkes to Narromine section.The next project to begin construction is the Narrabri to North Star section.