Toowoomba Region Mayor Paul Antonio has welcomed the federal government’s announcement that pre-feasibility studies will be advanced for five interface improvement projects that are linked to the Inland Rail project across southern Queensland.

Mayor Antonio said it was a great achievement for southern Queensland proponents to receive approval for more than a quarter of the 16 projects along the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail alignment.

“I’m pleased to see that the merit of the rail interface improvement projects has been acknowledged by the federal government. Each of the proposals has been ruled as eligible for the next stage of assessment,” Mayor Antonio said.

Toowoomba Regional Council, on behalf of the Darling Downs and South West Queensland (DDSWQ) Council of Mayors late last year submitted Expressions of Interest (EOIs) for three projects that were assessed under the Inland Rail Interface Improvement Program by the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications.

The two additional proposals were submitted by Goondiwindi Regional Council and InterLinkSQ and Seaway, who have also received approval for the further development of their proposals.

Mayor Antonio, who also chairs the DDSWQ Council of Mayors, welcomed the announcement of the pre-feasibility studies for its proposals and the other successful proposals in southern Queensland.

The successful proposals in southern Queensland include:

• The potential upgrade and re-opening of existing rail lines (West Moreton and South West Rail systems). To upgrade and re-open the existing West Morton Rail System and the South West Rail System to allow these routes to accommodate the same loads as the Inland Rail,

• South Western Rail System – additional connections to Inland Rail. To investigate additional rail connections to the existing South West Rail system. The proposal has the potential to improve rail connections to the Inland Rail to accommodate heavy agricultural, mining and bulk commodity loads from the west and to minimise the need for both road and rail freight loads through Toowoomba,

• A Rail Provisioning Centre – (potential maintenance facility). This proposal would see the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) build a rail provisioning/maintenance centre for Inland Rail operations at strategic locations in the Toowoomba Region,

• Goondiwindi Regional Council – to develop a Goondiwindi to Inland Rail corridor connection through upgrading the current South Western Rail line beside the Queensland and New South Wales border from Kurumbul to Thallon. The proposal has the potential to allow better connectivity to Inland Rail, and

• InterLinkSQ and Seaway – to develop the South West Intermodal Project. The proposal has the potential to provide a cost-effective and efficient service offering through the provision of a ‘hub and spoke’ logistics network. This would include the construction of a new rail siding and a primary regional aggregation and distribution centre (hub) in Toowoomba

Mayor Antonio said the announcement vindicated three years of research and advocacy by his DDSWQ colleagues and their communities across the Bulloo, Quilpie, Paroo, Murweh, Balonne, Maranoa, Goondiwindi, Western Downs, Southern Downs and Toowoomba local government areas.

“The projects now proceed to the second stage, which is a pre-feasibility study to be conducted by Ernst and Young on behalf of the Department,” Mayor Antonio said.

“The relevant State authorities, the Department of Transport and Main Roads and Queensland Rail, will be invited to join the process since the first two proposals clearly involve the Queensland Rail freight network.

“I’m pleased that the detailed work by the DDSWQ Council of Mayors has been shown to align with the federal government’s objectives to improve the interface between supply chains and the Inland Rail, especially around improving the interfaces to the Inland Rail when it becomes operational.

“The first two projects (listed above) particularly, are designed to revive and improve rail freight operations to western and south-west Queensland that directly service domestic transfer hubs and export/import facilities at Toowoomba and the Port of Brisbane.

“The DDSWQ Council of Mayors previously has supported calls for major investment in essential rail infrastructure and sees the potential to transport livestock and produce from south-western Queensland to the existing and planned freight hubs that will connect with the Inland Rail.

“Producers and business operators as far west as Quilpie, Thargomindah, Thallon and all points in between are eyeing a future where rail could unlock new freight routes and a host of untapped markets.

“The rail upgrade work is needed to ensure the western rail line network can carry the same loads as the Inland Rail. It is important to complete an efficient integration of the networks to cater for current operations and future freight growth.

“There is no doubt that our member Councils have the productive capacity to supply goods for viable rail freight services.

“A more efficient rail network is the key to unlocking this potential and delivering benefits to the producers, our member regions and the State economy when it is needed more than ever.

“We are not alone in our forecasts. The DDSWQ Council of Mayors last year received positive signs from private rail freight operators who indicated their willingness to plan and run rail freight services to western and south-western districts.

“The time is right to advance the business cases for the upgrades that will link directly to the Inland Rail.”