The NSW Farmers Association has negotiated a new land access agreement for the Inland Rail project with the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC). However, the association still harbours concerns about selection process for the Narromine to Narrabri section of the corridor.
The revised agreement contains stronger protections for farmers and landowners during ARTC studies and investigations on private land.
The agreement will now limit landowner liabilities in the event of accidents during ARTC work on their properties, and will require that information gathered by the ARTC only be used for the Inland Rail project.
Earlier this year, NSW Farmers voiced concerns about the transparency and quality of consultation associated with the Inland Rail project and called on members to refrain from signing agreements prior to information being made available on the route selection for the rail corridor.
President of NSW Famers, Derek Schoen, said that, following negotiations with the ARTC, the new land access agreement was an improvement over the original, which, he said, had been “overly simplistic” and had provided few protections for landowners.
“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,” Schoen said.
“The updated agreement provides, in our view, more clarity around protections for landholders than the original.”
NSW Farmers nonetheless have continued to question the selection process for the project’s Narromine to Narrabri section study area, and are requesting further engagement and information from the ARTC.
“I reiterate that it is important for Inland Rail executives to continue visiting impacted communities to hear their concerns first hand,” said Schoen.
“In our meeting with the deputy prime minister last week, NSW Farmers reiterated our desire for more information and further analysis to be provided which supports the identification of the preferred route between Narromine and Narrabri.”
The Narromine to Narrabri section will comprise approximately 300 kilometres of new track, making it the longest and most significant greenfield development of the Inland Rail project.
The study corridor is approximately 2 kilometres wide (with wider and narrower variations), within which the ARTC have been carrying out consultations – with landowners and engineering and construction experts – to ascertain the most appropriate site for track placement.
Around fifty alternative options for the study corridor were considered in response to community and stakeholder feedback. The choice itself was determined according to ARTC’s evaluation process, which included ascertaining the option that best met the “Service Offering” – the level of service required from the project by freight operators and customers – and the option that had the greater advantages with regards to the costs of construction, maintenance, and track operation.
Other criteria, including safety standards, technical viability, ecological and environmental impacts, and property, landowning and land use impacts, were judged in workshopping events across 2016 and 2017.
According to the ARTC, the preferred study area was chosen, among other reasons, for its estimated 4 minutes 38 seconds reduction in transit time over 3 hours and 10 minutes for the whole Narromine-Narrabri section – a decrease of approximately 2.5% – and for its estimated 3.3% capital cost saving on the total $1.5 billion cost of this section.
The 2-kilometres study area will, over the next 18-24 months, be whittled down to a final rail corridor of 45-60 metres wide.
The study corridor selection process was defended by the ARTC’s Inland Rail CEO, Richard Wankmuller, who said that the consultation process would continue the refinement of the planned corridor to provide landowners with the best possible outcomes from the project.
“I have sought and will continue to assure NSW Farmers and indeed all stakeholders that assumptions underpinning the study area selection were sound and the process of options assessment was rigorous, taking into account many suggestions from landowners and stakeholders,” Wankmuller said.
“As we move forward, the planning process helps ensure that we will work closely and cooperatively with all farmers and landowners to find design solutions and how famers will be able to ensure their products can be loaded onto trains with access to Inland Rail, the location of crossing loops, the ability and ease of farmers moving across the line to properties on either side of the line, and compensation arrangements for landholders.”