'Time has come' for inland rail

Rudd Government told to back Melbourne to Brisbane inland rail project even if it is not commercially viable

The Rudd Government is being told to back a Melbourne to Brisbane inland rail project even if it is not commercially viable.

Responding to a report released by the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), opposition spokesman on transport Warren Truss says money should not be the sole factor in determining the future of inland rail.

The ARTC estimates it will cost between $2.8 billion and $3.6 billion to build a Melbourne to Brisbane line, which is not expected to generate an immediate return.

Truss says the system needs government support to flourish, adding that the proposed 1890km line will have wide-ranging benefits.

"This is a project whose time has come. A rail development of this scope will revitalise regional communities and business in three states and be a boon to our exporting performance," Truss says.

"Suggestions that the project should not proceed because it is not viable as a stand-alone commercial entity are ludicrous."

The ARTC says the inland rail should follow existing rail lines from Melbourne via Albury to other rural areas in NSW including Cootamundra, Parkes, Dubbo and Goondiwindi.

If funded, the project will build a new rail line from North Star to Brisbane via Toowoomba. The ARTC says the railway north of Parkes will also need to be upgraded, with minor deviations also constructed to improve alignment.

Truss says the route is less direct than the one preferred by the Coalition, leading him to accuse the ARTC of being "short-sighted".

Truss says travel time must be kept to less than 24 hours to ensure rail can compete with road freight.

The ARTC’s report is the first stage of a three-part process, which will look at the preferred route, engineering, environmental and land analysis and the development of a preferred alignment.

"The first stage of the study has been focused on preliminary evaluations of likely demand, capital costs and operating costs to determine a route for further detailed analysis," the ARTC says.

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