Moree Plains Shire Council will be on the front foot when the Inland Rail Network becomes a reality in the coming years after successfully securing major grant funding to undertake a comprehensive transport study.
Council is set to begin a $425,000 transport and infrastructure study to ensure the shire is ready for the increase in business and freight the Inland Rail will potentially bring when the line is upgraded in 2020.
Federal Member for Parkes Mark Coulton and Member for Northern Tablelands Adam Marshall were in Moree on Friday, November 3 to announce $300,000 in funding to go towards the study as part of the Murray Darling Basin Regional Economic Diversification Program.
Council will contribute $60,000 towards the project, making up the remainder of the $425,000 project cost with in-kind contributions in the form of staff resources and other studies they’ve already conducted.
Council’s director of planning and community development Angus Witherby said the funding will allow council to engage top level consultants to assess existing local infrastructure and determine what Moree needs to help the agribusiness sector improve competitiveness and maximise profits.
Mr Witherby said the study will consist of a number of components.
The first is building a transport model of all the roads in the shire to allow council to test the impact of different infrastructure.
“So if we seal this road or widen this bridge to adopt quads or AB triples or some of those high productivity vehicles, we can actually put that into the computer model and see the changes to the transport network and we can cost the benefits,” Mr Witherby said.
“That’s really instructive because it means when we go to the government and say we need help with infrastructure, we can demonstrate the positive economic effects.”
The second part of the study will be reviewing the shire’s entire road hierarchy to ensure the local road network can support the Inland Rail which will be the core of transport in the future.
The third aspect will be looking at what infrastructure is missing, particularly regarding access to existing and future intermodal facilities.
“The first cab off the rank is to examine infrastuacture improvements to access the intermodal facilities we’ve already got as they look to increase their output,” Mr Witherby said.
“We’re talking to local operators who want to increase their loading capacity of trains from 300 to 600 tonnes an hour.
“We need to get grain from the west of the shire across the newell highway, across the rail corridor and into our existing facilities.”
The project will also involve addressing potential sites for a fully integrated multi-modal transport, logistics and business hub.
Mr Marshall said the project will be “an absolute game-changer” for Moree and the whole of the New England North West region.
“It’s about making sure this community is best placed to leverage every bit of economic benefit and job creation for this community out of the inland rail development that’s going to come through this region,” Mr Marshall said.
“Moree Plains Shire Council have been very proactive in wanting to obtain some funding from governments - federal and state – to undertake a huge body of work which will involve developing business cases around projects that they can submit for further government funding at a commonwealth and state level, whether it’s to build intermodals so that we can containerise more of our produce here and put it on rail, whether it’s removing some freight impediments on our local road network to make it easier for people to use high mass vehicles to bring in produce, not just from Moree but from Gwydir Shire, Inverell Shire, right into here.
“When the Inland Rail comes through, Moree is going to be the hive of activity. All roads are going to lead to Moree so that we can put this region’s produce onto rail which is great because it takes the pressure off our local road network, off council’s bottoms line, it’ll create jobs in this community but also it will save millions and millions of dollars each year for farmers at the farm gate.
“It really is going to be an impressive project.”
Mr Coulton said when the Inland Rail is up and running, Moree is ideally situated to become a freight and intermodal hub.
“The Inland Rail will connect Moree with every capital city in Australia as well as the important link to the port of Brisbane which will be the closest sea port to Moree,” he said.
“It’s very exciting that Moree’s on the front foot of this.
“They need to do the study to make sure that the interconnecting roads into these freight hubs are appropriate to take the high mass vehicles so we can get the efficiency that’s needed.”
Council will be putting out expressions of interest for the project within the week and is looking to appoint head consultants by the end of the month with the aim to have the study completed by May 2018.
They hope to start applying for grants as soon as results start coming through from the study.
The Murray Darling Basin Regional Economic Diversification Program is funded by the Australian government and facilitated by the NSW government.
More to come.