A more western inland rail route option must be kept on the table and investigated further, according to Federal Member for Farrer Sussan Ley.
In addressing Parliament last week after a north-east link was allocated $100 million in the proposed Federal Budget, Ms Ley echoed concerns from local residents as to whether the funded route is the best available.
The funded route passes through Albury and Wagga Wagga and then to Parkes.
Local stakeholders, including Berrigan Shire Council, believe it should have a more direct connection with food producing regions and pass through Shepparton, Tocumwal and Narrandera before going to Parkes.
Berrigan Shire general manager Rowan Perkins has previously told the Southern Riverina News this alternative route would take in an area which produces 1.2 million tonnes of freight.
He said the proposed route produces 200,000 tonnes.
Ms Ley told Parliament the inland rail route would encourage open access, providing the chance for primary producers as well as ‘‘my local manufacturers and industries to put more freight on rail.’’
‘‘The selected route, at least in my part of the world, will follow the existing line from Parkes down to Wagga through to Albury Wodonga and on to Melbourne,’’ she said.
‘‘I acknowledge there was an alternate proposal by the National Trunk Rail, which would have followed the so-called food bowl route in southern New South Wales.
‘‘This would have taken a more westerly alignment through Narrandera, crossing the Victorian border at Tocumwal on the way to Melbourne via Shepparton in the Goulburn Valley.
‘‘Of course I welcome this commitment but I do suggest that we can go further.
‘‘Food producers and council representatives from the southern food bowl route argue strongly this western option in our government’s thinking must remain alive.
‘‘We still have time to further investigate the option of fully linking the eastern and western options through southern New South Wales and northern Victoria.’’
Ms Ley questioned whether a full analysis of the selected route had been conducted, saying her constituents have little confidence in the Australian Rail Track Corporation which is in charge of the project.
She said the government must ensure all avenues have been thoroughly investigated before proceeding with its plans.
‘‘There is a crisis of confidence in the ARTC in my region and that needs to be addressed,’’ Ms Ley said.
‘‘Has full market testing and cost benefit ratio been done to ensure we are collecting every piece of available freight to export? Does the route collect the right products and does it take it directly from port to port?
‘‘In the distance of the planned feeder rail lines to the main north-south route, is the distance short enough to actually encourage taking freight off-road?
‘‘I am not sure that we have fully answered all of these questions.
‘‘The ultimate aim is for inland rail to connect regional Australia to domestic and global markets, bringing Australian rail into the 21st century and building a stronger and more competitive nation.
‘‘This is $8 billion in taxpayer funds and, as the government of the day, we owe it to everyone to make this project all that it can be.
‘‘I will continue to work closely with those who support both inland route options to ensure that is exactly the outcome we achieve.’’