Our Say: Regions must be engine driving Inland Rail

The Inland Rail project has been hailed as the “jewel in the crown” in the Federal Budget and welcomed across the farming, business and local government sectors.

There is excitement around the amount of money pledged for the project -- $8.4 billion -- and the potentially huge spin-offs for the Orana region. These would include opportunities for new jobs, businesses and local governments.

The praise has been wide, particularly from regional MPs who are, of course, members of the government.

One delighted federal MP is the Member for Parkes Mark Coulton, who has been lobbying for Inland Rail since he entered Parliament.

Perhaps, his efforts were recognised by the trip Federal Transport Minister Darren Chester made with him to Narromine last Friday to talk about the project – only three days after the Budget announcement.

Narromine is set for significant benefits. The longest section of works on the 1700km freight rail line will link the town to Narrabri with 307km of new track.  Narromine’s existing rail link with Parkes will also be upgraded.

The huge welcome is not surprising. The project has been on wish and promise lists for three decades.

Now it is here, the promises include 16,000 jobs at the peak of construction and the opportunity for locals in ongoing service and maintenance roles.

The region’s farmers and exporters will get the ability to move their agricultural produce more quickly to the rest of Australia and to overseas markets, particularly the prime target of Asia.

Some groups say Orana and the Central West could become a major industry hub.

Certainly, the government deserves credit for committing to the project on top of the Regional Growth Fund. Politically the move says the Coalition, and particularly the Nationals, are taking positive steps for the regions … that they haven’t forgotten the country.

The funding promise is massive. So too will be the expectations in communities along, or near, the rail line.

They have already been told they will be consulted and involved. It will be critical that promise is kept.

The government, its agencies and the private sector must ensure regional stakeholders are at the heart of Inland Rail.

We don’t want anything derailing it.