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Expert panel to second-guess the $10b Inland Rail project

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A panel has been appointed to review the flood modelling for the chosen route for the $10 billion Inland Rail project as consultants conduct further economic analysis.

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In a joint statement today, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack and Queensland Transport Minister Mark Bailey announced the five-member expert panel to review flood models and hydraulic designs where Inland Rail is slotted to cross floodplains in Queensland.

The process will be independent of the Australian Rail Track Corporation, which has carriage of the project, although the statement acknowledged a previous review had found the ARTC’S flood modelling to be fit for purpose. The panel will not review the chosen route, despite lobbying from concerned landholders and members of the Liberal National Party, although McCormack had previously asked the ARTC to consider an alternative in southern Queensland.

“The rigorous approvals process put in place by the Australian and Queensland Governments means that before a sod is turned the project has undergone robust and transparent analysis, including independent community feedback and multiple layers of expert peer review,” McCormack and Bailey said in the joint statement.

The panel members are Mark Babister, Tina O’Connell, Ferdinand Diermanse, Steve Clark and Martin Giles.

Their appointment comes after a long-running debate over local flood concerns and as McCormack’s department awaits a $40,000 economic analysis of the project, only months after releasing a previous report on the potential economic benefits. It is not clear why Ernst and Young was re-engaged for the analysis.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently announced Inland Rail was one of the projects chosen for fast-tracking through his government “targeting a 50 per cent reduction in Commonwealth assessment and approval times for major projects”. It is not clear how that will impact on Inland Rail timeframes.

Attempts by InQueensland to clarify the situation with either government, including the reason behind the economic analysis, have been unsuccessful. The status of the proposed alternative route is also unclear.

The 1700km Inland Rail project, stretching from Victoria to Queensland, involves more than a dozen separate works, including a 6km tunnel through the Toowoomba Range.

However, it is the proposed section from the NSW-Queensland border to Gowrie, across the Condamine flood plain, that has attracted the most attention. Construction was due to begin on that stretch next year.

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