Joh's big plan for range rail tunnel
UPDATE: RETIRED railway expert Syd Volker has waited almost 30 years for the Toowoomba Range rail tunnel to become more than just an election promise.
It came within a hair's-breadth of being realised in 1984 when former premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen had the range drill tested, planning to build a tunnel for a fast passenger train through to Brisbane.
Coal freight was a speck on the horizon and roads were relatively empty, yet the premier had his heart set on the project.
Mr Volker, a long-time friend, has the test data to prove it.
"He alerted me in 1998 that it had all been drilled, but not many people knew about it," he said.
"It was to test what sort of material there was and to see if it could be tunnelled, which it could.
"He gave me the data in 1998 but nothing had been done about it."
The conversation took place during a car trip to Mt Kynoch when Mr Bjelke-Petersen was 87 and no longer driving.
Mr Volker, who knew the politician when we was on the college council of his school St Peter's College in Brisbane, was in the driving seat.
"He told me to pull over and showed me where he'd drilled.
"At that time, Joh told me nothing would happen until what he called the 'socialist government' in Brisbane was out of power.
"When that changed, I spoke to (Federal Member for Toowoomba North) Trevor Watts and he was all for it.
"Now it looks like it might finally happen."
More mayors back $2.2b rail tunnel
Pressure is mounting on both sides of government to deliver a $2.2 billion rail tunnel through the Toowoomba Range.
Goondiwindi Regional Council Mayor Graeme Scheu has thrown his support behind the project which would link Brisbane to Melbourne via the Charlton Wellcamp Enterprise Estate.
He said it was long overdue.
For too long, farmers in his region have had to rely on the benevolence of the weather gods to get their harvested crops to the Port of Brisbane.
Only dumb luck saved farmers from a huge headache this year.
"It was going to be a horrible problem for farmers if we got even two inches of rain about three weeks ago," Mr Scheu said.
"I don't know how we would have moved the grain out - it has to get to Brisbane to get out to the export market.
"One of these real bumper years is not far away.
"If there was a reliable source of delivery, there are a lot more areas that could be consistently farmed."
Western Downs Regional Council Mayor Ray Brown said he was wholly behind the construction of the co-ordinated freight corridor to further develop operations on the booming Surat Basin.
The exact route is still being mapped out, but Mr Scheu believed it would run through Yelarbon within the Goondiwindi Regional Council borders.
"What astounds me most is the timeframe," he said.
"From Melbourne to Parkes (NSW), the infrastructure is virtually completed.
"The reality of the top end being built is getting closer and closer."
If everyone is behind it... why not?
State and Federal members all acknowledged the need for rail infrastructure in their maiden speeches to parliament.
Member for Toowoomba South John McVeigh (2012):
"It would be just a little embarrassing to have to share with (great-grandfather Patrick McVeigh) that the Toowoomba rail line is much the same now as he saw it being built almost 150 years ago."
Member for Toowoomba North Trevor Watts (2012):
"I dream of a time of fast commuter trains and double-stacked container trains heading down the range.
"I dream of an airport that can land commercial jets, an inland port at Charlton Wellcamp and a public transport service to be proud of."
Federal Member for Groom Ian Macfarlane (1998):
"As if Toowoomba and western Queensland are not disadvantaged enough by a poor-cousin highway, this situation is exaggerated by an outdated rail crossing, in which locomotives crawl up and down the range at a snail's pace, traversing in two hours what a motorist can travel in 10 minutes."
Rail link possible in four years:
REALISING a $2.2 billion plan to build a railway tunnel through the Toowoomba Range could come sooner than expected - and so could an interstate freight line linking Brisbane to Melbourne.
The head of the Australasian Railway Association today told Mayor Paul Antonio the entire project could be completed within four years.
CEO Brian Nye said it was a matter of when, not if, the western freight corridor would finally become a reality.
The real thorn in the project's side has become the Toowoomba Range.
Mr Nye said the entire project would cost $4.5 billion to complete, including a $2.2 billion outlay for the range tunnel.
"The land for the corridor between Melbourne and Parkes (NSW) has already been bought," he said.
"The only real challenge and impediment is getting the tunnel through the Toowoomba Range.
"When you consider how much has been invested in things like the National Broadband Network (estimated $37.4 billion) and other projects and stack them up against the impact this will have, $2.2 billion is not a huge cost."
The Charlton Wellcamp Enterprise Estate would be a major point along the link, taking growing freight demands off the roads and out of the city.
If the tunnel is completed, it also opens up the opportunity to reinvigorate passenger travel.
Mr Nye has been visiting all councils along the route from Melbourne to Brisbane in an effort to get everyone on the same page.
Once consensus is reached, he said the rail industry would have a bargaining chip the Federal Government could not ignore.
A business case for the project is set for review between 2015 and 2020.
Mr Nye is pushing for it to be reviewed by 2013.
He said Queensland was dragging the chain when it came to rail - 88 per cent of freight between Melbourne and Perth goes by rail compared with only 5% between Sydney and Brisbane.
"By 2015 the amount of freight is going to double," Mr Nye said.
"Either we optimise our rail network or it will all go by road."
Mayor pushes for rail link
THE emergent Charlton Wellcamp Enterprise Estate forms the backbone of an effort to thrust Australia into a new golden age of rail.
There is no doubt the industry is wounded - decades of neglect and an ever-mounting reliance on road freight have seen to that.
But Mayor Paul Antonio is adamant the condition is not terminal.
He believes a clear vision that transcends Federal, State and Local Governmental frontiers could drive the country towards a railway renaissance.
Cr Antonio will meet in Millmerran on Wednesday with Goondiwindi Regional Council Mayor Graeme Scheu and Australasian Railway Association CEO Bryan Nye to do some "serious planning" about re-linking the disjointed rail line.
His dream would connect freight from the Port of Brisbane to Melbourne via the Charlton Wellcamp estate, bypassing the Toowoomba city, while boosting passenger transport "down the hill".
He is not the first person to talk about revitalising the industry, nor will he be the last.
But he wants to get the ball rolling.
"If we're going to use the capacity of the Port of Brisbane - which is severely underused at the moment - clearly we need a better rail link," he said.
"It would take some courage, but it needs to happen.
"There is already a growing grocery trade between Melbourne and Brisbane.
"If this were in place it would be a continuous 24-hour trip."
Show me the money
As our threadbare roadways worsen daily and successive governments continue to sit on their hands, Cr Antonio says there is only one way forward - private sector backing coupled with superannuation investment.
"In Toowoomba, even now, we're seeing private investment for building an airport - that money is sitting there ready to go," Cr Antonio said.
"On my recent (Council of Mayors SEQ) trip to Canberra, there was noise coming from both sides of government about relying on the private sector becoming seriously involved with building the infrastructure of the country.
"I'm sure it could make a lot of things happen.
"Australia needs this and and it needs it now."
The push for new rail links is by no means a stand-alone issue - the advent of a jet-capable airport in Toowoomba and the often-promised but never-delivered Toowoomba Bypass would go hand-in-hand.
Nor is Toowoomba alone in its bid to become the nucleus of the coveted freight line.
Cr Antonio said Southern Downs Regional Council had its heart set on taking that role.
The race is on, but the runners are still at the starting line.
"There is some talk it might be better to totally bypass Toowoomba and go through Warwick," he said.
"Toowoomba is the obvious choice that will work and will work well.
"I would suggest we are well-ahead of Warwick in terms of where we are today.
"I'm not sure how serious the competition is, but we would be happy to take it on."
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