Floodwaters cutting off the North West Minerals Province from Port of Townsville for weeks should act as a prompt for the Federal government to dust off plans for a rail line to Tennant Creek, says economic development specialist Ross Muir.
“It certainly raises the question – why doesn’t Queensland have a back door for its exports? The big advantage of this rail is that it would give Queensland that back door,” Mr Muir said.
A pre-feasibility study, including a high-level cost-benefit analysis, of the proposed Mount Isa to Tennant Creek railway was among the infrastructure priorities outlined in the White Paper on developing Northern Australia in 2015.
Mr Muir argues this project would be far more beneficial for national growth than the Adani rail project, which had attracted the promise of a $1 billion loan from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility before it was vetoed by the Palaszczuk Government.
The Nexidel Consulting economist was a senior adviser for the Federal Government’s Northern Australia Task Force and is a former director of the Northern Territory Government’s Growth Planning Unit.
He said the Federal Government had made some investigations into the project following on from the White Paper recommendation, but was keeping that work to itself.
“It has been holding on to it for the last two years, probably because the government doesn’t consider it a high priority,” he said.
Mr Muir said the proposed line between Mount Isa and Tennant Creek, which would be about 600km long, was likely to cost $2-$3 billion to build.
It would link with the Ghan rail line, which runs to Darwin in the north and Adelaide in the south.
With the Darwin and Townsville regions prone to cyclones and flooding, it would provide inland businesses with some insurance against one of those export routes being cut off by rail, he said
He believed it would offer advantages for Defence logistics and tourism, as well as the extensive mining, livestock and agricultural industries in the region.
The advantages include increased competition, and Mr Muir believes freight charges would go down.