Thursday, June 20, 2024

Wagga council voices Inland Rail EIS concerns

Wagga Wagga City Council will make a submission on the Albury to Illabo Inland Rail (A21) section Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which it says raises “several fundamental problems with the accuracy and completeness of the assessment”.

On Monday night, Councillors endorsed the submission based on the findings of a critical review by Council staff of the EIS prepared by the Australian Rail Track Corporation Limited (ARTC), and an analysis of potential Inland Rail impacts.

Inland Rail is a nationally significant project with the strategic ability to link producers, farmers and businesses to national and global markets.

Acting Mayor of the City of Wagga Wagga, Councillor Jenny McKinnon said while Council supports the proposed Albury to Illabo project, it is important to ensure the best interests of the community of Wagga Wagga are represented.

“Council believes it is essential to correctly assess and address all impacts of Inland Rail – both instantaneous and developing – at this stage of the project, as there is no recourse for additional expenditure once it has been completed,” Cr McKinnon said.

“Our review of the EIS has revealed several fundamental problems with the accuracy and completeness of the assessment, identifying several areas where the impacts of construction and operation have not been adequately assessed or addressed.

Cars lined up at level crossing with lights flashing

“The impacts of Inland Rail, mainly operational, have the potential to trigger significant adverse impacts on the community of Wagga Wagga, local businesses and services.”

Among the key issues Council identified in the review:

  • Under Inland Rail’s approach in its study, only locations where construction works are necessary to allow the passage of double-stacked container trains have been considered in the Environmental Impact Statement. They have not considered the full length of the existing alignment as part of the planned rail operations.
  • Conflicting positions and views in the alignment of the project scope between ARTC and NSW Government departments, and a lack of consultation with Council, has caused the use of inaccurate data, incorrect conclusions, and an incomplete EIS, resulting in a risk to the efficient functioning of the city.
  • Only limited empirical data has been gathered for the A2I corridor throughout the assessments. Data related to train speeds and traffic counts is inaccurate, making conclusions regarding wait times and queueing at level crossings false and misleading in terms of magnitude and effect.
  • It appears little to no consideration has been given towards mitigating future issues identified in the EIS which are not directly within the scope of Inland Rail. These ‘pain-points’, especially those related to on-grade crossings, are highly likely to occur in the future and have not been addressed.
  • No alternative routes for the Albury to Illabo section have been evaluated or included in this study.
  • The EIS admits there are challenges in determining the accuracy of qualitative comparisons for impact assessment. Despite this, no empirical studies were undertaken along the A2I corridor.

“The conclusion of the review is that the project, in its current form, holds fundamental risks toward the community and the city of Wagga Wagga, that are either not identified, incorrectly assessed, or not addressed in this study,” Cr McKinnon said.

“The incomplete and inaccurate EIS, combined with the large number of rail interfaces affected by the Albury to Illabo section scope, threatens to leave a legacy of adverse environmental impacts through the heart of our city.”

The endorsed submission will now be lodged with the Department of Planning and Environment and the Minister for Planning for consideration.

Download and read the full submission here.

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