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Another green light for inland rail link

A $10 billion inland freight rail link between Melbourne and Brisbane has been given another green light to proceed by the federal government.

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A delivery plan, presented to the government by an implementation group headed by former deputy prime minister John Anderson, outlines a 10-year construction timeframe to complete the 1700km project.

“The time has now come to build this,” Mr Anderson told reporters in Canberra, describing it as a flagship infrastructure project for Australia.

The plan indicates the link will generate economic benefits of around $22.5 billion.

The government already has committed $300 million to get pre-construction activities underway, including detailed corridor planning, environmental assessments and priority land acquisitions.

The “Steel Mississippi” will complement existing road and rail networks through Victoria, southern and central western NSW and SE Queensland and connect with the rail freight line from Western Australia at Parkes in NSW.

Initially, it will provide for 1800 metre long trains carrying containers stacked two high and, in the longer term, much heavier 3600 metre long trains.

The new freight line will reduce transit time between Melbourne and Brisbane to less than a day.

It will remove 200,000 trucks, or 5.4 billion net tonne kilometres of freight, from roads each year.

Infrastructure Minister Warren Truss said once the rail link was constructed it would take 500km off the distance between Perth and Brisbane.

“It will take hundreds of trains out of the central city areas of Sydney,” he said.

The government intends to take the delivery plan to Infrastructure Australia for a review.

It would also move towards identifying appropriate ways to finance the proposal and to bring it to fruition, Mr Truss said.

Farmers are backing the link, saying it will connect the nation’s three largest agricultural states which generate $34 billion worth of farm output annually.

“With the right infrastructure, we can have produce from Australian farms to the plate of Asian consumers on the very same day,” National Farmers Federation president Brent Finlay said.

“At a time when the national economy is plagued by fragility, inland rail is just what we need to invigorate confidence, particularly in agriculture.”

The Greens have welcomed the government’s enthusiasm for the project, but questioned why the process was taking so long.

“The government must stop dilly-dallying,” transport and infrastructure spokeswoman Janet Rice said.

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