A PROPOSED two-way railway line from Moree to Yamba could ease the bottleneck experienced by coal exporters in north-west NSW, its proponents say.
Preliminary plans are afoot to build a two-way double-height railway line from Moree to Goodwood Island to speed the export of coal from the Gunnedah coal basin and overcome the congestion in the state's two major coal ports - Port Kembla and Newcastle.
According to one proponent, Inverell Shire councillor and civil engineer David Jones, it would require a 12m deep channel to be dredged from the river mouth at Yamba to a fully redeveloped Goodwood Island about 5km upriver.
The channel is around 4m deep at low tide.
The total cost of the ambitious project is estimated at $6 billion.
Though the proposal is in its infancy and has been touted and dismissed in the past, funding ($1-$2 million) is being sought by the northern inland committee of Regional Development Australia (RDA, NINSW) to complete a feasibility study on the idea.
It is being championed by RDA, NINSW chairman Mal Peters, who is also the head of the newly established Regional Institute, a former NSW Farmers president and mayor of Inverell.
The Examiner could not contact Mr Peters on Monday but he was quoted in The Inverell Times in September calling for the 486km rail route to be established to help coal producers and grain farmers.
"We need a bold and innovative plan to break the troika of buggered roads, clogged ports and uncompetitive freight prices and perhaps an inland railway from Northern NSW to a Clarence port might just do the trick," Mr Peters said.
"The proposal would be to build a dual line capable of managing double-stacked trains for maximum efficiency.
"One of Australia's biggest private grain exporters told me on a trip to Sydney a few months ago he was finding it hard to compete with Canada as our freight costs have become uncompetitive, so urgent action is needed on that front but the current discussions are around sending them north into another saturated freight line system into Brisbane or all the way to Gladstone in Queensland," Mr Peters said.
Mr Jones said he worked on a feasibility study on the same route in 1980 but the plan was not supported by the Clarence community and "in 1980 there was no coal".
A map of the proposed route drawn by Mr Jones can be downloaded from The Examiner's website: dailyexaminer.com.au/story /2012/03/05/plans-railway-are-track/.
He said the steepest incline of the route was an easy 1 in 100 grade and the route passed through only 2km of non-sensitive National Park at Dalmorton.
He said he preferred the Clarence rail option - which crosses the Pacific Hwy near the Wooli turnoff and cuts through the Pillar Valley - because, unlike the Coffs
Harbour option it avoided major population centres.
"The port of Newcastle is crowded, even Nathan Tinkler has been denied access for some of his coal," he said. "When you look between Brisbane and Newcastle there's not too many places to put a port."
Clarence Valley Mayor Richie Williamson was succinct in his opposition to the proposal.
"In the words of Darryl Kerrigan (in The Castle), 'tell 'em they're dreaming' - it's not going to happen," he said.
Referring to the plan and other dubious ideas of diverting the Clarence inland, Mr Williamson said: "They probably want to fill the carriages up with water and take them back."
The Examiner was contacted last week by Ashgrove (northwest of Glen Innes) hotelier Wallace Dedula who feared good money was going to be spent on a "ridiculous pipedream".
"I could do a feasibility study in 10 seconds and realise it ain't going to happen," he said.
Instead, Regional Infrastructure should be using a fraction of the billions it plans on the project to patch together existing rail infrastructure and hook into the Queensland railway system.
A pre-feasibility study document by the RDA, NINSW said the Gunnedah Basin's coal reserves were estimated at 1290 million tonnes or 12% of NSW's total coal reserves.
The document, which acknowledges nearly a century of debate about a coastal rail route to Yamba, says previous studies had found the concept unviable because they primarily looked at transporting agricultural exports and not mining.
The document also acknowledges what is understood to be one of the major impediments to the development of Yamba as a deep channel port.
"As the Yamba Bar is of Aboriginal Heritage significance, dredging to the required depth necessary (a minimum of 12m for Panamax vessels and possibly as deep as 16m for Capesize vessels) for coal ships may pose a problem," it says.
A native land title claim on the Dirrangun reef site at the river mouth by the Yaegl people means the scope for large-scale commercial ship expansion in the Port of Yamba is limited.
The Examiner tried contacting Aboriginal groups on Monday but did not hear back by print time.