Editorial: we need to get behind the Isa to Tennant Creek railway

The 2015 White Paper on Developing Northern Australia supports a feasibility study into the Mount Isa-Tennant Creek rail line.
The 2015 White Paper on Developing Northern Australia supports a feasibility study into the Mount Isa-Tennant Creek rail line.

There was a very persuasive opinion piece in Wednesday’s The Australian (see story page 8) where Ross Muir calls for governments to get behind the proposed Mount Isa to Tennant Creek rail line.

Mr Muir outlined the benefits but was also realistic enough to explain why it has not got up so far including the vested interests of those who fear that Townsville will lose out, the lack of a cost benefit analysis and the lower priority for Northern Australia funding compared to Adani.

The 2015 White Paper on Developing Northern Australia gave $5 million for a pre-feasibility study, including a high level cost benefit analysis, of the proposed Mount Isa to Tennant Creek railway, though it admitted the railway might not be needed until 2031.

The goal is “to transport minerals and agricultural products from the gulf country to Darwin, cutting shipping time and costs compared with hauling out to east coast ports.”

But there are issues inherited from Federation of a lack of standardisation of railway gauge that will increase the cost and also another issue alluded to by NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner when he addressed his parliament on the topic last year.

“We should not build a line between Tennant and Mount Isa; we should build a railway line between Tennant Creek and Cloncurry,” Mr Gunner said at the time.

“It shows that you get better efficiencies by going to Cloncurry, which is just a bit past Mount Isa.”

Mr Gunner was referring to another accident of history, which was when they were extending the line west of Cloncurry, that the big ore finds at Duchess demanded a long diversion south before heading back up north to Mount Isa.

It’s the reason why the train from Mount Isa to Cloncurry takes a ridiculous five hours which I can drive the distance in an hour and a quarter.

So I would certainly support the Tennant Creek line continuing on and finding a quick way to Cloncurry. 

This will benefit not just the Northern Territory but also the Queensland coast.

But even if Townsville does not support the line, it should go ahead anyway. It’s too important for regional squabbling – Derek Barry