Fears Nambour’s fast rail dream has become ghost train

Nambour's fast rail dreams might've already run out of steam, with fears the former economic hub of the Coast has been left off high-speed rail plans.

Mapping published in September as part of the SEQ Council of Mayors' push for a connected fast rail network in southeast Queensland showed Nambour left off the proposed fast rail corridor.

Adding further concern is the inability of North Coast Connect representatives to confirm whether Nambour was even included in the group's fast rail proposal which is currently at a business case assessment stage with Infrastructure Australia.

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North Coast Connect was first floated in 2018 as a fast rail project set to slash travel times to 45 minutes from the Sunshine Coast to Brisbane.

VISION: A map of a possible future fast rail network in the southeast.
VISION: A map of a possible future fast rail network in the southeast.

The project was being driven by a corporate consortium of Stockland, KPMG, Urbis and Smec, and backed by a group of Queensland MPs including Member for Fairfax Ted O'Brien.

It was initially pitched as a plan to deliver fast rail services to Nambour and Maroochydore to Brisbane, with a connection to Nambour in five years and Maroochydore in 10 years.

It was envisaged a possible 2032 Olympic bid could fast-track federal and state investment in the project, which was seen as a critical element of the SEQ Council of Mayors' vision for a fast rail-connected southeast, with links from Brisbane to the Sunshine Coast, Gold Coast and Toowoomba.

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The council of mayors pitched their vision, ConnectedSEQ, with two pricing options, $16.9 billion for a 60-minute region and $28.8 billion for a 45-minute region model.

The State Government had already contributed to a fast rail business case currently with Infratructure Australia for high speed services between Nambour and Brisbane, with a spur line to Maroochydore.

But it was understood the numbers were not stacking up to justify a fast train to Nambour, and the omission from recent mapping, which showed a fast rail link diverting at Beerwah and running from Caloundra to Maroochydore, was cause for concern for long-time rail advocate Jeff Addison.

Fairfax MP Ted O'Brien and rail advocate Jeff Addison, right, back in 2018.
Fairfax MP Ted O'Brien and rail advocate Jeff Addison, right, back in 2018.

Mr Addison said he understood why the large population centres would be serviced, but he was disappointed if what had initially been touted as a fast rail service to Nambour would now ignore the former mill town.

"There's a lot of disadvantage heading Nambour's way," Mr Addison said.

He said in "20-50 years" Nambour would be in the centre of the Coast's major population hubs, and it needed improved rail services for freight and passenger needs.

A North Coast Connect group spokeswoman was unable to confirm if Nambour was being considered by Infrastructure Australia as part of the proposal, or if it had been removed, or only included as an option.

"The business case is subject to a rigorous and independent assessment by Infrastructure Australia and at this stage we cannot comment further while this process is under way," the spokeswoman said.

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The spokeswoman had earlier pointed out the North Coast Connect business case had been prepared "independent of the ConnectedSEQ plans" which had been prepared by the Council of Mayors, and it "therefore is not a matter we can comment on".

Currie Street, Mill Lane and Nambour Civic Centre from above.
Currie Street, Mill Lane and Nambour Civic Centre from above.

The North Coast Connect business case was accepted for Infrastructure Australia evaluation in mid-August.

"Why can't they confirm it (Nambour is still included in the proposal)," Mr Addison said.

He questioned the impartiality of the business case if Nambour had been overlooked, given Stockland was involved in the consortium, and had a "clearly vested interest" in ensuring its major residential development at Caloundra South was serviced by fast rail.

Fairfax MP Ted O'Brien said the business case was currently before Infrastructure Australia and he understood it had been presented to the assessment body with options including Nambour.

Meanwhile early works were set to begin on the $550 million Beerburrum to Nambour rail duplication upgrade project next year, with first-stage tenders being assessed by the State Government in September.

Last week the Council of Mayors said their fast rail network plans were on track, after pre-election commitments from Labor, LNP and the Greens to commit to further exploration of the project, although questions still surrounded the ALP's intention regarding the western corridor.