As the exhibition period closes for Inland Rail's Albury to Illabo Preferred Infrastructure Report, a former Wagga mayor has spoken out about the project he fought for and believes will provide a major economic boost to the city.
During his nine years on the Wagga City Council, Greg Conkey advocated for the project to pass through the city.
Reflecting many years back, Mr Conkey said there was a time where Wagga was not guaranteed a place on the Inland Rail route.
He said an alternative route had been proposed that would pass from Melbourne to Shepparton, east of Narrandera then onto Parkes, however he fought hard to ensure it went through Wagga instead.
"I lobbied very strongly for the [other route which went]... through Albury and Wagga... through to Illabo and onto Stockinbingal and Parkes," he said.
Wagga residents are well aware that option won the vote, and while Mr Conkey believes a bypass would be great if it were possible, he said we don't live in a perfect world.
"A railway line probably shouldn't go through the middle of Wagga, but it should also bypass Albury, Culcairn and Junee," he said.
But he said this would cost "hundreds of millions of dollars" to relocate the line, and that it would just be pushing the problem onto another part of town such as Estella, Gobbagombalin and North Wagga.
"Those trains have to go somewhere, so it's going to impact people in those areas," Mr Conkey said.
He firmly believes the Inland Rail project will be a major economic boost for the city with the special activation precinct (SAP) and the Riverina Intermodal Freight Centre (RiFL) at Bomen.
Mr Conkey said the benefit of the freight centre is that it will facilitate sending freight to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
"It will play a pivotal role in transporting freight around not only this country but also into international markets," he said.
"One of the biggest expenses for people trading on the world scene is freight costs - and Inland Rail will greatly reduce those."
Mr Conkey said so far one train leaves that centre from Wagga each day, and that this would grow over time.
He said in the next 10 to 20 years, the freight centre and the SAP are expected to generate an extra 6000 jobs.
He said the 4000-hectare greenfield site at Bomen is "very attractive for large scale industries" viewed in this light.
"We're very well located and we're capitalising on our location," Mr Conkey said.
But while he remains very positive about the economic benefits of the project, Mr Conkey said something needs to be done about the level crossings at Docker Street and Fernleigh Road.
He said Wagga City Council came up with a plan "way back in the 1980s" to address the Docker Street crossing, however that came to naught.
Mr Conkey said while in local government, he placed the intersection on Wagga City Council's transport masterplan.
"We need to lobby for funding to either go underneath that crossing or over the top. That is a major issue," he said.
However he stressed it was "not an Inland Rail issue."
"It's something that needs to be looked at by the state, federal and local government," Mr Conkey said.
He said Inland Rail's brief was to double stack trains between Melbourne and Brisbane.
"You can put a double-stacked train across a level crossing without any impact whatsoever as far as the negotiation of that train is concerned - so that is why the [road and pedestrian] bridges in Wagga [are being addressed]," Mr Conkey said.
But he said with the extra trains set to travel through the city as Inland Rail travels towards completion, the level crossing issue still "needs to be addressed."
"It's no doubt one that Wagga City Council is lobbying for and other residents of this city need to lobby for," he said.
Meanwhile, former minister for infrastructure, transport and regional development infrastructure and transport, Michael McCormack said the "1600-kilometre corridor of commerce" has already delivered "massive benefits" to communities along the route.
The Riverina MP said the project is set to create some 770 construction jobs on the Illabo to Albury section alone.
"There will also be opportunities for local businesses to supply building materials and services on projects, such as replacing the crumbling Edmondson Street bridge and the ageing Cassidy and Mothers footbridges in Wagga," he said.
"Local people will be employed on replacing these bridges - jobs for our tradies."
Mr McCormack said the Inland Rail project is already delivering and saving jobs in Wagga, with Austrak at Bomen signing a $143 million contract with the ARTC last year to supply 1.3 million concrete sleepers.
"The contract supported 36 jobs and Austrak told me without this contract it would have had to shut the plant - simple as that," he said.
"We can't forget, also, the lives which will be saved by reduced road trauma when Inland Rail replaces some 200,000 truck movements and reduce carbon emissions by 750,000 tonnes a year by 2050."
Mr McCormack also noted the success of the SAP and RiFL both hinge on Inland Rail.
"Successive Wagga City Councils have lobbied for Inland Rail and around a quarter of a billion dollars have already been invested in the Bomen precinct as a result," he said.
It comes as public submissions on Inland Rail's Preferred Infrastructure Report for the Albury to Illabo section close and Mr McCormack encouraged the community to take part before it's too late.
"I urge and encourage everyone with an interest in Inland Rail to lodge their comments on the NSW Department of Environment and Planning's major projects website," he said.
During that public exhibition period, Inland Rail held public drop-in sessions at Wagga, Henty, Junee, and Albury.
An Inland Rail representative said these were "to provide information to locals about that report."
"Inland Rail staff spoke with a couple of hundred residents at the drop-in sessions, addressing individual concerns around a range of issues ranging from the number of freight trains that will use the upgraded rail to expected waiting times at level crossings and questions around increased noise," the representative said.
Once the PIR exhibition has been completed, Inland Rail will prepare a Response to Submissions Report addressing each submission made during the process to the New South Wales Department of Planning and Environment.
"That department will consider the PIR and the response to submissions in its review of the project and make a final recommendation for the minister of planning & environment's consideration," the spokesperson said.
Works along the Albury to Illabo section of the route are expected to be completed in 2027.
The public exhibition page can be found on the NSW Planning Portal Website.