Narrabri will be a busier hub when the upgrade and construction of the Narrabri to North Star section of the Inland Rail project gets underway.

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The section, which will cross Narrabri, Moree and Gwydir shires, will comprise the reconstruction of about 188km of track within the existing rail corridor and construction of 1.6 km of new rail corridor.

It is anticipated that companies engaged in the track work will establish a presence in Narrabri, employ local people and buy local goods and services.

Narrabri Chamber of Commerce president Russell Stewart told The Courier the Chamber was keen to liaise with businesses interested in being part of the rail project and with constructors.

The Chamber recently convened a gathering of local business representatives, contractors and other service providers to meet representatives of Martinus Rail and Gamuda Engineering Australia, which have expressed interest in bidding for the construction and upgrade work.

Gamuda, a leading Malaysian-based engineering company, recently bought a 50 percent stake in Martinus Rail, the largest independent, privately owned specialist rail constructor in Australia.

“We initiated the meeting to introduce local industries, suppliers and contractors to Martinus Rail and Gamuda prior to them lodging their Expression of Interest in the rail work” said Chamber president Russell Stewart.

“We wanted to facilitate the inclusion of Narrabri-based suppliers prior to their EOI.

“We had an outstanding meeting” Mr Stewart said.

“When we left the meeting we felt comfortable with Martinus Rail and Gamuda, they showed interest and empathy for what’s happening in our region and we were highly impressed that they would come to us and see what we have got locally prior to lodging their EOI.

“We had everyone from tradesmen, contractors in a range of services, heavy vehicle suppliers, truck operators at the meeting – we had a full cross section.”

The Martinus Rail-Gamuda representatives undertook a comprehensive tour of the Narrabri area, met the mayor Cathy Redding and senior council staff and presented to the council.

“We are looking at the Narrabri to North Star section among a number of opportunities which could include Narromine to Narrabri and North Star to the Queensland border” said Martinus Rail Pre Contracts Manager Toby Briggs.

“But Narrabri to North Star is the focus at the moment.

“We were on a fact finding mission, to establish what the local market has in capability and what capacity there is to ‘cross pollinate’ and upskill, what gaps we need to fill, what business opportunities there are for locals.

“We met with a young industry group in Narrabri whose members were keen to become involved.

“We were overwhelmed with the level of interest” Mr Briggs said.

“People were excited to hear about the project.

“We were able to explain more about the levels of capability and competencies which would be needed and people were very interested in that information.

“If our bid is successful we want to engage locals as much as we possibly can, provide local jobs which provides immediate employment but also leaves a legacy in terms of upskilling. Employing locally is a more cost effective solution for us to bid and for ARTC which is funding the work.

“We will be there for two years if we are successful in our tender,” Mr Briggs said.

Martenus Rail and Gamuda would aim to mesh with the community.

“We have undertaken a lot of local work on projects in the past and will want to make sure we are integrating into the community, playing sport and going to the same clubs, cafes and shops as locals, and not intruding.”

Mr Briggs said Martinus Rail-Gamuda personnel would continue their engagement with the community.

“What we are looking for now is to see if there is anything in the community which we didn’t get exposure to, perhaps people who were working and didn’t get to meet us.

“We want to come back to Narrabri when the EOI is out, run further sessions and answer questions and explain further what we are looking for.”

A call for Expressions of Interest will come out soon, proponents will put their offers forward, several will be short listed, probably by the end of the year, with the tender possibly awarded by mid 2020.