Inland Rail steams ahead with boost to Parkes businesses and first section to open mid-2020

The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) is powering ahead with the first 103.7km section of the Inland Rail between Parkes and Narromine set to open in mid-2020.

Local employment and economic activity has hit a peak, bringing a welcome boost across our drought-affected communities.

ARTC reports more than 1580 people have worked on the Parkes to Narromine Inland Rail project, including 632 local residents and 163 local indigenous residents.

More than 90 businesses are offering locally-sourced materials and services to the project, including cement, rail sleepers, fencing, cranes, machinery and geotechnical advice.

And more than $67 million has been injected into the economy for goods, ranging from takeaway coffee, comfy cabins, personal protective equipment and even gym memberships - including $8.6 million spent on Indigenous businesses.

It's all been a massive boost to Parkes' accommodation sector as well.

With Inland Rail construction peaking, Astro Dish Motor Inn owner John Pizarro and manager Donald Chisholm have had the 'no vacancy' sign up most weeks.

"The flow-on benefits from Inland Rail activities have substantially influenced the town's local economy," John said.

"There's been more employment opportunities and a substantial increase in demand for worker accommodation."

When Leighton Davies and his wife Pauline bought the Peak Hill Caravan Park in 2004, they saw great potential in Peak Hill.

Located along a key tourist route, they expanded the caravan park, doubling the number of cabins, which have been full nearly every night of late and caravans are lined up across the park.

"Tourists are our bread and butter, but the rail line, mines and roadworks are the icing on the cake," Leighton said.

Meanwhile Hotel Gracelands in Bushman Street has become a home away from home for people working on the Inland Rail, thanks to the hospitality of Allison Hattenfels and her staff.

Since the start of construction of the Parkes and Narromine section, the hotel has adapted to making the most of the increased business by catering to different cultures and backgrounds.

It has been a learning opportunity for the staff from an accounting perspective too, who are increasingly working with charge-back systems and third-party travel providers, rather than just cash transactions and direct bookings.

While the hotel is popular, especially during the famous Parkes Elvis Festival each January, Allison said about 80 per cent of current business comes from people associated with Inland Rail.

Allison's advice to other businesses along the Inland Rail alignment is "to embrace it".

She encourages entrepreneurs to be ready before the project comes to town, so that businesses can make the most of it as soon as possible.

Regular customers, such as Inland Rail workers, have become "like family" to Allison, and the connections forged between regulars and staff have boosted morale.

For ARTC Inland Rail CEO Richard Wankmuller, the benefits of Inland Rail will be felt far beyond the route alignment as more businesses come on board to build and support workers of such an essential link in the national supply chain.

"From the outset, Inland Rail has focused on creating opportunities for regional workforces and we are also engaging with businesses right across Australia to fill the contracts needed to build it," he said.

"Inland Rail is a catalyst for safer, less congested highways, fewer carbon emissions, cheaper freight costs and we're excited by the new economic opportunities it will open up for our regions."