Mixed reaction to Albo's bullet train 'game changer'

ARA backs high speed rail network, but ALC says government must focus on existing infrastructure bottlenecks

Mixed reaction to Albo's bullet train 'game changer'
Mixed reaction to Albo’s bullet train 'game changer'
August 4, 2011

The rail lobby is urging the Federal Government to forge ahead with a high speed rail network, but the Australian Logistics Council says focus needs to be on addressing existing infrastructure constraints.

Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Anthony Albanese today released the first stage of the high speed rail implementation study, which proposes to build a network connecting Brisbane to Melbourne via Sydney and a range of regional centres.

Trains will have the ability to travel up to 350km/h, allowing people to travel between Sydney and Brisbane within three hours or from Sydney to Newcastle within 40 minutes.

Albanese says high speed rail "could be a game changer" by providing an attractive alternative to flying, easing road congestion, reducing carbon pollution and better integrating regional and metropolitan communities.

"This is a monumental announcement. After decades of debate, high speed rail must happen in Australia," Australasian Railway Association (ARA) CEO Bryan Nye says.

"The challenge for the government now is to make high speed rail a reality. It must happen today, not tomorrow. High speed rail cannot be put into the too-hard basket again."

The implementation study says a rail network spanning 1,600km of new standard-gauge double track will cost between $61 billion and $108 billion and has the potential to take 128 cars off the road with each trip.

"When you consider that $293 billion has been invested in our roads since 1985, $100 billion to link the east coast through a high speed rail network seems insignificant," Nye says.

"A high speed rail network will dynamically change the way we live, where we work and how we travel. This is an exciting future."

While welcoming the release of the study, ALC CEO Michael Kilgariff says the government needs to remember there are already infrastructure bottlenecks restricting economic activity.

"Our support for the project is tempered by the fact that serious bottlenecks are occurring right now on the east coast which is hampering the ability of the freight transport and logistics industry to meet rising levels of demand," he says.

"These bottlenecks occur most notably between Newcastle and Sydney, where passenger transport takes precedence over freight."

Kilgariff wants an assurance that attention and necessary levels of funding will be directed toward upgrades in and around what he says is a critical transport link.

Citing an anticipated doubling of the freight task by 2030 and a tripling by 2050, Kilgariff says the current approach to infrastructure on the eastern seaboard "is simply not an option".

The ALC is anticipating the release of the second phase of the high speed rail study to examine route alignment, financing options and the feasibility of the project.

"The next steps in this process will prove critical and will dictate if and when we see this project come to fruition," Kilgariff says.

"ALC strongly believes nationally significant infrastructure should be judged on the importance of the infrastructure to the national economy. In that regard, we look forward to a comprehensive cost benefit analysis assessed against economic criteria to thoroughly assess whether this preferred option represents value for money."

Based on the predicted price tag of the project, Kilgariff says significant private sector investment will be required to ensure high speed rail is not a drain on government finances.

Bullet trains are a common feature in parts of Europe and Asia. Albanese says the trains operating between Madrid and Seville in Spain carry more people between the cities than car or plane combined.

"In the birthplace of this technology, the Japanese are building a line from Tokyo to Osaka which will deliver speeds of 500km/h," he says.

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