Rail funding frustration reinforced

A leading transport academic has echoed bus industry frustration about dubious railway funding

Rail funding frustration reinforced
Rail funding frustration reinforced
Sean Muir | May 17, 2013

University of Sydney’s Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies (ITLS) Director David Hensher
has mirrored bus industry frustration
dubious railway funding.

Hensher praised the 2013-14 Federal Budget’s overall commitment to transport infrastructure funding, but he says the funding focus on rail infrastructure in some cases is questionable.

The Federal Government committed to spend an extra $24 billion on transport infrastructure projects across the country under the second phase of its Nation Building Program.

"One of the frustrations I have at the moment is that a lot of the announcements of Federal Government ask to invest money in building railways," Hensher says.

"Railways are extremely expensive – a lot of these things are costing two- or three-hundred-million a kilometre.

"Is that really the best way to spend the money at the moment, given that railways will hardly do anything about getting cars off the road

because they are going to be very limited investments?"

Hensher says in some cases rail is being prioritized when a dedicated Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor could be less expensive and achieve the same outcome.

"What we are seeing now is the sudden growth of emotional ideology of: ‘let’s build light rail everywhere’," Hensher says.

"We are talking about Canberra, Parramatta, in Sydney and the Gold Coast.

Hensher says despite well-documented advantages of BRT it is hard to get the transport option on state and federal government agendas.

"So it is a tough call but we are doing a lot of work at the moment, globally to try and identify what are the real barriers to buy into BRT and to get the mindset to change –

I think that is the real challenge," he says.

"When you talk off record to politicians they think it is a great idea, but then they come out with these rail announcements that are so expensive and take years to deliver."

Hensher has also questioned the overall funding feasibility of transport projects listed in the government’s Budget.

Hensher says the Budget gives infrastructure more priority than any budget before, but says alternative funding avenues need to be taken more seriously.

He says the government’s priority should be to re-index the fuel excise, which stopped being indexed for inflation in 2001.

The government partly uses fuel excise to fund national road infrastructure projects and repair roads.

"The fuel excise, which has been the major revenue raiser from this sector, is heading south, and in the next 10 years there is going to be a serious shortage even to do the things we are doing today," Hensher says.

"Even the amount of money that the feds are talking about is not much in the overall scheme of infrastructure needs and it is pretty clear to me that we have to revisit the indexation of fuel excise."

Hensher also supports major road pricing reform and better private investment incentives to reduce the government’s growing transport infrastructure burden.

"I think they should be braver by supporting some major road pricing reform," he says.

"I think we mustn’t just say let’s pick on a congestion charge. We have to reform the whole lot, which includes rethinking registration, distance-based charging and a whole range of issues."

ITLS academics, including Hensher, will attend a forum held in Sydney next week to debate the feasibility of high speed rail.

A focus of the forum, to be held May 22, will be the high speed rail network linking Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, and Melbourne.

The forum follows BusNSW’s recent
of BRT being overlooked and the bus industry snubbed in a $1.7 billion light rail network proposal for western Sydney.

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