Albanese calls for debate on high-speed rail link


Albanese calls for debate on high-speed rail link

By chief political correspondent Emma Griffiths, ABCUpdated April 11, 2013, 2:19 pm



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The Federal Transport Minister says if a $114 billion high-speed railway line along the east coast is to happen, states and territories need to start reserving land now.

Anthony Albanese has released a final report into high-speed rail which proposes a 1,748-kilometre link connecting Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne.

The Government is stressing it could not be built “tomorrow”, pointing to the estimated cost of $114 billion and a completion date of 2053 at the earliest.

Much of the cost, which is to be borne by federal and state and territory governments, would go towards building tunnels in the major centres.

Mr Albanese says it is up to state and territory ministers to start protecting the land so the line could become a reality.

“I don’t want to verbal state and territory ministers… but clearly the report envisages if it’s going to happen, that work has to begin now – in terms of once the report is considered by state and territory governments,” he said.

“Unless the route is protected now, the growth of cities and towns along the preferred corridor will make the project harder and more expensive in the future.

“So I believe route protection is absolutely vital.”

Under the plan, a trip between Canberra and Sydney would take just over an hour instead of the current three-hour rail journey.

If it was fully operational by 2065, as the report suggests, the estimated patronage is 83.6 million passengers a year.

Access to Sydney’s CBD would be the most challenging element, requiring 67 kilometres of tunnelling in and out of the city.

Mr Albanese says tunnelling was found to be the only viable option.

“It’s certainly a cracker of a tunnel – there’s no doubt about that,” he said.

“It’s difficult to see frankly, realistically, how you could have a corridor through a city that has developed as Sydney has, in a non-planned way – I mean Sydney is not Canberra.”

‘Challenges are harder’

Mr Albanese released the report saying the Government “hasn’t gilded the lily” and has pointed to the difficulties of building high-speed rail here compared to other countries.

“The challenges in Australia are more difficult than in countries which are talking about smaller routes with higher densities of populations,” he said.

“We’re not Japan; we’re not Europe. The challenges are harder, but nonetheless also the opportunities are there.”

The Minister says he believes “high-speed rail will happen in Australia” but the plan outlined is neither the Government’s position nor Labor Party policy.

He says the cost is substantial but would produce economic benefits.

“A return of around $2.30 on every $1 invested. This is a reasonable return,” he said.

Mr Albanese says he is proud the Government has had the “vision” to commission the report and has released it “without a political finesse”.

“There was no political interference in this report; it is what it is – out there for community debate to occur,” he said.

The Government has released the report for community consultation until June 30.

After that it is unclear what will happen, especially given the federal election campaign will begin just seven weeks later.

‘Horrendously expensive’

Opposition transport spokesman Warren Truss says the price tag is a huge barrier for the project.

He says he wants to check if the cost-benefit analysis is realistic.

“It’s certainly a great dream that people have been thinking about for a very long time but the cost of $114 billion estimated at this stage is obviously a huge barrier,” he said.

“The country has got $300 billion in gross debt and to find that extra money will obviously be a challenge.”

Griffith University’s research fellow Dr Matthew Burke agrees the cost could be a big stumbling block.

“It’s a horrendously expensive exercise,” he said.

“Just to get us involved in the east coast network to get from Newcastle and Brisbane will cost somewhere between $20 and $40 billion and at the upper end of the estimate that’s equivalent to the National Broadband Network,” he said.

But former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer says the line is feasible in spite of the huge price tag.

“On a Snowy Mountain Scheme calculated indexed for inflation, it is within reach,” he told ABC News Breakfast.

“It is a huge boost to transport infrastructure on two of the biggest city pairs in the world.”

Greens leader Christine Milne says the Government should now do an environmental impact assessment of the preferred route and set aside money to buy the land needed.

“I think it’s a practical option and an urgent [one] and I’m very excited by it,” she said.
“It’s why we did negotiate with Prime Minister Gillard to bring on high speed rail in Australia. One of the huge costs to business to the community is congestion through the airports, the time air travel is taking.”

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