While China’s high speed train network is growing rapidly, Australia’s plans for a high-speed service between Sydney and Melbourne have barely left the platform.
Australia’s proposed high-speed rail line has moved out of the imagination and into its own shunting shed, following a federal government pledge of $52 million to establish an authority to oversee and lobby for the 1748km route that would connect Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Infrastructure and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese announced on Monday a high-speed rail authority, that would commission detailed engineering drawings and work to secure the route, would be set up within six months.
“This is a 30-year project,” Australasian Railway Association chief executive Bryan Nye told BRW on Monday. “You have to start some time. Someone’s committing to starting it.”
After the election
The line would, once fully functional, make the 880km journey from Melbourne to Sydney in less than three hours. But how much appetite a new government will have for the $114 billion rail line after the September 7 election is unclear.
The scheme has been supported by Mr Albanese, who published a feasibility study into it earlier this year. Opposition leader Tony Abbott, whose party looks likely to win September’s election, has played down support for urban rail projects, but has not spoken about the high-speed rail project.
You have to start some time. Someone’s committing to starting it.
The new high-speed rail authority would push the federal government and help draft the legislation necessary to declare the project nationally important, which would permit the Commonwealth to negotiate with the state governments to set aside land for the proposed route corridor, Nye says.
The authority would be led by a political heavy-hitter who understands infrastructure as well as Australia’s federal structure and was respected by all, Nye says, adding his chairman, and former senior Labor Party figure, Lindsay Tanner would be “the right type of person”, as would former National Party MP and deputy prime minister John Anderson.
The $52 million in funding, to be spent over three years, would not be used to acquire land. State governments could set that aside without buying it, he says.
A High Speed Rail Advisory Group Report titled On Track: Implementing High Speed Rail in Australia, released with the announcement, recommends the project be packaged on a line-by-line basis and subject to competitive global tender, to make it as cheap and as fast as possible, Nye says.
The project will need to be seen as a bipartisan issue, he says. “All the political spectrum has to support it. Over 30 years, that’s 10 parliaments.”