It seems the Federal Government has given up on the idea of high speed or even very fast rail in our neck of the woods.
Despite its $10 billion infrastructure splurge over 10 years in the Federal Budget, there was nothing there for progressing any plans for an east coast high-speed link or the states to upgrade regional links.
With aviation in the doldrums due to the pandemic, it doesn’t look like the Federal Government will be sponsoring any time soon a high-speed rail competitor, which would deliver a Canberra-Sydney trip of about an hour, compared to the current four-hour ramble.
The ACT may have received $132.5 million for light rail, but doing anything about the embarrassingly slow rail journey to Sydney did not rate a mention and has been left to the NSW Government which, tired of waiting, has decided to sell off more of the silver to finance a combination of fast (below 200 km/h) and faster (250km/h) lines to regional centres, including Goulburn.
The ACT and NSW have been talking fast rail for years, and Infrastructure Australia added a Sydney-Canberra rail upgrade to its 2020 Infrastructure Priority List.
The fast train model NSW is now proposing would not compete with aviation but still provide a speedy enough journey to be efficient, taking into account airport check-in and baggage pickup, and provide the economic benefits that greater connectivity would bring.
But it cannot stop at Goulburn.
There needs to be a 21st-century transport link between the two capitals that threads a growing corridor as people look for cheaper housing and lifestyle opportunities outside Sydney, especially in COVID-19’s wake.
Already there is a growing cohort of people in Goulburn commuting down the highway to Canberra, increasingly a regional jobs and services hub.
Fast rail would provide a reasonable inter-capital journey and connect those growing population centres along the way with those two economic poles.
It would also take some traffic off the Hume Highway and offer potential carbon mitigation if electrified.
The ACT remains open to the idea.
Infrastructure chief Duncan Edgehill from Major Projects Canberra reportedly said at the recent NSW Infrastructure Summit that the link was a national disgrace, and if NSW wanted to build a line to Goulburn or Queanbeyan, the ACT would be interested in extending it to Canberra.
It was a no-brainer that should have been done decades ago, he said.
But the ACT’s meagre resources mean the Federal Government will need to assist in making it a reality, something Transport Minister Chris Steel confirmed when he said the National Faster Rail Agency could be doing more to fund both analysis and support NSW in building the project, which would be a mix of new and upgraded tracks.
Fast rail has been a story of missed opportunities fed by the belief that the population did not support the proposition, but with the national capital region’s recent growth, surely now is the time to give it the rail connection it deserves.