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High-speed rail must go through Canberra

By Ian Bushnell - 11 July 2017 9

trains

The potentially transformative high-speed rail project rolled out of the siding again last week and once more it had to be said that Canberra must be on the main line.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr unsurprisingly but reassuringly responded to the timely wake-up call from Infrastructure Australia for governments to preserve rail corridors for the East Coast (Melbourne to Brisbane) that his government is doing just that.

He also reiterated that Canberra should not be on a spur line as the East Coast proposal would have it, but firmly at the centre of the Melbourne to Sydney axis.

It’s a pity that it had to be stated at all but the history of rail in Australia is littered with bizarre decisions reflecting colonial and state rivalries, such as the different gauges that necessitated the changing of trains at state borders.

As the centre of government with world-class universities and some of the country’s most innovative thinkers, Canberra should be a destination city.

Leaving Canberra off the main line would not just be a slight to the national capital but ignore its growing importance as a regional economic centre and its burgeoning well-off population.

The recent census revealed the ACT to be the fastest growing jurisdiction in the country, with an estimated population of 400,000 plus, an increase of 11.44 per cent since 2011.

For Canberra to merely be on a connecting line to the main route north of the ACT would shortchange its citizens and be a disincentive to use the train.

Many of those Canberra newcomers feeding the ACT’s growth are escaping the crush of overcrowded Sydney and Melbourne and their prohibitive house prices.

In fact, it is the sprawl of these immigration honeypots that is behind Infrastructure Australia’s warning for governments to act before it is too late.

One of the main benefits of high-speed rail would be taking the pressure off the main capitals by promoting regional growth along the route of the line. Goulburn would be a major beneficiary of development along the Sydney-Canberra corridor.

map

People are already commuting for work between Sydney and Canberra, but they’re taking the Hume or jumping on a plane at weekends.

In 2017, it is ridiculous that the train to Sydney takes four hours, more time than the bus trip. Or that you can’t even take a train direct to Melbourne.

The high-speed option would also provide competition for the seemingly unbreakable airline duopoly that benefits from one of the world’s most congested air corridors and which forces Canberrans to pay through the nose for flights out of the national capital.

In a call to action to governments, Infrastructure Australia wants a national framework on preserving rail corridors, arguing that not to do so will cost more than $10 billion.

High-speed rail proposals involve serious money ($100 billion plus), considerable environmental impact and require enabling legislation.

The Business Council of Australia is supportive, as it well might be considering the substantial benefits to its members from such a big project.

The Gillard Government’s Phase 2 HSR report projected an economic benefit of $2.15 for every dollar invested between the Sydney and Melbourne leg.

But it’s going to take government leadership and public funding to make the running on such a project of national significance, before private investors here or from overseas join the party.

You can talk all you like about “value capture’ along the route that will turn the project into a giant real estate scheme to help finance it but at a time when the private sector is loath to invest and infrastructure is falling way behind demand, it’s time government stepped up after years of neglect from both the main parties, despite the resources boom and the era of cheap money post-GFC.

We’ve had boondoggles, pork barrels and white elephants aplenty in this country, just ask Barnaby Joyce, but this is a real nation-building project screaming out for leadership, and it’s got to come from Canberra.

So for any proposal to even consider leaving Canberra as a siding off the fast track to the future is just unthinkable.

Does high-speed rail stack up or is it just a pipe dream? Would you take the train or still drive the Hume?

What’s Your opinion?


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9 Responses to
High-speed rail must go through Canberra
dungfungus 12:55 pm 12 Jul 17

wildturkeycanoe said :

A HSR link through Canberra no doubt would further increase the population, straining resources such as water, power and housing. Can growth in a finite land mass like the ACT just continue without raising other problems? This growth, due to the metropolitan workers looking for an escape, will absolutely strain our housing market and drive prices up. Can Sydney or Melbourne wages sustain living in Canberra?
I’m certain that the rail link will have many benefits and some drawbacks. Whether it ever gets here will remain a mystery for ages to come.

The current train service predominantly serves a certain demographic namely people on welfare who get concessions for rail travel (and busses operated by the NSW rail agency).
These people won’t be able to afford anything else should the operator / technology changes.

A lot of people arrive and leave the Kingston station by public transport as well as drop-off / pick-up by friends or family using private transport.

I wasn’t aware that cars left overnight there have been torched but there appears to be an epidemic of this practice going on all over Canberra these days.

dungfungus 8:05 am 12 Jul 17

wildturkeycanoe said :

A HSR link through Canberra no doubt would further increase the population, straining resources such as water, power and housing. Can growth in a finite land mass like the ACT just continue without raising other problems? This growth, due to the metropolitan workers looking for an escape, will absolutely strain our housing market and drive prices up. Can Sydney or Melbourne wages sustain living in Canberra?
I’m certain that the rail link will have many benefits and some drawbacks. Whether it ever gets here will remain a mystery for ages to come.

The link depicted in the OP doesn’t actually go through Canberra, it detours off the proposed main line between Sydney and Melbourne and returns to that point. If it is deemed imperative that Canberra have access to the fast train it would be cheaper to move Canberra to the North than build an “in and out line” to Canberra so the only sensible way to access any fast train is to bus passengers to and from Canberra to meet the train to the north.
If one from Canberra wants to catch the existing XPT train service from Sydney to Melbourne the usual way is via the bus at Kingston and travel to Cootamundra although it can be accessed also by taking the Explorer train to Goulburn and waiting about 5 hours.

I don’t see how it would increase our population either as workers who think of living in Canberra and commuting to Sydney won’t be able to afford the fare.

Your point about further population growth in Canberra putting strain of existing infrastructure is quite valid and this is what our current government should be focusing on now, after the latest pop-up food shop is opened at ANU, of course.

wildturkeycanoe 6:03 pm 11 Jul 17

A HSR link through Canberra no doubt would further increase the population, straining resources such as water, power and housing. Can growth in a finite land mass like the ACT just continue without raising other problems? This growth, due to the metropolitan workers looking for an escape, will absolutely strain our housing market and drive prices up. Can Sydney or Melbourne wages sustain living in Canberra?
I’m certain that the rail link will have many benefits and some drawbacks. Whether it ever gets here will remain a mystery for ages to come.

HiddenDragon 5:29 pm 11 Jul 17

“In 2017, it is ridiculous that the train to Sydney takes four hours, more time than the bus trip.” – while we’re waiting for clever people to solve the engineering problems and come up with a couple of hundred billion dollars, it might be better to focus on slightly more realistic options (tilt train?) and practical steps such as secure parking at Kingston Station for travellers who don’t like the idea of returning from Sydney to find that their car has been toasted and roasted.

dungfungus 4:44 pm 11 Jul 17

The not needed and totally unviable Canberra Light Rail Stage 1 will cost at least $100 million per kilometre to construct and commission.

Using that as a benchmark any new electrified railway between Sydney and Canberra will cost $200 billion plus land acquisitions.

That is not to say that if there were concurrent ACT, NSW and Federal Labor/Green governments in power it would probably get the nod. That gets more likely every day.

Garfield 3:29 pm 11 Jul 17

If the cost benefits ever stack up, and I’ve seen someone claiming that the full cost of a high speed rail ticket from Canberra to Sydney would be as much as a business class flight, then of course it would be good to see it run through Canberra rather than having to connect via a spur line. The but is in regards to terrain. To our southwest there’s a big mass of difficult terrain that the proposed route avoids. Its very obvious as to why the connecting highway between Sydney & Melbourne bypasses us. A more direct route from Canberra to Melbourne would likely come with prohibitive additional costs, meaning if we’re on the main line rather than a spur, it would probably end up as a big U shape on the map. If its like that its probably going to make more sense to have us as a spur rather than having everyone traveling between Sydney & Melbourne taking a detour down to Canberra.

Leon Arundell 2:57 pm 11 Jul 17

I’d like to make three points:
* First, I’d like to see a thorough review of the costs and benefits, and the advantages and disadvantages of the possible routes.
* Second, we built Gungahlin over the best route to the south, but the Canberra Times reports that, according to the Chief Minister’s office, a corridor of land from Canberra Airport north to the NSW border has so far been protected from development.
Third, we have 2,000 km of nature strips reserved for possible future development as footpaths (to support the Government’s targets for walking, cycling and public transport), but as yet there are no funds to build those footpaths.

Rollersk8r 11:54 am 11 Jul 17

Firstly it will never happen. Secondly if it does happen then the speed and cost of the journey is going to be crucial.

Mark Gledhill 9:11 am 11 Jul 17

Sigh..put this story back in the time delay vault -set it for a year and get it out again, rinse repeat.

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