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High speed rail – we need to talk about CLARA

By Maryann Mussared - 28 October 2016 15

High speed rail. Photo: iStock

Now the election is over, it’s time for all the unresolved detail for the light rail to be handed over to Capital Metro.  That will leave space for the ACT Government to look at other ways transport infrastructure can be developed for Canberra with the few meagre dollars that are left in the Territory coffers.

As well as getting people around the territory, attention needs to be paid to Canberra’s relative isolation and how commuting times between Sydney and Melbourne can be improved.   This turns our attention to the long discussed and unresolved subject of a high speed rail (HSR) that can potentially link Canberra with Sydney in one hour and Melbourne in three hours.

In an election campaign more or less dominated by just one part of the overall Canberra transport equation, it is not surprising that many voters missed an important update on Consolidated Land and Rail Australia (CLARA).  It threw its cards on the table and gave details of their proposed route between Sydney and Melbourne.  And it could cost the ratepayers of Canberra nothing and at the same time reap a range of economic benefits for the region.

clara_plan

The CLARA map shows the proposed route of the rail track passes tantalisingly close to Canberra, but not through Canberra, with a proposed spur line shown as a dotted line.  There is a similar spur line linking the main line with both Wagga Wagga and Albury.

As part of their recent election campaign which included a strong push for a bullet train link, my Like Canberra Party colleague Tim Bohm contacted Consolidated Land and Rail Australia (CLARA) to get an update on the CLARA plan and progress with the governments and regional councils that are involved.

Mr Bohm was aware many voters were very keen to hear about a possible HSR and were well acquainted with the numerous benefits of HSR including the long-term economic dividends to cities along its route, workforce mobility, productivity gain and as a safe alternative to flying and travelling by car on increasingly busy highways. And, of course, there is the environmental aspect, with greenhouse gas emissions savings and lower pollution.   Canberra had been suggested as part of the future in Phase Four, but Nick Cleary, CEO of CLARA, provided a welcome update and said there had been a change, and Canberra could be included in Phase One.

So, this visionary transport infrastructure program looks set to start sooner rather than later and with some swift footwork, Canberra could be part of Phase One.  Land has already been purchased near Yass to be included in Phase One.

Nick Cleary confirmed he had approached and had positive conversations with all the relevant Governments, as well as relevant regional councils including Goulburn and Yass.  The ACT Government was the only government which had not approached CLARA for any clarification of its intentions.*

So why wouldn’t the ACT Government have leapt in and embraced the very real possibility of HSR? It is possible there was a breakdown in communication. Chief Minister Barr had said that he wasn’t interested in CLARA as Canberra was on a branch line, and passengers would have to change at Yass.    In the past few days, Nick Cleary has again confirmed that the spur line from the main line into Canberra will be direct and passengers will not have to change at Yass.

So back to how this project will actually be funded.  CLARA isn’t pussyfooting around about where the money is coming from.   The CLARA HSR project provides a vision to connect the east coast of Australia with eight new regional cities.   It is a major venture that involves making money out of selling land and building houses to make a profit to fund infrastructure.

One would have thought Andrew Barr would have been quite comfortable with this model.  So, will Canberra be passed by, or will Mr Barr start negotiating on behalf of the citizens of Canberra? There is no doubting the benefits of HSR: opening up economic and tourism opportunities; allowing entrepreneurs to move freely; and get people out of their cars and onto public transport.

If the ACT Government wants to make a big impact in the future, it needs to act now to ensure that Canberra is connected, Canberra is smart and Canberra leads the way in innovation for its citizens.  To do this, we need the ACT Government to do everything it can to assist CLARA to secure the 12km alignment and corridor to the Canberra International Airport.

If the ACT Government chooses to sit on its hands and wait for another opportunity to fall out of the sky, will we be in the same situation in ten year’s time with only ever slower car, coach or flight options to transfer interstate.   Either Canberra can remain a relatively marooned big country town, or it can take a leading role with this exciting initiative.

What are we waiting for?  Check out what CLARA has planned for the future of Australia and what Canberra could miss out being part of at www.clara.com.au.

Maryann Mussared was a candidate for the Like Canberra Party, formerly known as the Bullet Train for Canberra Party, at the recent ACT election. 

* Editor’s note: We contacted Mr Barr’s office for his response to Ms Mussared’s comments and have added his reply in the comments below. We have also contacted Canberra Airport about the issue and will update readers on their response when it comes to hand.

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15 Responses to
High speed rail – we need to talk about CLARA
Mysteryman 10:23 am 02 Nov 16

I would love a high speed rail connecting Melbourne to Sydney, with an offshoot for Canberra. But I’m not at all surprised that Dictator Barr has, as reported elsewhere, decided that Canberra needs to be on the main line, despite how little sense that makes.

Arthur Davies 4:37 pm 01 Nov 16

The high speed train may sound like pie in the sky initially. However according to the Chief Scientist we have only 4 days petroleum in Australia at any one time (not 3 weeks as has been reported in some papers), after that we are in sheep dip. No point saying it cannot happen, it has already happened twice in my lifetime. During WW2 there was no petrol, inconsiderate people kept sinking the ships. Then in the 1970s the arabs turned off the taps to show us how vulnerable we are & to increase the price of their finite resource, result was dramatic shortages, odds & evens buying, long queues, sometimes unsuccessful at the end, limits on sales etc.

I saw a railway map dated around 1940 in a country town in Victoria recently, it was a revelation. Almost all towns, even quite small hamlets had railway stations/sidings, now short sightedly & stupidly gone. The trains were all powered by coal, locally produced so it could not be cut off. So farm produce was still brought to market, goods & people were moved, including troops & munitions necessary for our defence. All that is no longer possible with our current infrastructure.

Trains now use imported diesel fuel, as do buses & trucks, cars are a mixture of imported Diesel & petrol, aircraft are almost all imported jet fuel. Remember we have only 4 days to disaster. It takes a bit longer than that to build new steam trains, build coal to oil plants, expand biofuels (if that is even possible without endangering food production). etc.

The solution is electrify all our transport, including long distance trains. Once the lines have been electrified for strategic reasons, a large part of the cost of a VFT project has already been paid for, so we may as well go that little bit further & have world class trains. No one has raised this issue in the past when considering the feasibility of VFTs so far as I know.

In some states electric trains already serve towns quite some distance from the capitals, so long distance electrification is technically feasible & economic given the inefficiency of petroleum fuelled engines. A Melbourne electric bus currently has the world distance record, over 1000km without recharging, so electric buses & trucks are now feasible from the railheads to the customer. Branch line trains can be battery electric if mains power is not economic in some cases. Australia’s take up of electric vehicles is the lowest in the developed world, no levels of Australian Govt seriously encourage evs, presumably mainly due to deference to fossil fuel interests.

There are spin off benefits as well including:-
1. Much improved balance of payments, petroleum imports are around $30B a year I think.
2. Less money to the middle east to buy weapons & fund terrorists, not a bad thing!
3. Assuming we use renewable energy for our electricity, we have carbon dioxide free transport.
4. Most importantly with electric transport powered by local renewable energy, we can no longer be held to ransom by war (unfortunately all too likely). By weather sinking ships (storms are becoming more intense). In the long run petroleum is a finite resource, it will become scarce & progressively more expensive over time, when not if.

We must look at transport in a wider sense, not piecemeal as at present, & certainly not on the basis of prognostications from economists (after all they were invented to make astrologers look good).

dungfungus 8:24 am 31 Oct 16

wildturkeycanoe said :

K320Scania said :

I’m also very interested to hear your solution instead of a bullet train.

Solution to what? Which problem will this gazillion dollar piece of apparatus provide a solution to?The only thing a bullet train achieves is apparently a quicker trip between Sydney and Melbourne??
If living rurally and commuting to Sydney for work is the aim, where are the jobs for these commuters? You won’t get tradies jumping on the Bullet, they need a vehicle and tools to do their jobs. You are hardly going to get Sydney-siders going out to the back of Woop Woop for a rail trip, there are better holiday places on the coast or Blue Mountains. What purpose will it serve other than competition with the airlines?

Thanks for saying what I would have. The only other thing I would say is that “tradies” won’t be around much longer, either.

wildturkeycanoe 7:42 pm 30 Oct 16

K320Scania said :

I’m also very interested to hear your solution instead of a bullet train.

Solution to what? Which problem will this gazillion dollar piece of apparatus provide a solution to?The only thing a bullet train achieves is apparently a quicker trip between Sydney and Melbourne??
If living rurally and commuting to Sydney for work is the aim, where are the jobs for these commuters? You won’t get tradies jumping on the Bullet, they need a vehicle and tools to do their jobs. You are hardly going to get Sydney-siders going out to the back of Woop Woop for a rail trip, there are better holiday places on the coast or Blue Mountains. What purpose will it serve other than competition with the airlines?

dungfungus 3:39 pm 30 Oct 16

K320Scania said :

dungfungus said :

Let’s stop this nonsense about fast trains and slow trams and enjoy what we have while we have it.

So you’re saying we should keep using coal, even though we know it’s not sustainable in the long term and is harming so much of our earth?
Saying “We should enjoy what we have now” is so ignorant as it shows no consideration for future generations who will have to live here too.

I’m also very interested to hear your solution instead of a bullet train.

Have you thought about the carbon footprint of building the transport infrastructure and 8 new cities?

We can’t stop using coal overnight – that was recently trialled unsuccessfully in South Australia.

What problem were referring to if a bullet train can’t be used as a solution?

K320Scania 11:37 am 30 Oct 16

dungfungus said :

Let’s stop this nonsense about fast trains and slow trams and enjoy what we have while we have it.

So you’re saying we should keep using coal, even though we know it’s not sustainable in the long term and is harming so much of our earth?
Saying “We should enjoy what we have now” is so ignorant as it shows no consideration for future generations who will have to live here too.

I’m also very interested to hear your solution instead of a bullet train.

dungfungus 10:52 pm 29 Oct 16

wildturkeycanoe said :

One thing I don’t understand about the rail link project is how they are going to entice people to move to these new “mini-cities” along the train route? What kind of life will it be in the dry, hot, arid areas of central N.S.W? I’m sure there is a reason, apart from lack of jobs, that people don’t want to live there at the moment. What about the stresses on the water supplies [though not currently an issue] in these areas that have had water restrictions for years on end and drought declarations driving farmers off the land?
I’m guessing there are great opportunities to do it right from the beginning and have the cities completely powered by solar, totally off the grid. Would you like to live on a flat barren plain that is susceptible to floods, has little to no recreational facilities, quite distant from any night life and gets to 40 plus degrees in the middle of Summer? I guess if it is only a half hour trip into Sydney there may be a few who would like to make a change, but to expect tens or hundreds of thousands to move out there is a little ambitious. I don’t entirely believe the philosophy of “Build it and they will come”.
The high speed train is going to have to stop at each of these cities, thus increasing the time it takes to get from Melbourne to Sydney or vice versa. It is a little like our light rail project, which is apparently faster than buses even though it stops a dozen times on the way to Civic.
What of obstacles? The number of road crossings, stock routes, pipelines, rivers and creeks, flood plains? It can’t operate like the current rail line, crossings would be risky. Unless it is off the ground it will be a hazardous ride considering the number of kangaroo strikes we get on our highways alone. Just imagine a roo getting walloped at 300km/h or a stray cow! Ouch.

The visionary “build it and they will come” thing was tried in the 1970s with the decentralised “growth centres” in NSW and Victoria, especially Bathurst/Orange and Albury/Wodonga.

It had half a chance of success and a lot of land was compulsorily acquired and infrastructure was actually constructed. But it all just fizzled out after a few years.

Many reasons were cited for its failure – it would be a great retrospective story for someone to do if it hasn’t been done already.

With jobs now collapsing all over the world and Australia almost bereft of any secondary industries, to try something like it again to appease the very fast train enthusiasts would no longer be a visionary undertaking but something bordering on delusional fantasy.

RiotFrog 10:32 pm 29 Oct 16

*sigh*
Just the latest in a (very) long list (apologies for Wikipedia cut-and-paste):
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-speed_rail_in_Australia

History
1970s–1980s
1984 CSIRO proposal
Very Fast Train (VFT) joint venture
Tilting trains
Speedrail proposal
Howard government (2000)
Canberra Business Council study
Canberra Airport plan
Intrastate proposals
High Speed Rail Study (2011-2013)
1 Rudd/Gillard government (2008-2013)
2 Abbott/Turnbull government (2013-present)
Beyond Zero Emissions Study (2014)
CLARA Proposal (2016-present)

wildturkeycanoe 6:57 pm 29 Oct 16

One thing I don’t understand about the rail link project is how they are going to entice people to move to these new “mini-cities” along the train route? What kind of life will it be in the dry, hot, arid areas of central N.S.W? I’m sure there is a reason, apart from lack of jobs, that people don’t want to live there at the moment. What about the stresses on the water supplies [though not currently an issue] in these areas that have had water restrictions for years on end and drought declarations driving farmers off the land?
I’m guessing there are great opportunities to do it right from the beginning and have the cities completely powered by solar, totally off the grid. Would you like to live on a flat barren plain that is susceptible to floods, has little to no recreational facilities, quite distant from any night life and gets to 40 plus degrees in the middle of Summer? I guess if it is only a half hour trip into Sydney there may be a few who would like to make a change, but to expect tens or hundreds of thousands to move out there is a little ambitious. I don’t entirely believe the philosophy of “Build it and they will come”.
The high speed train is going to have to stop at each of these cities, thus increasing the time it takes to get from Melbourne to Sydney or vice versa. It is a little like our light rail project, which is apparently faster than buses even though it stops a dozen times on the way to Civic.
What of obstacles? The number of road crossings, stock routes, pipelines, rivers and creeks, flood plains? It can’t operate like the current rail line, crossings would be risky. Unless it is off the ground it will be a hazardous ride considering the number of kangaroo strikes we get on our highways alone. Just imagine a roo getting walloped at 300km/h or a stray cow! Ouch.

dungfungus 9:21 pm 28 Oct 16

There was comment on news feeds tonight that Australia has painted itself into a corner by allowing the whole economy to be dependent on ongoing development in the building sector and if interest rates are reduced any further the whole industry will tank.

I bought some petrol today – the price per litre has increased over 10% in one week and with the Australian dollar falling further price rises are guaranteed.

And increases in the USA interest rate will also upset the apple cart.

Now is not the time to be contemplating even more borrowings for visionary pet projects.

HiddenDragon 4:58 pm 28 Oct 16

If Australia had, or had in serious prospect, sufficient internationally competitive jobs (i.e. jobs which will pay their way in the world without government funding or subsidies) to support all the people who might be packed into eight new regional cities, something like this would be worth looking at, but we don’t. Instead, this just looks like a recipe for somewhat more of what we already have – development and population growth funded by ever-growing levels of government and household debt, with much of that debt borrowed from foreign sources.

dungfungus 9:55 am 28 Oct 16

I like the sound of a “marooned big country town”.

Come to think of it, that is why I came to Canberra in the first place.

Let’s stop this nonsense about fast trains and slow trams and enjoy what we have while we have it.

bronal 9:37 am 28 Oct 16

I do wish people would stop going about high speed rail. It isn’t going to happen. Australia doesn’t have the population density to support it. I would be happy if the line from Canberra to Sydney were upgraded to permit ‘normal’ (by European standards) speed rail – ie an average speed of between 160 to 200 kph. This would allow a 2 to 2 1/2 hour journey to Sydney, which is fast enough for me.

gooterz 9:31 am 28 Oct 16

Charlotte Harper said :

I have received a response from Mr Barr’s office. A spokesman says the Chief Minister was contacted, via Twitter, by Barry O’Farrell earlier this year offering a briefing on the project. Mr Barr agreed to the briefing but has heard nothing since.

The spokesman said the ACT Government had been heavily involved in the Federal Government’s planning for HSR and had determined land along the proposed corridor set out by the Federal Government.

“To say that we aren’t interested in HSR is completely lacking any knowledge of the government and the Chief Minister,” the response said.

“As we have said before, we have concerns with the CLARA concept. We don’t support any spur line to service Canberra, and the idea to build new, satellite cities between Melbourne and Sydney could have an impact on Canberra – especially if the federal government chooses to move federal public service agencies to these cities.”

Isnt that pretty much the same case for light rail though? Investing along the light rail corridor to support all the new people moving in every year?

They are saying it will have a detrimental impact to the south where the lines dont go?

We should have started our own Canberra to sydney line instead of light rail.

Charlotte Harper 8:33 am 28 Oct 16

I have received a response from Mr Barr’s office. A spokesman says the Chief Minister was contacted, via Twitter, by Barry O’Farrell earlier this year offering a briefing on the project. Mr Barr agreed to the briefing but has heard nothing since.

The spokesman said the ACT Government had been heavily involved in the Federal Government’s planning for HSR and had determined land along the proposed corridor set out by the Federal Government.

“To say that we aren’t interested in HSR is completely lacking any knowledge of the government and the Chief Minister,” the response said.

“As we have said before, we have concerns with the CLARA concept. We don’t support any spur line to service Canberra, and the idea to build new, satellite cities between Melbourne and Sydney could have an impact on Canberra – especially if the federal government chooses to move federal public service agencies to these cities.”

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