While the Phase 2 Report on HighSpeed Rail (HSR), released on 11April 2013, was broadly welcomedby everyone, the ridiculously slowstart and rollout timetable were not only ridiculed -they put the credibility of the project itself and theGovernment’s commitment to it, in real doubt.
It was particularly pleasing that the report supported Canberra Business Council’s long-heldview that the optimal staging of an east coast HSRnetwork is building the Sydney – Melbourne line first,starting with the Sydney-Canberra sector.
Canberra Business Council has lobbied hard overmany years to ensure that Sydney-Canberra is thefirst section of HSR built. We have argued that it isthe optimal first stage because the distance betweenSydney and Canberra is a good minimum lengthfor HSR and there is strong demand from businessand tourist travellers for a fast reliable link betweenthe two cities, making it likely that HSR will be economically viable.
A Sydney-Canberra HSR line would be one of themost cost effective sections to build because of the relatively easy terrain and lower costs of purchasingland for the corridor (unlike, for example, the Sydneyto Newcastle sector).
It would also have enormous benefits for regionaldevelopment and it would relieve growth pressuresin Sydney. You could easily live along the route andcommute daily to Sydney or Canberra for work.
Finally, it would immediately allow CanberraAirport to act as an overflow airport for Sydneywhile a second Sydney Airport is planned and built- by easing passenger and freight congestion andreducing movements at Sydney airport by 25%.
All good reasons to get started now on a HSR linkbetween Sydney and Canberra rather than moveinto more years of public and industry consultationand liaison with States and Territories. Australiahas been talking about HSR for over 30 years whilethousands of kilometres of HSR have been built allaround the world. In 2013 only two contingents stilldo not have HSR – Australia and Antarctica!
Yet the report is suggesting more decades of studies, consultation and bureaucratic procrastination.
CBC is proposing that, rather than wait decades to start, the first stage – the Sydney to Canberra section – should be put to the market now to seek expressions of interest from consortia to design, build and operate. This would provide the private sector with an opportunity to express interest in investing in and constructing the Sydney to Canberra section; it would enable the proposed route, location of stations and extensive use of tunnelling to be looked at more realistically and it would elicit a range of public-private funding models.
Obviously the Government would need to makeit clear that it is prepared to invest substantially inthe project but that it wants to see what the marketcan offer.
The successful implementation of a first stagewould demonstrate the demand for HSR travelalong the east coast of Australia and would makeit easier to attract private sector financing for later stages of the network.
Another major concern in the Phase 2 Report isthe proposal for the Canberra station to be locatedin Ainslie Avenue near the city centre rather thanat Canberra Airport. A Civic location would requireexpensive tunnelling under Mount Ainslie whichwill add significant cost to the project affecting itsfinancial and economic viability and make it lessattractive for investment from both the public andprivate sectors. A civic location would also havepoor parking for commuters (parking is alreadyavailable at the airport), poor connections to theother transport networks and to the city centreand importantly, it would fail to leverage off thepotential for Canberra to be a significant hub forinternational tourists with direct international flightsfrom NZ and Asia.
Canberra Business Council will continue to lobbyfor an immediate start to the first stage -Sydney toCanberra – because we believe it will be a “game-changer” for economic development, employmentand investment in Canberra and the region.
Whatever happens lets stop talking and getstarted on building HSR in Australia.