Metro Trains chief executive Andrew Lezala. Photo:

Metro boss excited for ‘rail renaissance’

Melbourne Metro chief executive Andrew Lezala says the 2015 AusRAIL conference and exhibition will come at “a really exciting time for rail”.

Lezala, who spoke with Rail Express a month ahead of the event in Melbourne from November 24 to 26, said major projects in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane headline a positive period for the rail sector.

“In Victoria, we’ve got the Cranbourne-Pakenham line upgrade project,” he said, “which will see big, big Metro trains – seven-car vehicles in a metro-style operation.

“It will also include nine grade separations along that corridor, so getting rid of all of the level crossings between Dandenong and Caulfield.”

The Cranbourne-Pakenham grade separations (a.k.a. level crossing removals) are among the 20 committed to so far by the state government, with the long-term plan to remove 50 across the state.

“We’ve got the high-capacity signalling, CBTC trial coming up on the Sandringham Line,” Lezala added, “and we’ve got the Metro Tunnel, which is coming, too.”

Meanwhile, north of the border, Sydney is kicking off its light rail construction, and work on the new Metro line is well underway, he pointed out.

“We’re going to see the first driverless passenger train in the country in the North West Rail Link in Sydney.

“That’s an exciting game changer.

“And in Brisbane, we’re about to see the first of the PPP trains delivered by the consortium including Bombardier.”

Together, he said, the projects – along with several others around the nation – signal a great new era for Australian passenger rail.

“It’s a renaissance of rail,” the Metro boss said. “There’s an investment in public transport, and a realisation that cities are growing, and they need to have rail infrastructure.

“That is a fantastic, fantastic environment, and people should recognise that and celebrate it.

“We are in rail, in Australia, at a great time.”

Lezala will use his presentation on the first day of AusRAIL to discussing the role the private sector plays in the industry. He will also take part in the highly-regarded CEO Forum on November 26.

“I’ll talk about capacity, because we can do more with what we’ve got with high-capacity signalling, and bigger trains,” he said.

“The strategic issue of that is also getting people to trains. Feeder buses, more car parking; that is the next issue to manage.

“Also about the role of the private sector in the rail environment: I’ll be talking about not only the ability to bring money to the PPPs, but also bringing world’s best practice; bringing contractual rigour.”

Rail Express is the official media partner of AusRAIL. Visit for more information.

Michael Kilgariff, managing director, Australian Logistics Council. Photo: Oliver Probert

Baird’s council busting good for freight: ALC

The Australian Logistics Council says New South Wales Premier Mike Baird’s controversial plan to merge scores of councils following a review by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal.

ALC managing director Michael Kilgariff said the IPART report, ‘Fit for Future’ showed the system of local government in NSW “is broken and needs urgent repair”.

IPART found 71% of councils in metropolitan Sydney are ‘not fit’, primarily because they did not propose a merger with a neighbouring council, despite clear benefits which would help them become ‘fit’ in the future.

It made the same finding of 56% of regional councils, primarily due to not proposing a merger despite clear benefits, ongoing deficits, or both.

Kilgariff says it’s about time attention was paid to the state’s local government system.

“The logistics industry agrees with the report’s recommendation to merge councils that are deemed ‘not fit’ as a way to improve the delivery of major infrastructure, achieve more efficient service delivery and to better integrate strategic planning and policy,” he said.

“As the report card indicates, there is a need to enhance the scale and capacity of local councils to improve how they deliver services to both local communities and industry, and the logistics industry is a good case in point.

“All too often, and to the frustration of the industry, councils take different approaches to such things as ‘last mile’ access, the loading and unloading of goods, delivery curfews and other restrictions which impact on the efficient movement of freight.”

Kilgariff said a lack of size meant many local governments did not have the skills and resources to make sensible or well-informed decisions when it comes to infrastructure.

“Merging councils would not only bring with it economies of scale, it would help to deliver more ‘joined up thinking’ on such matters as road access decisions, planning and curfews,” he added.

Premier Baird said four years of independent research from IPART showed the situation was now “critical,” and that “the current system of local government is not working as well as it should be”.

IPART’s report found reducing waste and red tape through government mergers could free up close to $2 billion over the next 20 years for NSW ratepayers, which could in turn stabilise council rates and fund better services and new infrastructure.

“For many councils this is a final opportunity to do the right thing for the future of their communities, which in many cases may include merging with neighbouring councils,” Baird said.

NSW local government minister Paul Toole said that despite numerous council-commissioned business cases showing the potential benefits of mergers, the majority of councils had resisted change.

Toole said many councils had proposed rate increases to improve their financial performance, noting 32 councils had proposed a rate rise to ‘get fit’, including 15 who had proposed rises above 30%.

Just two merger proposals were received from metropolitan councils during the IPART review.

Sydenham to Bankstown line. Photo: Planning NSW

Sydney plan will create ‘toxic mix’: Greens

The Baird Government’s development plans along the rail line between Sydenham and Bankstown will result in overdevelopment rather than a quality transport system, according to Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi.

As part of the Sydney Metro program, the NSW Government plans to convert the existing line between Sydenham and Bankstown to metro rail. NSW planning minister Rob Stokes on October 14 revealed the state government’s “new vision” for the precincts along the new metro .

But Dr Faruqi, the Greens’ transport spokesperson, says the development plans will be bad for the suburbs around the project.

“At the end of the day, it seems the Sydney Metro project is far more about facilitating the privatisation of our rail network and overdevelopment rather than delivering a good public transport network for the city,” Dr Faruqi said last week.

“Of course, integrated land use and transport planning is what we need.

“But the new line currently seems like a way of justifying development, not the other way around.”

Transport minister Stokes, however, said the plan was aimed at developing growth and infrastructure needs at the same pace as development over the next 20 years.

“The enhanced public transport network is the catalyst for new growth and development along the corridor,” Stokes said.

“These 11 local communities will now have an opportunity to have their say about what they want when it comes to jobs, shops, public amenities and the character of these areas.

“We want to create places where people live, and where they can work and play closer to home.”

Bankstown to Sydenham corridor precinct map. Photo: Planning NSW

But Greens MP and planning spokesperson David Shoebridge said the plan would bulldoze historic centres to make way for high-rise development.

“If this ‘urban renewal corridor’ gets the green light, then the classic red roofs and green backyards of almost a dozen Sydney suburbs will be lost to rows and rows of tall towers and apartment blocks,” Shoebridge said.

“Under these plans the centre of every suburb from Sydenham to Bankstown will be flattened to make way for profit-driven high rise development.

“This means increased pressure on already congested local roads, public transport as well as schools, childcare centres and other facilities.

“Only a government with contempt for democracy works up plans to bulldoze the historic centres of so many Sydney suburbs without first speaking to the people who live there.”

Shoebridge warned the government that communities will galvanise to protect their neighbourhood from change.

“The Baird government is using its plans to privatise the Bankstown line and replace it with a metro train as the excuse for this massive expansion of apartment housing,” he said.

“Not surprisingly, there was no word before the election that a new metro train meant privatising the Bankstown line and flattening every suburb from Hurlstone Park to Bankstown.”

The state’s plan is for development in Sydenham, Marrickville, Dulwich Hill, Hurlstone Park, Canterbury, Campsie, Belmore, Lakemba, Wiley Park, Punchbowl and Bankstown.

Anthony Albanese. Photo: Shipping Australia

Albo takes Badgerys battle to Telegraph

Opposition transport minister Anthony Albanese has used a very big soapbox to slam the Government’s plans to build Sydney’s second airport without a rail link.

In an op-ed in the October 15 edition of The Daily Telegraph, Albanese criticised the Commonwealth and NSW Governments’ plans to open the Badgerys Creek airport in 2025 without a rail link to Sydney’s passenger network.

“This defies common sense,” he wrote in the News Corp. paper, which boasts a total audience of more than four million readers.

“When undertaking a major construction project you need to get the planning right first time.

“The alternative is doing half a job that has to be fixed later, usually at greater expense than if you had done the job properly in the first place.”


Building an ‘aerotropolis’

Albanese, whose seat of Grayndler sits south-west of the Sydney CBD, argued the very development of an airport would create a whole new centre of business in the Badgerys Creek region.

“An airport is more than runways and an airport terminal,” he wrote. “Properly planned, it can act as a catalyst for much broader investment in sectors such as logistics, manufacturing, tourism, services and education and training.

“When such industries set themselves up around an airport, it becomes what experts call an aerotropolis, where the aviation infrastructure serves as the impetus for a job factory.

“An aerotropolis at Badgerys Creek would be a game changer for the people of Western Sydney.”

New businesses set up around the airport would create tens of thousands of jobs for Western Sydney residents currently commuting to the CBD, he argued.

But that kind of growth won’t be viable without a good public transport line, he said.

“When you put together better public transport and a new airport, the result will be an employment boom.

“Getting it right requires we extend the existing passenger line from Leppington through to the western line near St Marys via Badgerys Creek.

“This would make sense even if we were not building a new airport because it will complete a loop line around Sydney and improve public transport services throughout the region.”


Capturing value

Government plans for Badgerys Creek incorporate space for a train station, but planners and other stakeholders have argued the airport won’t have the passenger throughput from day one to justify investing in a rail project yet.

But Albanese thinks that argument is simply one of convenience.

“The reason the current proposal does not include a rail link is that the state and federal governments are arguing about which should foot the bill,” he stated.

“This needless stand-off must end.

“With creative policy making, governments can fund an airport link at minimal public cost by understanding the land around the airport will be more valuable if the airport is served by a railway line.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull spoke earlier this month about his interest in more innovative funding models for major infrastructure projects. That line of thinking can solve the conundrum in Badgerys Creek, Albanese suggested.

“The revenue from land used for related purposes paid to the airport operator will be higher due to the rail access and there is no reason why this should be a windfall gain for the operator,” the former deputy PM wrote.

“The existence of the rail link would also increase land values of the employment lands in the nearby precinct owned by the NSW Government.

“The NSW Government should factor in that uplift value to its contribution to the rail line.”

Albanese concluded: “Now that the national government’s allergy to investing in rail has been cured, there needs to be a bipartisan commitment on the issue of public transport access.

“The people of Western Sydney deserve nothing less … We only get to develop a project the scale of Badgerys Creek once.

“It is imperative that we work hard to squeeze every drop of public benefit from the project.”

Flinders Street Station, Melbourne. Photo: Creative Commons / Adam J.W.C.

‘Contest of ideas’ hailed with Infrastructure Victoria creation

In an echo of Mao Zedong’s “let 100 flowers bloom”, Victoria’s new infrastructure czar, Jim Miller, has talked of a “contest of ideas” in determining future priority projects for the state.

Miller has been appointed inaugural chairman of Infrastructure Victoria, with responsibility for developing a 30-year infrastructure strategy for the state.

The creation of IV and the appointment of Miller have been largely welcomed by industry, although there have been some grumbles as to how much independence the new body will enjoy.

“The development of the 30 year infrastructure strategy will be a contest of ideas that we encourage everyone to get involved in,” Miller said in a statement.

“Infrastructure Victoria will provide independent and expert advice on infrastructure matters but it will not be the font of all knowledge.

“To develop a long term strategy that maps out the best way to deliver the best projects at the best times will require input from stakeholders, business, industry and the community.”

Infrastructure Victoria was formally established this month, with the Infrastructure Victoria Act 2015 and appointment of the board.

The seven-member board comprises Jim Miller (chair), Maria Wilton (deputy chair), Professor Margaret Gardner AO, Ann Sherry AO, Chris Eccles, David Martine and Adam Fennessy.

A search is underway for a chief executive.

Miller said the board was excited to be leading a new approach to infrastructure planning.

“I think everyone agrees that we need to do things differently to get the best outcomes for the state,” he said.

“There will be some big conversations to be had over the coming months, and no doubt some tough decisions to be made, but the board is excited and honoured to be involved.”

Public consultation on the 30-year strategy is to start early next year.

Opposition infrastructure spokesman Ryan Smith publicly questioned whether the government had seriously de-politicised keys decisions.

“In 2007, former Premier Steve Bracks said that Sir Rod Eddington had ‘great credentials in the transport industry worldwide and in Australia’ and his report would be ‘comprehensive’ and provide ‘good, long-term planning to make Victoria a much more liveable state’,” Smith said.

“A year later (current treasurer) Tim Pallas expressed his ‘gratitude’ to Sir Rod Eddington for completing an independent report that was ‘his own work’.

“A couple of months later, then Premier John Brumby said that meeting the infrastructure recommendations of the Eddington Report would involve construction ‘for the best part of a decade’.

“Since then, most of those independent recommendations for infrastructure projects have been trashed.”

Smith said three of the departmental secretaries on the board were duty bound to implement government policy and thus were unlikely to be independent.

Despite the criticism from the Opposition, many groups welcomed the Infrastructure Victoria board announcement. Among them, the Australian Logistics Council.

“The Australian Logistics Council welcomes today’s announcement of the Infrastructure Victoria board and congratulates its inaugural chairman, Jim Miller,” said Michael Kilgariff, ALC managing director.

“Mr Miller has a long and distinguished career in the infrastructure sector, and he, along with his fellow board members, provides the board with significant experience and expertise in the area of infrastructure funding and delivery.”

Kilgariff indicated he believed IV could remove some of the politics from decision making.

“The establishment of Infrastructure Victoria to oversee a pipeline of infrastructure projects across electoral cycles represents an important step towards taking politics out of infrastructure planning and implementation,” he said.

“In particular, it is essential that the movement of freight receives equal consideration to the movement of people.

“As ALC outlined on its submission on the Infrastructure Australia national audit, there needs to be a greater focus on analysing Australia’s long term infrastructure needs, particularly in regards to ports.”

This was particularly relevant given the impending privatisation of the Port of Melbourne.

“In that vein, we see Infrastructure Victoria playing an important role in analysing Victoria’s future port needs, a point ALC made in its submission on the Port of Melbourne lease bill,” he said.

“This review should not only consider whether a second port in Melbourne is necessary, but also issues such as whether land protection mechanisms to ensure the efficient movement of freight to and from ports are adequate and need to be strengthened.”

Also supporting the IV announcement was the Victorian Transport Association (VTA), which released a statement saying it hoped Victoria could finally plan and build the big transportation infrastructure projects that had been lacking for several years.

“The VTA has always supported the establishment of an independent body that can prioritise and plan for the big, long-term infrastructure needs of the state,” said chief executive Peter Anderson.

“Victoria hasn’t initiated a new major road infrastructure project for ten years, and this is largely because politics have impeded the ability of successive state governments to make – and stand by – major road infrastructure decisions.

“We are hopeful that this independent body can fulfil its charter of providing fair, balanced and non-partisan infrastructure planning and advice so that we can start to tackle long-term infrastructure challenges that will only worsen as our state grows, and the population increases,” he said.

“We wish the board every success, and offer our assurance and willingness to contribute.”

Anderson said the top infrastructure priority for the VTA is the North East Link connecting the Eastern Freeway with the Metropolitan Ring Road.

“The lack of connectivity of Melbourne’s major freeway network has massive impacts on the productivity of operators and this is most apparent in the north east of Melbourne.

“There is no direct link between the Eastern Freeway and the Ring Road, and with curfews on trucks on arterial roads at night, the only alternative for drivers is to go around – which is costly and time-consuming, or use small roads – which is unsafe.”

This article was originally published in the print edition of Rail Express affiliate Lloyd’s List Australia.

Michael Kilgariff, managing director of ALC. Photo: Oliver Probert

Freight needs equal consideration

COMMENT: Malcolm Turnbull is good news for public transport, but freight rail needs love too, Michael Kilgariff writes.

Much has been written and said since Malcolm Turnbull’s rise to power about the Federal Government’s role in our cities.

There is universal agreement that unless there is a renewed focus by all levels of government to improve our cities’ transport infrastructure, our economic prospects will inexorably suffer.

Chief amongst these is Infrastructure Australia, which warns in its National Infrastructure Audit that growing congestion threatens to cost Australians $53 billion by 2031 as the population increases to 30.5 million.

Infrastructure Australia also reminds us that the economic contribution of our major cities will increase by 90% to an input of $1.6 trillion in 2031.

From the perspective of the logistics industry, greater Federal Government focus on the workability of our cities is a positive step. It has the financial muscle that many state and territory governments simply don’t have to invest in projects to improve the economic efficiency and liveability of our capitals.

Similarly, the development of policies that pave the way for greater private sector investment in infrastructure projects is strongly encouraged by industry.

But in the rush to extol the virtues of government investment in trams, buses and rail links in our cities, the need to invest wisely in key logistics projects to improve supply chain efficiency has been somewhat overlooked in the national debate.

As attention turns to the crafting of the next budget, it is essential that the Government gives equal consideration to the movement of freight as it does to the movement of people.

In short, any new federal approach to moving people should not be at the expense of supporting supply chain projects to move freight.

Too often, freight is seen as an inhibitor, rather than a creator of wealth, prosperity and opportunity in Australia. But the fact is the health of our cities and our lifestyles are inextricably linked with national supply chain efficiency.

There needs to be greater integration between urban planning and freight planning to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past that restrict supply chain efficiency.

In practice, urban encroachment, a lack of buffer zones, and a tangle of passenger and freight rail on the same lines are all symptoms of a lack of attention to the needs of freight.

Ensuring there is a strong approach by governments to freight is imperative for three key reasons.

First: Australia’s rising freight task. The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics predicts Australia’s freight task will double between 2010 and 2030, and is likely to triple by 2050. Unless there is targeted investment focussed on connecting our sources of wealth with our domestic markets and international gateways, our cities will inevitably suffer.

Second: the economic windfall from improving the efficiency of our national supply chains. A report by ACIL Allen and the Australian Logistics Council (ALC) found a 1% improvement in efficiency of our national supply chains will yield a $2 billion-a-year benefit. It provides the evidence, if it were ever needed, that inefficiencies in the industry will cost Australia dearly unless all governments continue to focus on improving the efficiency of our supply chains.

Third: to maximise the economic benefits that can be achieved through recent trade deals, such as the Trans Pacific Partnership. Maintaining and enhancing efficient national and international supply chains is a fundamental component of any international trade deal, such as the TPP, and will help to ensure Australian businesses receive the full benefits of this and other important international agreements.

These economic realities underscores why ALC is encouraging Government to ensure there is clear responsibility for supply chain efficiency and freight in the new ministerial arrangements.

It is critical there not be duplication or overlap between these ministerial responsibilities, particularly as they relate to major freight projects. Freight cannot fall between the cracks, particularly when it comes to responsibility for major infrastructure projects.

The logistics industry looks forward to Infrastructure Australia’s 15-year Infrastructure Plan, due later this year, to provide this high level infrastructure blueprint, and to deliver the framework Australia needs to facilitate the more efficient movement of freight across our national supply chains.

Michael Kilgariff is the managing director of the Australian Logistics Council.

Bob Herbert, chairman of ARA. Photo: ARA / Shutterstock

Herbert made ARA chairman

Bob Herbert has been appointed as the chairman of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA), after serving as the interim chair during the turnover period of recent months.

Herbert took over as interim chair of the rail lobby group following the departure of chief executive Bryan Nye, and chairman Lindsay Tanner – who was completing a planned two-year term – in April. The leadership change was part of the ARA’s split with the Rail Industry and Safety Standards Board (RISSB), announced earlier this year.

A three-month review, led by Herbert, resulted in the appointment of Danny Broad as the ARA’s new chief executive in August.

Herbert will add the ARA role to an already impressive list: he is also the chairman of the Melbourne Cricket Ground Trust, the deputy chairman of Industry Capability Network, the chairman of the TrackSAFE Foundation, and the director of TrackSAFE New Zealand.

Herbert was recognised in 2004 by the Victorian Government and the Manufacturing Industry Consultative Council, for “exceptional services to the Victorian manufacturing industry,” and was admitted to the Victorian Manufacturing Hall of Fame.

In 2005, Herbert was made a Member of the Order of Australia, the citation reading “for services to industry, particularly in the area of industrial relations reform, industry training and skills development”.

Herbert was a non-executive director of Skilled Group from 2003 to 2015.

Prior to that in 1998, he brought about the merger between MTIA and the Australian Chamber of Manufactures, to form the Australian Industry Group (Ai Group), one of Australia’s significant national industry representative organisations.

Until February 2004 he was chief executive of Ai Group, having served for eight years in that role, and 30 years as a Director.

Herbert was a non-executive director of MainCo Melbourne – the joint venture of UGL Rail & Connex to maintain the Melbourne rail network – between 2004 and 2010.

His past work also includes leadership roles at the Superannuation Trust of Australia, the Emergency Services Superannuation Board, the CSIRO Manufacturing Advisory Council, the Birmingham University Business School Advisory Board, IXC International, the Enterprise Connect Advisory Board, and the Trade Union Education Foundation.

Sam Tarascio, Salta. Photo: Salta Group

Time is now for Port of Melbourne fast rail solution

Logistics and development business SALTA Properties believes a rail solution to increased throughput is imperative before the nation’s largest container terminal goes under the hammer.

Salta is one of many stakeholders to lodge submissions regarding the proposed privatisation of the port.

Under the system advocated by the company, containers at the Port of Melbourne would be unloaded at a dedicated on-port rail facility before being railed to strategic inland terminals via fast freight trains and then trucked to final destinations.

The idea would be to ease heavy congestion in the port precinct.

In itself the concept is not new – it was previously mooted during the Bracks/Brumby Labor administration that governed Victoria between 1999 and 2010.

But Salta Properties managing director Sam Tarascio believes it should happen now, rather than wait until the port is in private hands.

Salta itself has land available for terminal development, but speaking with Rail Express affiliate Lloyd’s List Australia, Tarascio said such a scheme would have positive outcomes for everyone: industry, government and the general public.

“So that means we can get a far more efficient container landside distribution logistics system,” Tarascio told Lloyd’s List Australia.

“By doing that, we improve efficiency and improve capacity at the Port of Melbourne.”

He said the scheme had been supported by both sides of politics, but no-one had pushed it to development. “It has come through the Liberal government and back to Labor and all have been supportive,” he said.

“We think now the time is right because all of the intermodal sites are now in place.

“There is infrastructure at the port that if the government acts quickly enough, they can protect for use as the metropolitan intermodal rail terminal.”

Tarascio said there was a need for political will.

“The thing that is causing us frustration is that most of the hard work has been done.

“The Footscray Road overpass and the train paths are in place and there has been money in the budget allocated.”

Rail infrastructure at the Port of Melbourne and minor rail connection works at the inland ports were allocated $58 million in the most recent Victorian State Budget (some $38 million from the Commonwealth).

“But for some reason it has been prioritised as something that should be done post-port sale,” Tarascio reported.

Proceeding with the project before the sale had benefits, he argued.

“It should be done pre-port sale because of all the benefits it brings in terms of certainty to port bidders, potential upside in price to the government plus a whole lot of other benefits including environmental benefits and efficiency benefits.

“So we’re saying it really should be done in advance of the port sale and that is the message we are trying to convey at the moment.”

Environmental benefits are also arguably substantial.

“Based on current volumes, if you could convert the capacity of the network onto trains… you would take 3500 of 5500 trucks that go into the port precinct (daily), you would take them off the roads around the port precinct.

“That has enormous benefits in safety and in reducing pollution and congestion.

“Road maintenance costs are also reduced so there are a whole lot of benefits attached.”

Tarascio said throughput estimates from both SALTA and others suggested a 1.4 million teu (twenty-foot container equivalent) capacity increase through the Port of Melbourne “so that’s very significant based on its current capacity”.

Most of the train paths are available, with dedicated freight lines to the west and north.

A south-eastern service would also operate on the existing passenger line, albeit it would have to operate outside of peak passenger periods.

“We talk to importers, exporters and shippers and there are many businesses that are passionate about it,” Tarascio said.

“Trucking companies, believe it or not, are supportive because of the inefficiencies they face going into the port.

“They would prefer to be at a more efficient inland location where they can get more trips.”

He argued SALTA was well-positioned to contribute to the project.

“We can bring together the terminals in the south-east and the west on land that we have acquired specifically for the purpose and have had it rezoned and connected.

“In the north we are working with AUSTRAK who already have a terminal but just need better connections.

“The reason we’ve gone down this path is our background in both property and logistics over 45 years.”

SALTA Properties chairman Sam Tarascio Snr identified about a decade ago that the Port of Melbourne was going to reach capacity due to landside constraints and started examining how those issues could be effectively resolved.

“Our main priority is seeing the short rail links into the inland ports are funded by government,” the younger Tarascio said.

“Altona has been funded and is completed while we anticipate similar investment will be confirmed soon by government for Dandenong South and at the third inland port site at Somerton.”

This article originally appeared on Rail Express affiliate Lloyd’s List Australia. Read the original article here.

Alstom-built SNCF TGV and Deutsche Bahn-built Intercity-Express (ICE) at Paris Gare de l'Est. Photo: Oliver Probert

Albanese pitches high speed rail to Canberra

Shadow transport minister Anthony Albanese has introduced a bill to the House of Representatives to create a planning authority for a high speed rail line for Australia’s eastern seaboard.

The High Speed Rail Planning Authority Bill 2015, presented to Parliament by the former deputy prime minister on Monday, would create an 11-person authority tasked with beginning detailed planning, and securing the rail corridor needed for a high speed rail link between Brisbane and Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra.

Albanese introduced the same bill to Parliament in 2013, but “the prime minister of the day [Tony Abbott] had no interest in rail and refused to bring the bill on for debate”.

Speaking to Parliament on Monday, Albanese described high speed rail as a “national game changer,” akin to the Snowy Mountains Scheme initiated in 1949 by former Labor prime minister Ben Chifley.

Chifley’s scheme, which created a massive hydroelectricity and irrigation network in southeast Australia, was not completed until 1972. Albanese said high speed rail, like the Snowy Scheme, would not be completed in a single political term.

“Chifley knew that true nation building is not about winning short-term political acclaim, but about taking decisions today that prepare our nation for tomorrow,” Albanese said. “A tomorrow many of us may not have even contemplated.”

The 11-member panel proposed in the bill would include one member from each of the states affected by the proposed line – Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT – along with one member representing local governments, one member nominated by the Australasian Railway Association, and five members appointed by the minister for infrastructure on the basis of qualifications or expertise.

The authority’s roles would include considerations of land use planning relating to the rail corridor, safety, measures to minimise environmental impact, public consultation, and intervention to purchase the corridor.

“High-speed rail exists in every continent other than Australia and Antarctica,” Albanese told his Canberra colleagues.

“New projects are underway all over the world, including in the Asian region, in the UK and in the United States.”

He referred to figures from the two-part high speed rail study he commissioned while he was transport minister under the Labor Government.

With Australia’s population figured to double by 2050, the study predicted travel on the east coast of Australia to grow about 1.8% every year over the next two decades, increasing 60% by 2035. “The study said east coast trips would double from 152 million trips in 2009 to 355 million trips in 2065,” Albanese said.

The 2013 report also found the Melbourne-to-Sydney leg of the high speed rail line would return $2.15 in public benefit, for every dollar invested.

But with a projected price tag of $114 billion, the study made it clear the project would need bipartisan, long-term support to go ahead.

“High-speed rail does require broad support,” Albanese told Canberra.

“Its construction would occur over many terms of government and, indeed, changes of government, which is why it requires broad discussion by this parliament.

“It requires leadership. So let us lead.”

Turnbull. Photo: Veni Markovski / Creative Commons

Turnbull looking for innovative funding models

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is exploring the idea of innovative funding models for transport projects, designed to capture value from rising property prices around new infrastructure.

Turnbull made several comments regarding innovative arrangements for funding public transport projects at a press conference on the Gold Coast on Sunday.

Sunday’s conference was to announce the Federal Government’s $95 million commitment to stage two of the Gold Coast Light Rail project, to join funding already announced by the state government and local council.

But Turnbull hopes road and rail projects can be funded in new ways in the future, reducing the burden on governments and promoting the development of more major, crucial pieces of infrastructure.

“The Federal Government will be making a capped grant – that is to say it is limited to this amount and no more – of $95 million to support the completion of this last stage [of the Gold Coast Light Rail] to Helensvale,” Turnbull said.

“This is not the only way the Federal Government can or should support infrastructure.

“In the future, we want to look at more innovative approaches.

“We want to look at arrangements where we can partner the state governments or with city governments as shareholders, as investors.

“We also have to look creatively at how we capture the value that arises from the increase in property values and the improvement in the utility of adjacent land from the building of infrastructure like this.

“This might be by owning part of the land or it might be from some sort of differential rating arrangement.”

Turnbull said he wanted to make sensible infrastructure decisions in his time as prime minister.

“Federal governments over the years, I think, have been reluctant to invest in public transport infrastructure,” he told the gathering.

“There is a range of reasons for that, but they are essentially historical. The reality is that you should assess the merit of infrastructure on its merits and not favour one road over rail or rail over road.

“And, you know, as cities become more densely settled, public transport infrastructure is of greater and greater importance. So, if you can’t have a roads-only solution, you can’t obviously have a rail-only solution either.

“So I think it’s just a question of taking a pragmatic, business-like, practical approach to it, no ideology involved. This is just business-like.”

He said the extension of the Gold Coast project, which will see it connected to south east Queensland’s heavy rail network, will be a “fantastic bit of infrastructure”.

“A project like this adds billions of dollars of value … to the Gold Coast, to the economy, to South East Queensland, the fastest growing part of our nation and of course such an important part of our economy,” he said.

“We, as a Federal Government, are delighted to be supporting it and helping make it happen.”