The Federal Budget has added detail to the Coalition’s plan to establish a National Faster Rail Agency, along with the five corridors the Authority will first study for business cases.
The Budget unveiled by treasurer Josh Frydenberg on Tuesday evening featured a lot of rail spending already announced by the Morrison Government, including $3.5 billion for the North South Rail Link in Western Sydney, $2 billion to develop fast rail between Geelong and Melbourne, $700 million to duplicate rail between South Geelong and Waurn Ponds, and $210 million for level crossing removals in Perth.
It also detailed $14.5 million will be spent to establish the National Faster Rail Agency, and $40 million will fund five business case studies.
The Government said the Agency will be supported by an expert panel, and will work in close partnership with state and territory governments and private industry.
Business cases will be developed under the plan for fast rail between Sydney and Wollongong, Sydney and Parkes via Bathurst and Orange, Melbourne and Albury-Wodonga, Melbourne and Traralgon, and Brisbane and the Gold Coast. These would be additional to the three business cases already being studied: Sydney to Newcastle, Melbourne to Shepparton, and Brisbane to the Sunshine Coast.
Frydenberg said the development of fast rail was “central” to the Coalition’s plan for Australia. “We are getting on with the job of building infrastructure,” the treasurer said.
Specifically, the news a business case would be developed for fast rail between Brisbane and the Gold Coast was welcomed by the Council of Mayors for South East Queensland.
“The SEQ mayors have lobbied incredibly hard to ensure our region has the infrastructure needed to cater for our growing population,” council chair and mayor of Brisbane Graham Quirk said. “This announcement is acknowledgement that our message is getting through and Canberra is hearing us loud and clear.”
Quirk said fast rail could cut the commute from Brisbane to the Gold Coast to just 35 minutes, a crucial improvement to manage population growth across the region.
“In the coming decades, the region’s population will grow to more than five million people. Without the infrastructure to support this growth, maintaining the liveability and lifestyle we currently enjoy in SEQ will become increasingly challenging.”
Australasian Railway Association CEO Danny Broad welcomed the introduction of a platform for future investment for congestion-relieving fast rail. However, Broad was unhappy with a lack of new announcements for urban rail projects, “particularly in light of the significant spending on roads nationally in this Budget,” he said.
“Given that a peak hour Sydney train can replace 800 cars and a freight train can replace 110 trucks, I would have liked to have seen more rail to deal with urban congestion.”
Broad did note a positive step elsewhere in the Budget, with $525 million allocated to improve the quality of vocational education and training.
“This includes the establishment of a National Skills Commission to drive reform, and additional payments to support up to 80,000 apprentices over five years in skills shortage areas.”
Broad’s desire for more urban rail funding was certainly shared by Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, who lashed the Budget announcement for neglecting her state.
“We heard plenty about Sydney and Melbourne and the vast sums of money lavished on those cities instead of ours,” the premier said. “$2 billion for a fast rail link between Melbourne and Geelong; $5 billion for an airport link for Melbourne … Nothing for Cross River Rail.”
The Morrison Government has repeatedly said it will not support the Cross River Rail project, choosing to instead point to the Palaszczuk Government’s commitment to fund the project alone if it must. Bill Shorten has committed to a joint funding model, should Labor win the forthcoming federal election.
“We don’t mind punching above our weight but I do object to having a hand tied behind our back,” Palaszczuk said. “My government wants to work with a federal government that wants to work with us. The numbers don’t lie. This federal government doesn’t back Queensalnd.”