Morrison tipped to favour Asset Recycling states for transport funding

Federal treasurer Scott Morrison reportedly plans to allocate Federal Budget funding to transport projects in states that engage with the controversial Asset Recycling Fund set by the former Abbott Government.

According to an interview with The Australian, the treasurer, who will deliver the Federal Budget on Tuesday night, plans to bring a “sharper economic focus” to the national infrastructure plan, which will include funding projects like the Melbourne Metro, the Sydney Metro, Perth’s airport railway and a light rail network in Sydney’s west.

To do this Morrison plans to lean on the Asset Recycling Fund, set up by Tony Abbott’s treasurer, Joe Hockey.

The Asset Recycling Fund gives federal money to states when they sell public assets like ports and other infrastructure in order to fund major projects.

It has been criticised by opponents for essentially forcing states to privatise significant assets if they want to build critical infrastructure.

But according to The Australian, Morrison believes this influence over state policy to be one of the benefits of the controversial approach.

“What I think the asset recycling initiative has demonstrated is we cannot only focus the state spend but we can also leverage the way that they manage their own assets to achieve that, not just to invest in the projects they invest in,” Morrison was quoted by The Australian on Monday.

“So you’re getting a multiple dividend there from fiscal and financial policy at a state level as well as the economic outcomes of the infrastructure.”

The Australian’s exclusive report suggests this year’s infrastructure budget funding will therefore go to states who have shown they will willingly privatise major infrastructure to fund new work.

According to The Australian, the budget will include $2.19 billion for NSW projects, including $1.7 billion for the Sydney Metro project and $78.3 million for the Parramatta Light Rail project.

Victoria is tipped to get $877.5 million for the Metro Tunnel project, while more spending on Victorian roads is likely to push the state’s total federal infrastructure spend to $2.4 billion.

Perth’s Forrestfield-Airport Link is also tipped to get funding.

But there are no projects listed by The Australian for South Australia, and Queensland’s only listing is funding for the Ipswich Motorway.

Queensland treasurer Curtis Pitt was angered by the news, saying his state was being mistreated.

Pitt warned Morrison – a New South Wales representative – to “short-change” those north of the border at his own risk.

“If NSW and Victoria receive the lion’s share of a suggested $5 billion for public transport infrastructure in the Federal Budget, then Queenslanders will have every right to feel drastically short-changed,” Pitt said on Monday.

“On population share alone we would expect $1 billion of that amount and we have an essential major project in Cross River Rail that should be supported.”

Pitt’s Labor Party, led by Annastacia Palaszczuk, won the 2015 state election after the previous Coalition Government vowed to sell off major infrastructure if they were re-elected.

The election was thus positioned by Labor as a referendum on asset sales, with the Queensland people voting against them by voting Palaszczuk into power.

“Voters spoke clearly at the January 2015 state election on asset sales,” Pitt said.

“If the Budget allocations for infrastructure are to reward states engaging in asset sales, then Queensland voters will make their views known at the coming federal poll.

“Queensland should not be penalised for the simple fact that the Palaszczuk Government is keeping its election commitment not to sell our revenue-generating government-owned corporations.

“Scott Morrison has a clear choice — either he allocates a fair share of federal infrastructure funds to Queensland in tomorrow night’s Federal Budget or he abandons our state.”

Australian Greens senator Janet Rice also criticised the news.

“It is disappointing that funding public transport is being made in exchange for the privatisation of vital public assets,” Rice said on Monday.

“After years of neglect of our public transport networks, something is better than nothing, but this budget measure would be no different from what Tony Abbott was proposing as Prime Minister.”

Albanese presents high speed bill to Canberra

A special authority will be created to progress the development of a high speed rail line along Australia’s east coast, if legislation tabled by shadow transport minister Anthony Albanese is successful.

Albanese introduced his High Speed Rail Planning Authority Bill into Parliament on Monday.

The former deputy prime minister tried to introduce the same legislation in April, but was silenced by a vote led by the Government’s leader of the house Christopher Pyne.

On Monday his bill was read, and tabled for further debate in Tuesday’s sitting.

“The proposed high speed rail link between Brisbane and Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra is a project that requires vision,” Albanese told the House of Representatives.

“It is complex, necessarily involving the governments of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory as well as dozens of local councils.

Albanese is proposing the creation of a high speed rail authority as a result of a report he commissioned while Labor was in power.

“We have done the research. We know that the project is viable,” he said.

“The experts said that high speed rail had huge potential, particularly if we consider where our society is headed over coming decades.”

Albanese’s legislation would create an 11-person high speed rail authority.

The authority would include one member from each territory and state affected – Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory – and one member representing the Australian Local Government Association.

It would have one member nominated by the Australasian Railway Association.

And it would include five expert members appointed by the minister for infrastructure.

“Vision is one of the obligations of leadership,” Albanese concluded in his Monday speech.

“True leaders do not just sit around waiting for the telephone to ring. They act.”

Albanese said if elected later this year, a Labor Government would make the legislation a priority, asking a high speed rail authority to call for expressions of interest from international rail companies.

Delays at Canberra: why Australia should have built fast rail decades ago

COMMENT: A fast rail link between Sydney and Melbourne was first proposed in 1984. So why haven’t we done it yet? Peter Newman investigates.

The front-page headlines generated earlier this month by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s promise to link Australia’s major eastern cities by fast rail may be seen by many voters as yet another major infrastructure pledge made hurriedly in the run-up to a federal election that is likely to evaporate just as quickly afterwards.

Fast intercity rail certainly has form when it comes to being put on the table only to be whipped away again. Linking Australia’s two biggest cities by rail would be in the same nation-building category as the Snowy Mountains Scheme, yet we have been talking about it for decades without actually doing it.

How different might things be now if Australia had built the Very Fast Train (VFT), first proposed in 1984 by the then CSIRO chairman, Paul Wild. The plan (on which I worked) attracted the support of leading companies of the day, including BHP and Elders IXL, but was bogged down in taxation issues and eventually scrapped in 1991.

If it had gone ahead, we would have had an infrastructure capable of shaping the new century for Australia’s densely populated east coast, instead of still waiting for it today.

The route

The first choice was a coastal route running from Melbourne through the Latrobe Valley (and what a boost that would have been to a region that even then was struggling with its over-reliance on brown coal), the Gippsland lakes (with a branch line to the mountain resorts), the southern New South Wales coastal towns and into Sydney via Wollongong (a rust-belt city at that time that would also have benefited from this investment).

This was later replaced by an inland route identified by the CSIRO and the VFT consortium, after a series of localised environmental protests. Canberra became one of the designated stations on the inland route and the rest is history – there has never been a return to the original route, despite the fact that more than 90% of Australians live near the coast.

Click to enlarge

 Fast rail route proposed in 1987, after being diverted inland via Canberra. Source: VFT consortium / Author provided.
 Fast rail route proposed in 1987, after being diverted inland via Canberra. Source: VFT consortium / Author provided.

 

The funding

Perhaps unsurprisingly, finance was the original project’s downfall. It became a private-sector joint venture in 1987 but collapsed in 1991 when the federal government decided against easing the tax burden on the project’s initial major outlays in return for higher tax overall.

Australian governments have struggled ever since to find ways for public-private partnerships to fund big projects. Until now, perhaps.

This time around, Turnbull has touted the prospect of “value capture”: the financial benefit that the private sector could gain from the boost to urban development around stations – as seen, for example, near Japan’s Shinkansen (bullet train) stations.

In tax increment financing (TIF) schemes, which are more common in the United States for financing infrastructure projects, value capture by governments via increased property rates and taxes has provided a basis for public sector funding. But this has not proved popular in Australia.

The challenge

We have even more urban and regional challenges than we did three decades ago. Sydney and Melbourne are each facing rapid population growth and will need to avoid the damaging consequences of urban sprawl and car dependence. Both cities will need to redirect growth inwards, to brownfield and greyfield sites.

Another consideration is how to disperse the population into regional cities, so these areas can also benefit from improved economic activity. Fast rail can potentially help regional cities become part of a “mega-metropolitan” economic region.

For example, a 350km/h service connecting Melbourne with Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo and Warragul would transform these provincial centres into the equivalent of Melbourne’s middle-ring suburbs, where 30-minute commutes are the norm.

Click to enlarge.

Travel times in minutes from Melbourne. Source: CSIRO / Australia State of the Environment Report, 1997 / Author provided.

Travel times in minutes from Melbourne. Source: CSIRO / Australia State of the Environment Report, 1997 / Author provided.

 

This route would also be the beginning of an inter-capital fast rail route, from Melbourne to Canberra (possibly via Shepparton), and then running through various population centres, via Badgery’s Creek (Sydney’s proposed second international airport) to the Sydney CBD.

The carbon case… and a bump in the track

Almost 8 million passengers flew between Melbourne and Sydney in 2015, making this route the world’s fourth busiest (ahead of Beijing-Shanghai). The carbon savings from a Melbourne-Sydney fast rail link therefore represent a major potential reduction in greenhouse emissions, especially if it is powered significantly by renewable energy.

This obviously wasn’t part of the business case back in the 1980s. But in 2016 it is surely a candidate for the federal government’s Emissions Reduction Fund.

The government’s proposed value capture funding model has a sting in the tail. Privately held land near the rail link and its stations will need to be rezoned and handed to private firms to build facilities (and surrounding developments) that they would then own and operate.

Land acquisition, even with compensation at market value, is generally not welcome in Australian cities. This is just one example of what makes transformational urban change so hard. But this kind of transformation will be critical to the creation of 21st-century cities that are productive, competitive, sustainable and liveable.

 

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Peter Newman is Research Professor in Sustainable Urbanism, Swinburne University of Technology. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original here.

 

Crew member injured in Rawlinna derailment

The Australian Rail Track Corporation has built a 300 metre track deviation on the Trans-Australian Railway near Rawlinna, Western Australia, after a Pacific National freight train derailed on Thursday morning, April 21.

The ARTC re-opened the line on Monday afternoon after crews worked over the ANZAC long weekend to build a deviation around damaged track on the line.

Around 11.15am Western Standard Time on April 21, a Perth-bound freight train derailed on the railway, which is part of the east-west line connecting Sydney, Adelaide and Perth.

One crew member, travelling in the crew car, sustained facial lacerations and was given medical treatment, according to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, whose safety inspectors quarantined and investigated the site after the incident.

According to the Bureau’s initial summary, the train’s two locomotives, crew van and six of its wagons derailed, coming to a rest on their sides.

The train was Pacific National 3MP5, according to the ATSB.

Other freight trains were stowed at various locations along the rail network while crews worked to build the new deviation.

By Friday, April 22, the ARTC had mobilised heavy earthmoving equipment and other materials to the site to build the deviation.

“While the derailment site is in a remote location, ballast supplies have been arranged and rail and sleepers available locally will be used to repair the track,” a spokesperson said.

The rail line was progressively returned to service from 2pm WST on Monday afternoon.

Aurizon locomotive derailed in north west Queensland. Photo: Queensland Rail

Floodwaters triggered acid train derailment

Drainage systems are under the microscope after the ATSB found the December 2015 derailment of a sulphuric acid train in North West Queensland was likely the result of a ballast washout.

Aurizon train 9T92 was travelling east to west along the Mt Isa railway on the morning of December 27, 2015, when it encountered a washout site, where floodwater had scoured the ballast and formation.

The train was travelling at 51km/h, 9km/h below the maximum track speed, when it ran over the washout, according to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau’s preliminary report, released late last week.

The narrow gauge (1,067mm) track at the derailment location was constructed of 41kg/m rail fastened to sleepers by resilient clips, the preliminary report states.

The track formation was comprised of black vertosol soil overlaid with ballast with a nominal design depth of 200mm.

Around seven hours before the incident, heavy rain was reported to Queensland Rail’s far-west control board, by another train roughly 50km east of the derailment site. Around the same time, the Rail Management System signalled – to the same control board – high water at Holy Joe Creek, roughly 60km west of the derailment site.

Excessive rainfall was caused by an active monsoon trough extending across the tropical north of Australia, the ATSB said.

To assess the track during the weather incident, Queensland Rail had a track inspector working along the line from west to east, and had directed another track inspector to work from east to west.

Neither inspector had reached the derailment site before the derailment occurred, however.

A member of the train crew saw the washout with the train roughly 45m away.

The driver moved the throttle to idle and moved the brake handle to the emergency position, but the train entered the washout shortly afterwards, according to the Bureau.

“The crew felt the locomotive bounce and saw water splash on the windscreen before it derailed and began to tip over,” the preliminary report states.

“The pitching of the locomotive while traversing the washout and tipping, ejected the train crew from their seats.”

Fortunately all crewmembers survived the incident without any major injuries.

More than 60,000 litres of sulphuric acid, owned by mining and chemicals firm Incitec Pivot, were spilled in the derailment.

The ATSB has outlined a number of exploratory paths it intends to take as it completes its investigation.

One path is an examination of the arrangement of drainage systems on the section of railway where the washout took place.

There was a grouping of three 1050mm diameter corrugated steel pipes installed under the track formation at the derailment site.

Immediately west of the site, three additional 600mm diameter corrugated steel pipes were installed at about 10m intervals.

In addition to this arrangement, a series of concrete culverts pass under the Flinders Highway, a little to the north of the railway.

The setup is designed to allow water to flow from a catchment north of the highway, to the watercourse south of the railway.

As well as a further investigation into the drainage system, the ATSB will look into whether organisational systems and procedures are adequate to identify, monitor and respond to a weather event.

The Bureau also plans to investigate the training programs for train crew with regards to responding to weather events, as well as the ease with which train crews can get out of a locomotive cabin in the case of a derailment.

According to the Bureau, the crew was unable to break the train’s front windshield with the safety hammer provided, and had to use a passer-by’s mobile phone to contact Aurizon after the train’s communications equipment was rendered useless by the floodwaters.

The ATSB also wants to investigate the adequacy of tanker crashworthiness, after at least one of the train’s acid tankers burst during the derailment.

Train 9T92 was a freight service operated by Aurizon between Townsville and Phosphate Hill. It consisted of one locomotive (2814), hauling 26 GATX freight tanker wagons, giving it 354.3m of total length, and a trailing mass of 2,028 tonnes.

The 60,800 litres of sulphuric acid was a small portion of the 819,000 litres being moved by the train.

Our cities need city-scale government – here’s what it should look like

COMMENT: The role both state and federal governments play in Australia’s urban regions is often incompatible with effective metropolitan governance, Richard Tomlinson writes.

For residents of Australia’s cities, federalism means state governments have the right to assert what is in their best interests. Vertical fiscal imbalance has given the federal government licence to presume to know better than state governments what is in residents’ best interests. The possibility that they might themselves know what’s best is not a consideration.

The Greater Sydney Commission’s chief commissioner, Lucy Turnbull, might disagree. The commission values “citizen engagement”. However, it reports to the NSW planning minister.

A metropolitan planning agency that engages citizens, but is not representative of – and accountable to – those people, cannot be represented as promoting democratic governance. This is especially so when state and federal governments control the budget for metro-scale infrastructure and services.

The federal funding largely takes the form of infrastructure grants and other tied grants that limit decision-making at the metropolitan level.

What’s the problem?

I recently wrote about Australia’s democratic, planning and governance deficits, and the infrastructure gaps.

The role both state and federal governments play in urban regions is often incompatible with effective metropolitan governance, planning, accountability, productivity, service delivery and fairness.

To overcome these problems, Australia needs representative metropolitan governments that meet the following requirements:

  • are accountable to a metropolitan constituency;
  • undertake strategic planning;
  • are responsible for metro-scale infrastructure projects and services;
  • generate revenue; and
  • are in large part fiscally autonomous.

Autonomy means that metropolitan governments are able to enter municipal infrastructure finance markets, issue municipal bonds and negotiate service-delivery agreements with the private sector and civil society. This enables them to distance themselves from state and federal governments when deciding metro-scale infrastructure and services priorities.

Top-down approach

Australian governments, both Coalition and Labor, have over the decades repeatedly promoted some or other urban initiative. Enthusiasm for these initiatives has never been matched by their success.

In 2011, many urban academics and professionals welcomed the Labor’s national urban policy. National urban or spatial policies were popular in the 1970s and 1980s. In 2015, they welcomed the short-lived Coalition ministerial portfolio for cities and the built environment.

In a country that is 90% urban, few policies are not de-facto urban. Policies with no urban intent, but with unintended urban outcomes, arguably exceed the impact of policies with urban intent. Instead of building unintended cities, far better that such matters are left to the cities concerned.

Internationally, the metropolitan “renaissance” since the early 1990s is based on enabling various forms of metropolitan government and governance to determine their own path in collaboration with higher tiers of government. This decentralisation does not have the prescriptive characteristics associated with the top-down creation of metropolitan governments in the 1960s and 1970s.

The “constitutive process” of metropolitan governments is central to their legitimacy and effectiveness. In Australia, this can take the form of constitutional change and the creation of a third level of government.

If the federal government were to conclude that metropolitan government is desirable – and that constitutional change is improbable – it has the option of creating an incentive framework for the creation of metropolitan governments.

This would involve tying access to federal grants to their use by metropolitan governments. That would create an incentive for state governments to legislate the creation of metropolitan governments.

The federal government has previously used incentives in this way. An example is the National Competition Policy that the Keating Labor government introduced in 1995 and Howard Coalition government carried forward.

By agreeing to share the productivity (tax) dividend from a more competitive economy, the Commonwealth was able to persuade the states and territories to undertake far-reaching reforms to infrastructure ownership, trade and professional licensing, other market access laws and utility pricing. All these matters lay outside the Commonwealth’s direct jurisdiction.

Independently of the federal government, the constitutive process can also take the form of negotiations among state and local governments. As Gabrielle Appleby has written:

Internationally understood, federalism … emphasis[es] the democratic importance of subsidiarity and localised, accessible governance that facilitates diversity, creativity, experimentation, competition and participation.

A possible way forward

What principles of metropolitan government would form the basis for negotiations?

The first is subsidiarity. Metropolitan government should provide the infrastructure and services that are best provided at a metro scale and reflect the priorities of metropolitan residents.

The second is that user charging and taxes should reflect responsibilities for the infrastructure and services expenditure. Higher levels of government devolve responsibilities far more willingly than they devolve resources. Unfunded mandates are to be avoided.

All this is more easily said than done. The services best provided at a metro scale can be debated – as can who should provide the service.

Debate is desirable when it occurs among providers and users of infrastructure and services. Undesirable outcomes are likely when those making decisions are not users who decide what they want and can afford.

A metropolitan government’s essential features should be:

  • Democracy: the government should be representative of a metropolitan constituency and accountable to it for infrastructure and services, and adopt transparent decision-making and budgeting processes.
  • Responsibility: the government should be responsible for ensuring the delivery of metro-scale public goods and services, and for strategic planning, integrating transport and land-use planning, city-shaping infrastructure investments and land-use guidelines for lower levels of government.
  • Autonomy: metropolitan government should generate its own revenue, be fiscally sound and have access to municipal infrastructure finance markets.

Creating metropolitan governments and enfranchising a metropolitan constituency becomes substantive when the government is autonomous.


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Richard Tomlinson is Professor of Urban Planning, University of Melbourne. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article here.

Sydney light rail. Artist's impression: Transport for NSW

The case for trees: Why we need to rethink skewed urban planning values

COMMENT: If planning decisions properly considered the value of trees in a city, we could have a modern transport system and tree-lined views to enhance the journey, Louise Boronyak.


Looking out of the window on my morning bus journey from Kensington into Sydney’s CBD, I saw more trees being cut down to make way for the new light rail. This time, it was the historical fig trees that line Anzac Parade.

Trees like these provide a host of important ecological, environmental and aesthetic benefits. I – like many Sydneysiders – am deeply saddened by their loss. It leaves me wondering, why can’t we have a modern transport system but also enjoy a nice view along the way?

In meeting the needs of growing populations across our capital cities, it is vital that we have efficient, integrated public transport, with enough capacity to meet demand. The challenge of retrofitting transport systems into an established urban fabric means difficult decisions are inevitable. But what if building these new transport systems actually leaves parts of our cities more vulnerable to even bigger challenges, such as climate change?

Sydney and Canberra are forging ahead with light rail projects intended to reduce traffic congestion and improve accessibility. However, in both cities a significant number of mature trees will be impacted.

In Canberra, the ACT government is set to remove approximately 860 trees. In Sydney, about 1277 mature trees will either be removed or have their canopy or roots pruned.

Of the condemned trees, 871 are classified as trees of significant value. These trees, some of which were 160 years old, provide an array of benefits that make our cities liveable. These include clean air, amenity, biodiversity and cooling in hot temperatures.

The tree felling has has caused outrage among Sydney residents who are frustrated by the way planning decisions were made. A controversial amendment to the route to accommodate private commercial interests meant many trees were removed at the end of 2015.

Cutting down cities’ natural cooling system

Many places in Australia are going to become hotter with climate change. The number of extreme heat days over 35 degrees is projected to increase.

The impact will be greater in cities due to the “heat island effect”. This amplifies the impacts of heat due to the abundance of hard and dark surfaces.

Extreme heat days in Australian cities. Source: BoM 2013b, CSIRO and BOM 2007, Author provided
Extreme heat days in Australian cities. Source: BoM 2013b, CSIRO and BOM 2007, Author provided

The table above shows that, by 2070, heatwaves are projected to nearly double the long-term average in both Sydney and Canberra. This is significant as major heatwaves are Australia’s deadliest natural hazard. Extreme heat accounts for 55% more deaths than all other natural hazards combined.

A recent study showed that heat stress on the workforce costs the Australian economy US$6.2 billion a year due to absenteeism, reduced productivity and injuries. This is a problem that has become too big to ignore.

However, increasing the amount of green cover in urban areas can help us adapt to extreme heat. Urban street trees provide the only cost-effective way to cool our cities, due to the direct correlation between heat and tree canopy cover.

Trees create their own microclimates through a combination of shading and the evapotranspiration of water from leaves, which reduces ambient temperatures. Removing canopy trees today means those cooling benefits will be gone for at least another 20 years – and that is only if new plantings survive to maturity.

The federal government recently announced plans for decade-by-decade goals – out to 2060 – for increasing overall tree coverage in our cities. Internationally, cities such as Madrid, which regularly experiences temperatures over 30 degrees and extremes above 40 degrees in summer, are starting to see the serious health implications of heat islands. These cities are implementing bold strategies to increase urban tree cover.

It is clear that to adapt to a hotter climate, we need to retain as many trees as possible. Australia needs to set strong targets to increase urban tree cover.

It could have been a very different outcome in Sydney if the value of the trees had been considered equally in the planning decisions. We could have had a modern transport system and valuable and attractive tree-lined view to enhance the journey.

As someone who works in the area of climate change adaptation, I can see how the loss of these trees will have major environmental, economic and social consequences. As a local resident who has walked and cycled daily under the trees, the loss has a personal cost.

It is imperative that we find better ways to balance the needs of growing city populations, while ensuring the protection of the natural environment we ultimately rely on to survive.

$12.6m for Kuranda Scenic Railway

A $12.6 million project to ensure the stability of the railway between Cairns and Kuranda in Far North Queensland has kicked off with environmental and ecological assessments taking place.

The work follows five years of geotechnical assessment, with crews getting an understanding of the rugged terrain negotiated by the 37 kilometre tourist railway.

Stabilisation of the line is aimed at minimising the risk of rock falls and landslides, and reducing ongoing maintenance costs.

Queensland Rail said it would complete all works inside track closures and between scheduled trains where possible to minimise impact on customers.

Treasurer Curtis Pitt said the project was an important investment in a Far Northern icon.

“Over the past five years geotechnical engineers have been monitoring and undertaking inspections to determine what works may be required to future proof the iconic railway line,” Pitt said.

“Thirteen locations were identified as benefiting from reinforcement works and I’m pleased to see this $12.6 million project kicking off today.”

Minister for Transport Stirling Hinchliffe inspected the site with member for Barron River Craig Crawford.

“The first stage of the works involves environmental, cultural, heritage and ecological assessments of the area, to ensure the works don’t impact on the natural environment or heritage of the region,” Hinchliffe said.

“The assessment works will involve environmental officers gaining access, many by rope, to some of the most inaccessible parts of the track and inspecting rock faces, gullies, creeks, and fauna and flora.”

“Stabilisation work will include reinforcing cliff faces through the installation of rock fall barriers, protective mesh and netting, planting of trees and the upgrade of debris barriers,” Crawford said.

“This project will ensure we future proof our iconic tourist attraction which is enjoyed by approximately 400,000 passengers each year.

“The railway is a major drawcard for visitors and important to our region, boosting the economies of Cairns, Freshwater and Kuranda through tourism.”

The environmental assessment is expected to be completed by the end of April. Major stabilisation works are set to begin shortly after.

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

High Speed Rail thrust under election microscope

The viability of a high speed train line on Australia’s east coast is yet again part of the national debate, after a report surfaced this week that the Coalition is planning on launching a value-capture model to fund such a project.

Despite the fact their had been no statement formally announcing plans at time of writing (Monday afternoon, April 11), an exclusive report published in The Australian this week has already led to responses from the Labor Party and the Greens.

The Australian reported on Monday morning that the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, is preparing to announce plans for a high speed rail line between Brisbane and Melbourne.

The line would help connect regional cities, as part of a cities building program.

Helping to fund the massive project – again, according to the report – will be a bold value-capture strategy, which will seek to soak up the benefit of the high speed line by taking revenue from the landowners who gain from the line itself.

Anthony Albanese, who has been an advocate of an east coast high speed rail line for at least three years, says any suggestion the line can be built without any public money is total nonsense.

“Malcolm Turnbull is out there today on the front page of The Australian newspaper purporting to suggest that now he’s in favour of High Speed Rail and that it can be done for free. That is a fantasy,” Albanese told the media on Monday afternoon.

“You can involve the private sector and we should involve the private sector in value capture along the route because of the benefit that will be there for real estate in towns like Canberra and Newcastle, Albury-Wodonga, Shepparton.

“But there will need to be a government contribution.

“And most importantly you don’t build such a nation building project by having a headline in a newspaper.”

Albanese, who has lobbied for a Bill in parliament for some time which would create an Authority in charge of the project, says his Bill should be accepted if the Turnbull Government is serious about the line.

“He comes up with ideas that are old, that have been progressed, that indeed his government and Tony Abbott’s government have wound back and stopped the advance of, and then pretends that somehow this is some new whiz-bang initiative.

“It’s not.”

The Greens welcomed The Australian‘s report, and urged the prime minister to commit to action on “this transformative project”.

“High speed rail’s time has come, but Australia needs courage and vision to get it moving,” Australian Greens Senator Janet Rice said.

“The Greens welcome a robust discussion about smart ways to capture the benefit that land owners achieve from this type of transport infrastructure development, including through the use of land taxes.

“Former PM Abbott had little interest in clean 21st Century transport and instead pushed the barrow of more polluting toll roads. We need to see some real commitment by Mr Turnbull, not just another pre-election grab at a headline.”

Anthony Albanese. Photo: Shipping Australia

Albanese: Look no further than IA for transport advice

Shadow transport and infrastructure minister Anthony Albanese has welcomed a Grattan Institute report slamming government spending patterns, but says the solution to the issue is right in front of us.

A report from the independent think-tank this week suggested Australian state and federal governments too often favoured road and transport projects which would win them key election seats, instead of going after projects which stood up to rigorous economic testing and benefit-cost analysis.

Albanese praised the report for its “call for increased transparency and independent analysis of infrastructure projects”.

But the shadow minister, who was once the federal minister in this sector, said the solution proposed by the Grattan paper was well within reach.

The paper calls for an independent agency to be the key factor determining the best projects for government funding.

The trusted agency, Albanese points out, should be Infrastructure Australia.

“Infrastructure Australia weighs costs against benefits, then prioritises projects that are competing for Commonwealth funding according to their potential,” he said on Monday.

“The Abbott-Turnbull Government has instead ignored Infrastructure Australia, committing to poorly planned projects that have not been through IA’s rigorous assessment process.

“To make matters worse, in order to fund these projects, the Abbott-Turnbull Government has cut funding from projects already assessed and prioritised by Infrastructure Australia.”

Albanese said money was taken from projects like the Melbourne Metro, the M80 upgrade, Brisbane’s Cross River Rail and the electrification of Adelaide’s Gawler Line.

“Subsequently Melbourne’s East West Link has collapsed, the proposed Perth Freight Link has been stopped by the courts and the budget for Sydney’s Westconnex toll road project has blown out from $10 billion to $16.8 billion.”

So while Albanese agreed with the Grattan paper’s position, that more independent planning is needed in funding major projects, he points out that this independent planning is readily available.

“The problem here is not that there is no avenue for independent assessment of projects,” he said.

“The problem is the Abbott-Turnbull Government, which has cancelled projects that independent experts found to be worthy, to reallocate money to projects for which no case has been established.”

He said this would change if Labor was elected at this year’s federal election.

“Infrastructure Australia will be transformed from a passive assessor of infrastructure proposals to a central player in the national infrastructure scene,” Albanese promised, “making it easier to get projects off the ground and ensuring that those projects represent value for money and contribute to a more sustainable future.

“Projects submitted to Infrastructure Australia will also be required to show, in addition to a cost-benefit analysis, consideration of smart infrastructure technology and sustainability measures.

“This will increase value for public money and ensure genuine action is taken to improve the productivity, sustainability and liveability of Australia’s cities.”