A private company has unveiled its plan to build a high speed rail line between Sydney and Melbourne via eight new cities without spending a cent of taxpayer money.
Consolidated Land and Rail Australia, or CLARA, is a private firm which on July 14 announced its plans for eight compact cities between Melbourne and Sydney, all linked by a high speed rail line.
Supported through financing from Australia and the US, the project would rely largely on value capture and uplift derived from developing new cities along the inland route.
In this way, CLARA aims to provide an innovative answer to the question always raised when high speed rail is discussed: how do you pay for it?
“I take the point that it’s been around for a long time: a proposal to build a high speed rail between Sydney and Melbourne,” CLARA co-founder and chairman Nick Cleary told ABC Radio, “but our plan is about decentralisation. It’s actually a cities plan.”
Cleary says the group has negotiated the rights to buy roughly half of the private land it needs to build the rail lines and eight new cities along the route.
A train running express from Sydney to Melbourne would take roughly 110 minutes, while a train stopping at all eight city centres would take 165 minutes between the two.
CLARA isn’t yet specific in its plans for the high speed technology itself – its website discusses magnetic levitation trains in Japan, and more traditional high speed rail networks in France and China – but Cleary is more concerned with land acquisition and government support at this stage.
“This is all about us working collaboratively with government: and there’s three tiers of government that we need to engage with,” he told the ABC.
“It’s about hitting certain milestones which will trigger other parts of those agreements to be released and they’re multi-year option agreements and they give us legal control over the land that we’re talking about.”
Cleary served as vice chairman of the NSW Nationals between 2013 and 2016.
His fellow CLARA co-founder is Jay Grant, a private equity and property specialist who has also worked in government policy development and consulting. Grant is listed as CLARA’s managing director.
CLARA is also supported by a large advisory board including former NSW premier Barry O’Farrell, former Victorian premier Steve Bracks, recently-departed federal trade and investment minister Andrew Robb, and former US Department of Transportation secretary Ray Lahood.
Bracks also spoke with ABC, saying the private group’s plan would take the financial strain of the project off the government.
“It doesn’t need money from state or federal governments, but it obviously needs cooperation and approval for it to proceed,” Bracks said.
“This is about regional development, decentralisation and the land capture which will occur on the corridor between Melbourne and Sydney.
“And that will pay for the capital cost of the fast rail between Melbourne and Sydney.
“And the fare box, with a large population of Melbourne and Sydney, will pay for the operation.”