Passenger Rail

Public transport key to city prosperity: Fletcher

Federal urban infrastructure minister Paul Fletcher has spoken at the Australian Transport Summit, laying out the Turnbull government’s vision for public transport development in the country’s major cities.

With 90% of the Australian population now living in cities, and with cities providing a substantial portion of GDP ($854 billion to the economy in 2011), the Turnbull government, Fletcher asserted, was committed to planning public transport development that would encourage and harness the economic opportunities available.

“The data suggests that the economic value generated in a geographic area is correlated to the density of people working there,” Fletcher said.

“According to the Grattan Institute, the Sydney CBD produced $100 in value for every hour worked there in 2011-12; Parramatta, effectively the second CBD in the Sydney conurbation, produced $68 for each hour worked.”

Referring to a report by Infrastructure Australia, Fletcher noted that further projected population increases in the major cities means that Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth will need to “transform the structure of their built environments to accommodate their projected population increases”.

With increased density, Fletcher said, “heavy rail starts to have clear advantages over other transport modes because of its capacity to move large numbers of people quickly and reliably. A train line can move 50,000 people an hour. Compare this with a freeway lane which can move 2500 people an hour”.

Moreover, statistics indicate that employment growth is higher in areas on the rail network, and that rail construction will unlock more jobs.

“By 2036, approximately 912,000 more people than in 2016 will be able to get to strategic employment centres on public transport in less than 45 minutes,” Fletcher said.

Effective public transport planning, Fletcher emphasised, enables the better functioning of cities, bringing economic, productivity and lifestyle benefits. This means, he said, that public transport development is key to alleviating travel congestion and its negative impacts.

“The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics estimates that the avoidable costs of congestion for the major Australian cities total $16.5 billion for 2015–16,” Fletcher said.

“This comprises $6 billion in personal time costs, $8 billion in business time costs, $1.5 billion in extra vehicle operating costs and $1 billion in air pollution costs.”

Fletcher compared Sydney’s light rail project and planned Sydney Metro City and Southwest station at Barangaroo with recent developments in Portland and New York in the United States, and argued that the extension of transport services was an excellent way of both preserving the effective functioning of individual areas within cities, and spurring on further urban and economic developments around public transport networks.

In this context, Fletcher mentioned that Fishermen’s Bend in Melbourne could best realise its potential with “a better transport connection—either tram or heavy rail—to the Melbourne CBD”.

Fletcher said that the federal government’s contributions to the ongoing development of city transport infrastructure could be seen in its “strong pipeline of investment”, such as $95 million for Gold Coast Light Rail Stage 2 in Queensland, $490 million for the Forrestfield Airport Link in Perth, $42.8 million for Flinders Link in Adelaide, $1.7 billion for Sydney Metro City and Southwest, $78.3 million for Parramatta Light Rail and $67.1 million for Capital Metro in Canberra.

“At the same time, we are working with state governments to develop urban rail plans for Australia’s five largest cities (including their surrounding regional areas.) We announced this in November 2016, in response to Infrastructure Australia’s 15-year Plan.”

During his speech, Fletcher also spruiked the government’s funding for business case planning, such as $30 million for work to plan a rail link between the Melbourne CBD and Tullamarine Airport, the commitment of $792 million to progress urban rail projects in Western Australia, including extensions to the Thornlie and Yanchep lines, and the controversial $10 billion National Rail Program.

Referring to the latter, Fletcher said that federal funding would be provided “as part of an overall package of support, alongside funding provided by the relevant state government and the direct beneficiaries of the project”, and that guidelines for the provision of federal funds would be released in the coming months.

Fletcher also referred to the new Western Sydney Airport as being an important example of transport infrastructure contributing to city development. He did not, however, announce any new details regarding a rail link to the airport, instead emphasising the new M12 motorway connection and upgrades to the Northern Road.