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VIEWPOINT: What?s your game, Albo?

<span class="" id="parent-fieldname-description"> In a speech given to the Sydney Institute last month, federal transport minister Anthony Albanese made several comments on a potential east coast high speed rail network which rather surprisingly, and despite his protestations to the contrary, painted the project in a fairly negative light. </span> <p>The Minister made a number of comments regarding the cost of the project, the amount of disruption that would be created by its construction, and – most bizarrely – the amount of noise he claims will be generated by the high-speed trains as they pass.</p><p>“As a high speed rail (HSR) train passes, the noise level will reach 100 decibels,” the minister said.</p><p>Now let’s think logically about this statement for a moment.</p><p>High speed rail (250km/h plus) as a technology has been around for almost 50 years. Japan, France and China have all developed extensive HSR networks that are thousands of kilometres in length, and there are thousands more kilometres being built around the world every year.</p><p>Even Australia has been considering HSR technology for well over two decades, with numerous studies conducted and a number of consortia formed with view to progressing the construction of our own high speed network.</p><p>While these consortia have floundered, noise surprisingly&nbsp was not a major issue in their demise.</p><p>Then out of the blue, after 50 years and all this research, Albo’s office creates the headline that HSR generates 100db, and that this could be a serious environmental concern.</p><p>It didn’t help that I first read the reports of his speech while speeding north at 225km/h from London to Liverpool on a Virgin Trains Pendolino service using their free wi-fi service to catch up on the latest news from home. Let’s not forget that the fastest any passenger train in Australia can travel is 160 km/h and that is only over relatively short sections, and I don’t think you get free wi-fi.</p><p>What is even more disappointing is that Australia’s press fell for the Albanese line, hook line and sinker.</p><p>The Sydney Morning Herald’s headline proclaimed “Albanese concerned about high-speed rail,” and went on to report, “But in a speech to the Sydney Institute on Monday night Mr Albanese said building a high-speed rail network would be costly and disruptive.”</p><p>As I sped ever northwards, the first three pages of a Google search for ‘Albanese high speed rail’ were taken up solely with similar news stories. Not one of these articles had even bothered to challenge the Minister’s statement.</p><p>A correspondent informs me that in Japan, Shinkansen HSR trains are regulated to achieve 75db or below and trains are slowed down where that level of noise cannot be achieved. The actual noise level for the Shinkansen measured at 50m away from the centre of the tracks is less than 70db.</p><p>Meanwhile, despite his protestations that “This is not to argue against such a project,” Albanese is an experienced enough politician to know that his comments would generate exactly the negativity that they indeed have.</p><p>So just what is his game?</p><p>I’ve had it said to me on more than one occasion that Albanese is one of the few real friends that rail has in Canberra and that were it not for him much of the recent investment in rail would not have occurred.</p><p>Unfortunately in recent times it would appear that the Government has gone coy on HSR. Observant readers may remember last year the PM herself attempting to poor cold water on HSR, saying that while it was a wonderful thing, it costs so much and who’s going to pay for it?</p><p>One can only speculate that the delayed Stage 2 of the Government funded HSR study will come out largely in favour of high-speed rail, but the huge price tag will make it nigh on impossible for Labor to go into an election later this year with it as a major part of its transport policy.</p><p>Further analysis of Albanese’s speech reveals that he is less than transparent in trying to set up the Greens and unspecified groups of NIMBYs as the fall guys when the Government announces it is abandoning any further&nbsp work on HSR.</p><p>“I predict that when I release the High Speed Rail study in coming months, some of the strongest opposition to the reality that such an ambitious proposal represents, will be from those who embrace the abstract idea of High Speed Rail.</p><p>“But as a concept, not as the reality that has a wide corridor, major tunneling, significant noise impacts, and that’s before we consider the significant economic costs.”</p><p>The whole debate surrounding HSR in Australia is immature at best, especially in light of what is being achieved overseas. Britain is about to embark on the development of a new high speed network – HS2 – planning for which is well advanced. Despite some community opposition and the high cost, the project in general enjoys bi-partisan apolitical support. Somehow I don’t think we’ll find the British Minister for Transport jumping up and proclaiming “HS2 is dead – it’s too noisy.”</p><p>You can read the transcript of the Minister’s speech at:</p><p><a href="http://anthonyalbanese.com.au/infrastructure-driving-productivity-address-to-the-sydney-institute">http://anthonyalbanese.com.au/infrastructure-driving-productivity-address-to-the-sydney-institute</a></p>