Ahead of the upcoming 2019 election, the Federal Government has pledged $2 billion for a fast rail line between Melbourne and Geelong. The line would cut the 80km journey in half, to just 32 minutes.
It would also be the first of its kind in Australia, travelling at the fastest speeds of any train line in the nation at an average of 160km/h.
The Melbourne-Geelong fast rail would be the first of many to be built over twenty years between the big capitals and surrounding regional centres.
The Federal Government’s 20-year fast rail plan also invests $40 million for detailed assessments of five additional corridors:
- Brisbane to the Gold Coast
- Melbourne to Albury-Wodonga
- Melbourne to Traralgon
- Sydney to Wollongong
- Sydney to Parkes
The business cases complement three presently underway that the Federal Government has funded, and others that state governments are funding.
These detailed assessments will determine the next priorities for funding and construction.
The Federal Government pledged to create a National Fast Rail Agency to guide the work, determine priorities based on the assessments, work with state governments and communities and the private sector and provide innovative finance solutions.
It would aim to take pressure off the Princes Freeway and West Gate Bridge. Over 54,000 vehicles take the Princes Freeway every day.
The announcement comes as part of the Federal Government’s Plan for Australia’s Future Population.
This plan aims to take pressure off big cities and support the growth of the regions by lowering immigration caps and proposing incentives for skilled migrants to take jobs in regional Australia.
Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, said the congestion busting investment in infrastructure would give time back to commuters and enable more people to live in our regions and work in our cities.
“This is all part of our plan to manage population growth that I announced this week to take the pressure off our big cities like Melbourne and make our regional cities like Geelong even more attractive places to live and work,” the Prime Minister said.
“As our population grows, fast rail networks are crucial to easing the congestion pressures in our cities and shaping Australia’s future.”
The rail industry responds
The Australasian Railway Association (ARA) welcomed the investment and ARA CEO, Danny Broad, said fast rail allows commuting like never before.
“Fast Rail reduces travelling times, facilitating decentralisation of major cities, and revitalising regional centres through effective integrated transport options,” Mr Broad said.
“Other key benefits include easing of road congestion, and reduction of road maintenance costs, carbon and other polluting emissions.“
Mr Broad also hailed the commitment to create a National Fast Rail Agency.
“With the Federal Opposition’s policy for a High Speed Rail Planning Authority, we appear to have bipartisan support for a national agency dedicated to long term planning of faster rail initiatives. This is a welcome development,” he said.
Mr Broad said that rail projects in Australia have historically been in the province of state governments, resulting in a disjointed and uncoordinated approach to rail investment and decision-making.
The difference in rail gauges today is typical of some of Australia’s challenges.
“A National Agency will allow long term planning, and corridor acquisition that can work towards fast rail and High Speed Rail being realised in Australia,” Mr Broad said.
“Significant rail infrastructure needs long term planning and robust economic, and technical assessment that extends beyond the political cycle. We are beginning to see this bearing fruit.
“Governments around the country have already committed to over $100 billion of rail projects nationally over the next ten years, consisting of city metros, light rail and Inland Rail.
“These announcements complement existing rail investments.”
However, Mr Broad also warned that federal, state and territory governments need to address critical skilled labour shortages impacting rail construction, operations and maintenance.
In November 2018, ARA released the report Skills Crisis: A Call to Action that warned that unless urgent action was taken to address market failure, rail projects would blow out of budgeted costs and timeframes.
“Just as we need leadership in committing to high value projects, we also need leadership to reform our approach to rail education and training to provide the workforce to build and operate these systems,” Mr Broad said.
“A common approach from government and industry is needed. That’s why we are advocating for a high level taskforce to address the skills issues.”