Nov 28, 2013

Labor to fight for high-speed rail

Labor will introduce a Bill to Parliament to begin preserving the corridor for the future construction of a high-speed rail link between Brisbane and Melbourne.

Shadow Transport Minister Anthony Albanese’s Private Member’s Bill would also create a special authority to oversee planning for the project.

Mr Albanese announced his plan in Sydney today at the AusRAIL conference, hosted by the Australasian Railway Association.

Mr Albanese also told the conference Tony Abbott’s refusal to fund urban rail public transport in cities would damage the Australian economy and cost jobs.

“High-speed rail is a visionary project that could change the face of transport in this nation and reduce our carbon emissions,’’ Mr Albanese said.

“If we don’t start planning now for the possibility of high-speed rail it will never happen.’’

In government Labor conducted a feasibility study that found a high-speed rail link from Brisbane to Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra would cost $114 billion and, if operational by 2065, would carry 84 million passengers a year.

Mr Albanese said that while the project had its skeptics and would need significant private investment, it made sense to secure a corridor now, rather than have to pay more down the track when the need for the project became more urgent.

“This is about the Commonwealth accepting its responsibility to provide leadership for a project of national importance and moving forward in an orderly way to progress the planning,’’ Mr Albanese said.

The Bill is in line with recommendations made by the High Speed Rail Advisory Group, which included former deputy prime minister and railway expert Tim Fischer, Business Council of Australia chief Jennifer Westacott and Australasian Railway Association chief executive Bryan Nye.

It will propose the establishment of an 11-person authority including representatives from Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT as well as representatives of the Commonwealth, local government and the Australasian Railway Association.

The authority would report to Parliament annually about its progress.

In his speech to the ARA, Mr Albanese also questioned Mr Abbott’s refusal to contribute to important passenger rail projects like Brisbane’s Cross River Rail Project, the Melbourne Metro, the Perth Airport Link and Adelaide’s Tonsley Park Public Transport Project.

Mr Abbott believes the Commonwealth has no role to play in urban public transport and will instead confine his government’s infrastructure spending to roads.

Describing Mr Abbott’s position as “economic folly,’’ Mr Albanese said urban congestion was an acknowledged brake on economic productivity and job-creation.

Allowing urban congestion to intensify unchecked would damage retard job growth.

“Mr Abbott’s doctrinaire, anti-public-transport approach will damage the economy by stalling productivity growth,’’ Mr Albanese said.