Subject: High Speed Rail
CHRIS SMITH: Australia is well overdue for a high speed train and of course in terms of the rest of the world we are so far behind.
Well, Malcolm Turnbull is set to announce a new funding plan that could speed up a plan for a High Speed Rail network.
The Government’s infrastructure and cities policy will prioritise the rail line to Badgerys Creek in western Sydney and eventually work towards a line linking Brisbane to Melbourne encompassing of course, Sydney and Canberra.
It’s great news. Now we’ve heard it a thousand times before though and of late Malcolm Turnbull hasn’t been too flash providing some detail.
He hasn’t done too much due diligence on some of these bright ideas and thought bubbles. Is it just another thought bubble?
Well, it’s not the first time it’s come up. As I’ve said, we’ve heard it a thousand times before.
But one man who has done some decent due diligence on this and is a great fan of the very high speed train is Labor’s Transport Spokesman Anthony Albanese.
I’ve got him on line right now. Albo, Good afternoon.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good afternoon Chris.
SMITH: Don’t talk about Friday night though, will you?
ALBANESE: I won’t mate. It didn’t happen.
SMITH: Oh. A shocker.
ALBANESE: But look forward.
SMITH: All right. Before we talk about Malcolm Turnbull’s side of the fence on this concept, let’s talk in general. How vital is a High Speed Rail for our country, do you think?
ALBANESE: Well it is vital. It’s vital because it is the infrastructure of the 21st Century. One of the things that has happened I think Chris is that Australians are great travellers and they’ve been in Japan for decades with the Shinkansen line that has transformed Japan, was the key to its success in the post-war economy. They’ve been to China, but importantly I think they have been to Europe and they have travelled between London and Paris where now no-one flies.
ALBANESE: People get on that High Speed Rail line and it’s convenient.
SMITH: So effective.
ALBANESE: They can do work. It’s safe. They’ve been in Italy you know between Rome and Bologna and Milan, they’ve been between Madrid and Barcelona or Paris and Lyon and they’ve come back and they think: why can’t we do it here?
The study that I released three years ago – the second part of it – which was $20 million, showed that for between Sydney and Brisbane and Sydney and Melbourne it would take those routes down to under three hours.
I’m about to fly back from Melbourne now and it has taken me 40 minutes to get to the airport from the CBD. I then will wait. I am on a 2 o’clock flight. You sit and wait and the chances are that it might be a bit late.
SMITH: And wait until you get to Sydney domestic terminal and have to handle a new transport set up there.
ALBANESE: Then you are held up trying to wait for a gate at Sydney. And I live almost at the end of the runway you know and it takes longer than that.
That is the truth – door to door, even if you live close to the airport – and it doesn’t have the convenience and the safety and it is dead time as well.
And there is no doubt that it would transform intercity travel. But importantly also it would transform our regional cities –cities like Newcastle and Canberra.
If they were under an hour from the CBD of Sydney; if Shepparton and Wodonga were under an hour from the CBD of Melbourne; it would transform those regional cities and take some pressure off the big capitals.
So it’s a congestion-busting project, it’s a project that is about vision.
It won’t happen overnight and that’s why three years ago when I received the report I established an advisory group. I made sure that it wasn’t a partisan one.
I appointed Tim Fischer, the former Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the National Party.
I appointed Jennifer Westacott, the CEO of the Business Council of Australia; the head of the Australasian Rail Association Bryan Nye and other experts because the report found there would $2.15 benefit for every dollar that was invested between Sydney and Melbourne.
SMITH: So despite the spiralling cost of infrastructure especially when it comes to big road ways, you think that we can get almost double the value out of every dollar we spend?
ALBANESE: Absolutely and the cost is coming down because what is happening with High Speed Rail is as – an advantage of not being at the head of the queue is that the technology has got better.
ALBANESE: And as more has been produced the costs therefore are coming down. We know now what works and what doesn’t work.
We don’t have to go through that stage of experimentation that some of the first projects had to. So it does stack up economically.
It would be a massive jobs creator in the first instance.
But what we need to do, and what the advisory group recommended to me and I released their report without any political input, we just said we’ll adopt it full stop, we’ve appointed the experts.
And that recommended a High Speed Rail Authority being created. Because it crosses Queensland, NSW, Victoria and the ACT, you need planning approvals and you need to preserve the corridor.
Even people who are a bit cynical about it today would have to acknowledge, let’s not, by inaction today, rule out the infrastructure of tomorrow and the growth in urban areas means that we do need to preserve that corridor.
We need to start purchasing it. We need to get on with that. And we’ve had three years of inaction. I’ve had Private Member’s Bill before the Parliament to create the authority.
We had $ 54 million in the Budget that was taken out of the 2014 Budget and, you know, this is a Government that talks big about infrastructure but hasn’t actually built anything.
SMITH: OK, let’s talk about Malcolm Turnbull and whether this is simply a thought bubble.
[BREAK FOR TRAFFIC REPORT]
SMITH: Back to Anthony Albanese. Are we looking at like a T-junction in Sydney so that we have a very fast train that goes between Brisbane and Melbourne linking Sydney and then it goes west to Badgerys Creek?
ALBANESE: Well that wasn’t what was proposed by the advisory group. The $20 million study did not find that it would go through there.
It would go through Goulburn. But you could very easily have a spur off that or you could if, you had this authority, they could look at a modification of the route.
It certainly found through Sydney, effectively no matter where you go, you are talking about tunnels in Sydney. Because you need, common sense tells you, the trains going at 350km per hour plus, you can’t be standing next to it.
You can’t be next to it. So essentially it said that you need 67km of tunnels through Sydney and that’s where a lot of the costs are but there’s no doubt that in terms of transforming Sydney, it would make an absolutely enormous difference.
SMITH: OK. Where does this come from? In terms of Malcolm Turnbull, has he mentioned his support for a very fast train prior to this weekend?
ALBANESE: Not much I’ve got say and he sat silent as did the entire Government when they cut the funding for the project and when indeed Tony Abbott of course cut all funding for all rail projects that weren’t already under construction. So this was one of them.
So I’d welcome it if he wants to come on board but we need something more than just a statement.
SMITH: Is it another thought bubble, Albo?
ALBANESE: Well there’s been a lot of them and I notice Angus Taylor has been out there today contradicting him and saying it’s not going to happen and he is the Assistant Minister in charge of Cities.
So they have been a little bit all over the shop today. It’s unclear how serious they are. But one thing that is clear – you can’t do it for nothing.
The idea that value capture will create – the entire project will be able to be funded through that is quite frankly not realistic. We’d all like to …
SMITH: Just explain value capture for my listeners.
ALBANESE: Yes, what that would do, for example in regional cities like Wagga Wagga and Canberra the idea is that for new development, that is you put a new rail station in an area like Wagga Wagga, the value of the land around there will be uplifted and you reduce some of that value to pay for the rail line – that is to capture that economic benefit that is there so that you don’t get a windfall gain.
But one of the concerns is, that it is flagged in the report today, that you would go back and use another method that essentially charges the existing home owners and landowners for the increased value of their land.
Now, I can’t see how that could possibly work. Effectively you are putting a retrospective capital gains tax on the family home if you do that. And you know that’s been flagged today on the front page of The Australian.
SMITH: That’s got thorns all over it.
ALBANESE: That would create a huge backlash and justifiably so.
SMITH: Yes. Gary has just called in – one of my listeners. He’s got a question about funding. Go ahead Gary. Anthony Albanese is listening.
GARY: The railways are losing money now. How are they going to pay for it? I mean it’s all good to buy the land but it’s still 20 to 50 years away. I mean, overseas they are only short distance.
Like Beijing – there’s a city out of Beijing, about 20 minutes they get on a High Speed Rail and get into town.
Maybe some short distance ones you know, ones that are 150km say 200km or 300kms away from the city and you start with those. But Brisbane to Sydney and Sydney to Melbourne at the moment its BS.
SMITH: All right Gary. Anthony Albanese, is it 50 years away and where is the money coming from?
ALBANESE: No it’s certainly not and routes like Beijing to Shanghai is actually eight hours. What the report showed was that anything three hours or under is very competitive in terms of air travel because basically it makes sense to use rail rather than air and overseas experience shows that that is the case.
It showed that it went through the cost of what fares would be.
And they have to be the same effectively. It wouldn’t be cheaper than air travel but it would be for the same price that people would choose rail over air travel and the ones overseas like the Italian system that I have been on between Milan and Rome is privately operated.
There’s a public line but there is also a private line that is making money.
SMITH: Making money under private hands?
ALBANESE: It is producing a return.
SMITH: OK, but I worry when we start comparing ourselves with Japan. What have we got? Twenty-two million if we are lucky, they’ve got 130 million almost?
ALBANESE: Yes, but the population of Rome and Milan, when you look at what our population projects are, is pretty comparable, as is Madrid and Barcelona and many of the routes that are there in terms of Sydney and Melbourne will both grow to around about seven million by the middle of the century and so that’s what makes it.
We have a very big country with a sparse population relatively. But it is concentrated – concentrated around the east coast route.
That’s why I always get when this is raised oh, why don’t you build it to Perth? Well that’s never going to happen.
That doesn’t make sense. But it does make sense to do it between the big population centres and what’s more you would have your direct routes of under three hours, but you’d also have your regional stops so that Newcastle and Canberra, I’ll tell you what, you put Newcastle 40 minutes away from Sydney and it transforms that great city.
SMITH: Yes, all of a sudden true decentralisation as well along the route. Thank you so much for your time this afternoon.
ALBANESE: Great to talk to you as always.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.