THE Turnbull Government has put the brakes on a fast train along Australia’s East Coast, saying it won’t bite the bullet on funding because the sheer cost doesn’t make it “a sensible priority”.
Major Projects Minister Paul Fletcher said the government had no plans to spend “billions” building a high-speed rail link between Melbourne and Brisbane.
And he told a National Infrastructure Summit the previous Labor government’s estimate of $114 billion for a fast train was “an optimistically low assessment”.
Comparing the project to the experience in Spain, Mr Fletcher said it had taken 30 years there to lay down as much track as would be needed for a fast train between Brisbane an Melbourne.
“So, newsflash: There is no commitment by the Turnbull government to that kind of funding. It’s just not a sensible priority,” Mr Fletcher said, according to theAustralian Financial Review.
It appears a reversal of the Coalition’s intention back in April, when possible funding models were floated, and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull suggested staged construction could involve fast rain links in smaller areas linking cities and regional areas — raising hopes a major fast rail network would become a reality.
The concept of a “Very Fast Train” — a 350km/hour bullet on tracks that would link Sydney and Melbourne — was first floated in the early 1980s, but has never made it beyond the planning stage.
Labor wants to establish a High Speed Rail Authority, with Labor Infrastructure spokesman Anthony Albanese renewing that push earlier this year.
“You actually need a structure that will work to do the planning work to preserve the corridor across the jurisdictions and that’s why the High Speed Rail Authority was recommended,” Mr Albanese said at the time.
Mr Fletcher says a rising population “in 30, 40 or 50 years” might make the fast train concept more economically palatable, and discussions were continuing between federal and state governments about setting land corridors aside for the possibility of a time when “the economics of it less challenging than it is now”.
The overseas experience with fast trains is they are most effective when the trip between major cities takes less than three hours — meaning trains can outstrip the speed with which it would take to make the commute by plane.