On the eve of the Federal election the Labor government has unveiled ambitious plans for the construction of a high speed rail line along the length of Australia's eastern seaboard.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has announced that if re-elected in September Labor will commit $52 million to getting the multi-billion dollar project off the ground, as well as pass legislation to reserve a 1784-kilometre land corridor for the construction of the high speed railway between Brisbane and Melbourne.
The Prime Minister said the $52 million would be directed towards the creation of a new High Speed Rail Authority, which would be responsible for the finalization of station locations and the putting together of a business case for the mammoth project with Infrastructure Australia.
Under Labor’s plans the mainstay of construction would commence in 2022, with Sydney and Canberra connected as soon as 2030. High speed rail between Sydney and Melbourne will enter operation by 2035, and upon completion the full line will connect Brisbane in the north with the Victorian capital in the south.
The plan also envisages the establishment of stations in numerous smaller regional centres, including the Southern Highlands, Wagga Wagga, Albury Wodonga and Shepparton. The second stage of the project, between Brisbane and Sydney, will pass through the Central Coast and Newcastle.
A feasibility study was released earlier this year in April, and concluded that a high speed railway line connecting Melbourne and Brisbane would require over four decades to complete as well as cost up to $114 billion.
Transportation minister Anthony Albanese is vigorously touting the eventual economic benefits of the project, despite its exorbitant cost and lengthy time frame.
Mr. Albanese said that high speed rail is a “viable” project which “stacks up,” pointing out that it would bring a large number of jobs and deliver $2.10 for every dollar invested.
“[The project] would lead to the creation of…some 10,000 jobs during the construction phase.”
Opposition leader Tony Abbot said that if elected the Coalition would focus on road projects which can commence soon after it assumes office, instead of a high-speed rail project which is not slated for completion until the middle of the century.
“I’d much rather spend money now to get better outcomes tomorrow, rather than in 40 years’ time,” Mr. Abbot told members of the press in Brisbane.
Consult Australia, which represents Australia’s infrastructure design firms, has lauded Rudd’s high-speed railway plans as a “21st century vision”, as well as called for bipartisan support for the project, imploring party leaders to refrain from exploiting the issue for short-term political gain.
“Unfortunately with the current political climate, high speed rail is now even more at risk of becoming a political plaything that parties use to score points of each other and without considering the best interests of Australia’s infrastructure needs,” said Consult Australia CEO Megan Motto.
“What we desperate need is to secure bi-partisan support for this no-brainer critical nation building project.”