By Paul Hemsley
The Australasian Railway Association (ARA) has urged the federal government to tap the market and determine the level of interest from prospective bidders to help fund, design, build, operate and maintain Australia’s High Speed Rail (HSR) project between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
The peak lobby group for the rail industry has called for the massive project, officially costed at around $144 billion, to be put to the market as soon as possible to investigate ways of easing the financial burden on government stakeholders and finally get it rolling.
A renewed push to build an east coast inter-city rapid rail development has been back on the cards since Canberra rekindled the iconic project through another assessment in the form of High Speed Rail Study: Phase 1 in 2010, which projects the final cost of the project to fall between $61 billion and $108 billion.
Since that time, the federal government has been taking submissions fort the Phase 2 High Speed Rail Implementation Study. The ARA’s submission wants the government put the HSR project to industry in the hope that it will stimulate interest from private sector entities to invest in it.
The push for Canberra to tap private sector investment in HSR reflects the high financial stakes at play for all government bodies involved.
The ARA’s submission recommends that to ease the financial pressure on councils and state governments, a market based solution would spur on early implementation of the first stage of the HSR and result in the project being delivered at a lower cost because of competition.
Its plea for the government to get private companies to jump on board follows Minister for Infrastructure and Transport and now Deputy Prime Minister Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s speech to the Australasian Railway Association’s High Speed Rail Forum in Canberra late last month where he said that states and councils need to begin planning for the railway line before corridors were “lost to other development”.
Mr Albanese’s call for speedier planning by state governments and councils was echoed by ARA chief executive officer Bryan Nye, who said the ARA submission recommends that the Inter-Governmental Agreement is completed with a “much greater speed” than the study proposes, “that the route is finalised and protected and the project is put to market”.
“High speed rail is the one intergenerational project that will transform Australia and after decades of debate, we cannot afford to delay,” Mr Nye said.
Mr Nye insisted that the priority should be putting the project to market to formally test its viability within the private sector.
He also illustrated other cost savings by proposing a train station at Canberra Airport, which he argued would take $700 million off the project price tag.
“Overseas experience shows that air and high speed train travel are complementary when connected,” Mr Nye said.
He stressed the need for “alternative funding options” to be explored as governments around the world have been using funds obtained from other sources and that Australia should be doing the same thing.
”This could include real estate value capture along the route and around stations, acquiring larger parcels of land than required and selling it back to developers, airport alliances and transport oriented developments,” Mr Nye said.
He also argued that High Speed Rail could benefit regional areas by opening up regional Australia and decentralising the population.
With Julian Bajkowski
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