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Urban rail news in brief - July 2015
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It’s called “the train that only runs in election years”, and has proved as elusive as Sydney’s second airport. But after decades of inaction, momentum is building for a very fast train along Australia’s east coast.
And of all the hurdles facing the proposal to have a two-hour train ride between Melbourne and Sydney, perhaps the biggest is the “believability hurdle”.
Long seen as a transport fantasy, the rail link was floated by governments of both political persuasions for decades.
Fifteen years ago, then deputy prime minister John Anderson captured the mood of the Howard government, and perhaps the nation, when he canned a scoping study into an earlier proposal.
“Like many, I would have liked to have seen a very high-speed train network built in this country,” Anderson said in his press release.
“But the likely cost to government of such a massive infrastructure project was potentially enormous. To have continued further with the study would have been an exercise in false hope.”
After 50 years of governmental dithering, Sydney’s second airport at Badgerys Creek got the official green light two years ago. And today, amid the lingering scepticism fed by decades of inaction, a small group of entrepreneurs are confident that they can turn the dream into a commercial success and in the process transform how Australians live and work.
The huge cost — and government reluctance to fund it — is still an issue. But in a tantalising sign that this project could be different enough to prove viable, the private company has moved beyond the thought bubble and entered into legally binding contracts to purchase land at eight new city sites along the rail link.
Through signing four-year option agreements with 70 landholders, about 16,000ha of land is already secured for new city sites that would provide the financial underpinning for the building of the fast rail.
The company behind the plan, Consolidated Land and Rail Australia, make no bones about the fact it is a property developer and looks to leverage value from pastoral land in Victoria and NSW to build the rail infrastructure.
It is a symbiotic relationship that has potential to transform regional towns, which would be twinned — or “siamesed”, as the development company prefers to call it — with new smart cities.
The CLARA plan claims to be the first rail project that addresses two major problems for Australia’s future development — high-speed rail and decentralisation.
With both Sydney and Melbourne struggling with urban sprawl, congestion and unaffordable housing brought about by population growth — all forecast to worsen in coming decades — the plan is predicated on Australians wanting to quit the urban sprawl in favour of moving to regional centres connected to capital cities.
“Australians are faced with a choice; we can start planning today for decentralisation or face the burden of the populations of Sydney and Melbourne virtually doubling by mid-century,” the company says.
The alternative vision for such regional city living CLARA promotes is being refined by a new SMART Cities Lab established at RMIT in Melbourne.
A resident in a future greenfield city could be commuting to work in Sydney or Melbourne in half an hour, or staying in the new, sustainably designed community, says RMIT professor of architecture Martyn Hook.
The population of each of the eight cities is likely to vary, but Hook says each could accommodate about 250,000 people, mostly living in high-density accommodation in pedestrian-friendly communities.
This article first appeared on www.theaustralian.com.au
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