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Regional cities located about 200km from state capitals could become the boom centres of the future if they were linked by high-speed rail services, according to British engineer Professor Andrew McNaughton.
Professor McNaughton, the technical director of Britain’s HS2 project, discussed the potential for Australia to develop HSR in meetings with politicians and business people during a visit last week.
He described Goulburn as “a cracker” location to build a commuter city and relieve the immense cost pressures and housing stress in Sydney.
Located 190km from Sydney, Goulburn would be a 45-minute journey on a HSR line from Sydney to Canberra. Shepparton is similarly located in relation to Melbourne, and so is Lismore in relation to Brisbane.
Professor McNaughton said these shorter routes offered more immediate potential than building a 1000km HSR between Sydney and Melbourne.
“Goulburn sounds like a cracker. You have the traffic flow between two major cities, Sydney-Canberra, and an intermediate city in Goulburn. The Japanese do that quite well,” he said.
The transformational impact of the HS2 project on northern England was already being seen, even though construction was yet to commence, he said. Major banks are already planning to move their head offices from London to Birmingham to take advantage of the cheaper land and lower cost of living for staff.
Professor McNaughton chairs the forum of the world’s HSR’s but was speaking in Australia in a personal capacity. “HSR is usually most successful when it is about moving very high numbers of people over distances of up to around 250km, because that puts people within an hour of each other — not much more than different areas of one big city,” he said.
“Of course, some places have HSR over very long distances of 500km plus, but if you look hard, the majority of people are travelling shorter distances, out and back in a morning.
“It’s those people — the high-volume flows in technical speak — that drive the economics, and give the payback for the build costs.
“Super-long distance is glamorous but the hour trips are the bread and butter”.
Professor McNaughton met with Sydney MP John Alexander, who is promoting the idea of using increased land values to pay for HSR. Professor McNaughton said he found his ideas “very interesting”.
Mr Alexander has been a high-profile member of an inquiry into using “value capture” to fund infrastructure development. He also briefed the Infrastructure, Transport and Cities committee, which is holding the inquiry.
Mr Alexander said Australia had unique conditions that were favourable to using value capture for building HSR. These were the very high house prices in Sydney and Melbourne coupled with the very low cost of land near regional centres like Goulburn and Shepparton. This scenario offered the “highest potential for uplift” to fund the project.
This article first appeared on www.theaustralian.com.au
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