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Rapid growth on the fringes of Sydney and Melbourne threatens to add billions of dollars to the cost of building a high-speed rail line between the two cities, Infrastructure Australia warns.
The federal government's infrastructure advisory agency says high speed trains could be running between Canberra and Sydney within 15 years, but governments must act quickly to avoid potential cost blowouts.
A report to be published on Friday by Infrastructure Australia says the governments of NSW and Victoria should get in early and buy land along the proposed rail corridor now, at an estimated cost of $720 million, or pay more than $3.5 billion later.
The agency says a failure to protect the corridor within the next three to five years could do serious harm to a project that will become vital given the populations of Melbourne and Sydney are projected to double by 2060.
In its report Corridor Protection, Infrastructure Australia says very fast trains could be running between Sydney and Canberra within 15 years and to Melbourne five years later.
Those dates are based on work beginning on the main Sydney-Melbourne route by 2024, with a Canberra link to open by 2032.
But the job will be made much more difficult if action is not taken soon to protect the proposed route.
IA has identified about 60 kilometres of land on the urban fringes of Australia's two biggest cities that has been earmarked by planners for a future high-speed rail connection, but which is at risk of being gobbled up by developers.
A high-speed rail link between Melbourne and Sydney would pass through Donnybrook, north of Melbourne. Photo: Jason SouthIn New South Wales, there are concerns for land south of Campbelltown on Sydney's south-eastern edge, and in five locations between Sydney and Newcastle.
The town of Donnybrook sits along the corridor for a future high speed rail line between Melbourne and Sydney. Photo: Jason SouthInfrastructure Australia chairman Mark Birrell said New South Wales, Victoria and the Commonwealth had to commit now to acquire the land on which a high-speed rail line for Australia's east coast will one day be built.
Otherwise Australia could blow its chance to build a link for the benefit of future generations.
"It requires governments over the next three to five years to put aside funds which will reap a long-term return," Mr Birrell said.
"If we get this right we will avoid huge cost, disruption and engineering problems."
Infrastructure Australia has valued the at-risk land along the corridor at about $720 million, using data from the NSW and Victorian valuers-general.
The authority argues population growth in Melbourne and Sydney is rapid enough to justify opening the link as early as 2032, initially between Sydney and Canberra.
This article first appeared on www.smh.com.au
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