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The NSW Government is backing a proposed east coast high-speed rail connection, saying it would allow Canberra to become Sydney's second airport.
The Commonwealth Government is also talking up the potential of a 1600km link between Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane, but has admitted the price tag of $61billion to $108billion could be hard to justify given Australia's relatively small population.
Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese issued the first stage of an implementation study into the link yesterday, saying it was not a simple project and the Government did not want to gild the lily, but it "certainly thinks it's worth it".
It would require taxpayer support, but he declined to be drawn on when he hoped construction would begin.
The study said Canberra could be connected to the link either as a through station or as a spur off the main line.
It considered stations at Gungahlin, Mitchell or Parkes, but dismissed these sites for various reasons in favour of Civic or the airport precinct.
The train would run at up to 200km/h in urban areas and up to 350km/h elsewhere, allowing the trip from Canberra to Sydney to be completed in an hour. Prices would be comparable to air fares and a trip to Sydney could be about $100.
NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell said he was a supporter of high-speed rail and that it could be put in place if there was a commitment from the relevant premiers. It would also be preferable to building a second airport in Sydney.
"We'd be better off investing in a fast-train link to Canberra than building a second airport in the Sydney basin," he said.
Canberra Business Council chief executive officer Chris Faulks is also backing the connection as a way to delay the need to build a second Sydney airport.
"This will potentially save billions of dollars in infrastructure spending and help defray the cost of the high-speed rail network," she said.
"The next step for the Government is to conduct an in-depth cost-benefit analysis of the identified key corridors. [The council] urges the Government to ensure that the next phase of this study focuses on the Melbourne-Canberra-Sydney corridor as a priority for development. This route is forecast to have exceptionally high patronage and does not face the same costly topographical barriers as other corridors, which could distort the outcome."
Canberra Airport managing director Stephen Byron welcomed Mr O'Farrell's comments.
"My view is that despite all the best intentions in the world, it will always be incredibly difficult to find a new plot of land to build a second Sydney airport," he said.
"So we are the best, biggest, closest real airport to Sydney.
"We can have international 747s, we have a very significant infrastructure in this city in its own right, both in terms of hotel rooms, tourist attractions and current flights, with over 140 flights per day to all of our capital cities, plus the Gold Coast, Townsville and Newcastle and Albury."
He said it was just a question of when the rail link would happen, so it was important to identify and protect the corridors from development now.
The report made a similar call.
Early corridor identification and preservation allows surrounding land to be appropriately managed and planned to minimise the impact on future infrastructure development. This should be considered together with the estimated $6billion land acquisition cost for the whole corridor. Preservation or acquisition of land costs to cities should be an early priority as it is more at risk of encroachment than land in rural areas, it said.
Nationals leader and Opposition transport spokesman Warren Truss said he supported high-speed rail in principle.
The second stage of the report is expected to be issued next year.
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