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Governments are looking to fast rail services to regional cities to relieve population pressures in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. The federal government is funding nine business cases for such schemes. But what economic effect might these fast links have on the regional cities?
The current fast rail schemes seem oriented at relieving population pressures in the major cities rather than a productive regional economic purpose. The minister for population, cities and urban infrastructure recently stated:
… the National Faster Rail Agency begins operating from today [July 1]. The new Agency will oversee the government’s 20-year fast rail agenda, which will connect satellite regional cities to our big capitals. This will allow people to reside in regional centres with its [sic] cheaper housing and regional lifestyle but still access easily and daily the major employment centres.
One of the biggest mistakes we’ve made was being naïve about connectivity – give infrastructure and it spreads. Well, often it concentrates. The high-speed train network in France, guess what it did. It advantaged Paris.
While Paris is seen as benefiting the most from the national fast rail TGV service, the regional cities of Lyon and Lille have strengthened their economic positions. The Lyon and Lille fast rail stations form the hub of their respective regional transport networks and have attracted new commercial activity. They also sit at intersections of major European fast rail networks.
It’s a pattern that cannot be easily achieved for Australia’s regional cities due to our widely dispersed settlements. So what does this mean for our regional cities?
Improving transport infrastructure doesn’t just improve regional business access to metropolitan markets. It decrease the costs of trade in both directions. And large cities are typically more productive economically. This is because they offer more specialised goods and services and can leverage the agglomeration effects of shared high-quality labour markets and infrastructure, plus a concentration of skills and knowledge.
This article first appeared on theconversation.com
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