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Sourcing critical railway upgrade funding needs cool heads and smart solutions
IT’S winding up. The political rhetoric on federal funding for Queensland’s critical rail infrastructure is reaching the higher-decibel ranges. Words like blackmail, bullying and standover tactics are being flung at federal government ministers for their refusal to hand over millions of dollars.
“Without access to federal funding for critical, large-scale infrastructure projects like the second river crossing for southeast Queensland, Stage 2 of the Gold Coast Light Rail and the duplication of the Sunshine Coast rail line, these projects are unlikely to happen.” Thus says our Deputy Premier Jackie Trad.
Maybe we should all have a cup of tea, a Bex and a good lie down. Nothing much is going to be achieved by hurling invective at Canberra. What is required is calm, considered and innovative discussions between our respective governments on how this dichotomy in policy positions can be resolved. We should put our mind to practical solutions, not populist political posturing.
Let’s look at one of the critical infrastructure tasks, the duplication of the rail line from Beerburrum to Nambour. This upgrade project has long been on the priority list – the line has been at full capacity for many years. It’s not only a regional passenger railway serving the Sunshine Coast, but also carries long-distance tilt trains and freight trains. The Queensland Government’s own forecasts predicted freight traffic to double between 2010 and 2026.
The federal government has a vested interest in this rail corridor. The Transport and Infrastructure Council has identified it as one of Australia’s strategic Key Freight Routes, together with the new Inland Rail, running from Melbourne to Brisbane. The federal government is strongly supporting this new project financially, with $300 million already committed to planning and design.
So is this new railway more important than an upgrade to an existing single-track rail bottleneck on an original 19th century alignment?
In political terms yes. Whiz-bang new railways always deliver more political bang for the buck than boring upgrades. But as a strategic transport infrastructure improvement and in economic terms, who knows?
Here’s a good wheeze. The agency charged with delivering Inland Rail is the Australian Rail Track Corporation Ltd (ARTC), an independent statutory authority owned by the federal government. They are responsible for managing the interstate rail network and also large chunks of the non-metropolitan NSW railways on behalf of the NSW government. Maybe the Queensland government could mirror NSW and contract with ARTC to manage Queensland’s rail infrastructure and funding the upgrade becomes the responsibility of ARTC. OK, so maybe the Queensland and federal governments may have to stump up some of the cash, but ARTC can also borrow in its own right.
If we don’t upgrade this vital rail link all additional freight to and from Brisbane and the north will end up on the Bruce Highway.
Come on Deputy Premier, Minister for Infrastructure Warren Truss is a fellow Queenslander. Reserve your pique for the real enemy, the Blues at the State of Origin decider.
A deputy to deputy tête-à-tête over a nice cup of tea should resolve this.
This article first appeared on www.couriermail.com.au
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