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Urban rail news in brief - July 2015
Inland rail a trifecta for Toowoomba region: mayor
The Turnbull government will commit to mammoth spending on “roads, rail and runways” in the May 9 budget to promise a growth dividend from new projects, including a flagship $10 billion rail network, amid a growing political fight over how it funds its plans.
The government will deliver its priority projects using public companies backed by debt, while seeking to magnify the economic gains by claiming to galvanise private finance for new construction.
The infrastructure policy will put pressure on the states to compete for federal support, warning they run the risk of missing out if they do not act swiftly to start the construction of new projects.
With the government preparing to go it alone on a new airport in western Sydney, the budget will lay the groundwork for a new company owned by taxpayers, financed by public debt and empowered to sign contracts with construction companies to build the project.
The same model will be adopted for the inland rail network from Brisbane to Melbourne, pouring more cash into the Australian Rail Track Corporation to finalise the route, acquire land and build the new line.
While about 1000km of rail is already built and can be upgraded to carry more freight, the ARTC will use the cash injection to lay at least 700km of new track and link to Sydney from the NSW regional town of Parkes.
The government has not confirmed the investment in the inland rail project but Malcolm Turnbull has sent a strong signal it will be a centrepiece of the budget, while Infrastructure Minister Darren Chester wants to see construction start as soon as possible.
“We need to keep funding the infrastructure that our kids and our grandkids will thank us for,” Mr Chester told The Weekend Australian.
Another federal commitment is to help fund a $5bn passenger rail line to Melbourne Airport, along with upgrades to regional rail lines to Geelong and Gippsland.
A clash with the states threatens to undermine the ambitious infrastructure plan by delaying work or halting progress because of disagreements over what should be funded.
While the Coalition sought to prioritise the Perth Freight Link, a toll road meant to ease the city’s congestion, new West Australian Labor Premier Mark McGowan is ramping up plans for the city’s metro rail network instead.
South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill is proceeding with the Adelink tram network without a federal funding commitment from the Coalition, although Bill Shorten has promised $500 million to the project under a Labor government.
A stand-off over the Cross River Rail in Brisbane has slowed plans for the project after federal Labor backed it in 2013 but the Abbott government withdrew support the next year. Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is seeking to restore funding from the Prime Minister, who has reversed his predecessor’s hostility to federal funding for urban rail.
The government is also under pressure to commit to funding a rail network to the western Sydney airport and an expansion of the freight rail connection to Port Botany, two projects backed by Labor infrastructure spokesman Anthony Albanese.
The duplication of the Pacific Highway and the similar expansion of the Bruce Highway in Queensland will continue in the budget, as mapped out by both Labor and the Coalition over several years.
A political row looms over the government’s claim of a $50bn spending commitment over the years to 2020, with Labor rubbishing the estimate while industry groups fear the fine print in the budget will show a net fall in public spending on projects year-by-year. Payments to the states for infrastructure were worth $9.2bn this year but the outlay is forecast to fall to $8.8bn next year and $5bn the following year.
This article first appeared on www.theaustralian.com.au
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