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New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian has poured cold water on the longstanding Australian dream of connecting the major east coast capitals by interstate high speed rail.
While Ms Berejiklian said she found the possibility of high speed rail “interesting” the sheer complexity of working with the various federal and state governments meant such a proposal would “take some time” to achieve and it was better to focus on other projects.
Undeterred however, the Australian Capital Territory Government has said it is keen to work with NSW to bring a higher speed line to Canberra.
A senior ACT civil servant today said the city’s current rail service to Sydney is a “national disgrace”.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said making interstate high speed rail a reality was “challenging”. Picture: Joel Carrett/NCA NewsWireSource:News Corp Australia
Various high speed rail plans have been put forward over the decades with promises of connecting Sydney and Melbourne within as little as three hours.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese has long been an advocate of faster rail links from major cities.
The costs of high speed rail along the east coast are eye watering, however.
A 2013 Commonwealth Government report said a system linking Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane could cost as much as $110 billion-plus and take 50 years to construct in its entirety – although the benefits were judged to outweigh the outlay.
Shorter high speed rail routes, such as Sydney to Canberra, would be far cheaper but the population of the national capital is also smaller than many major cities.
Speaking at the SMH NSW Infrastructure Summit in Sydney on Thursday, Ms Berejiklian was asked if high speed rail was feasible.
“We’ve found in the past when we’ve tried to have these conversations, as seen during COVID, getting the states and various jurisdictions to agree on anything is a challenge,” she said.
“So why don’t we improve what (NSW) can control? Why don’t we improve affordability and increase the infrastructure pipeline?”
Ms Berejiklian didn’t entirely rule out the idea of high speed rail, but she was circumspect on the likelihood of any line connecting NSW with Queensland and Victoria.
“I’m always optimistic about our ability to have interstate faster rail but it would involve the Federal Government and a number of state jurisdictions and that could take some time.
“But if we can show in NSW what’s possible and what’s feasible and how we can manage it in the balance sheet, perhaps that will inspire others,” she said.
High speed rail systems, like the British-French-Belgian Eurostar, have proved elusive in Australia. Picture: iStockSource:Supplied
Canberra’s rail service a ‘national disgrace’
The ACT seems keen to be part of any demonstration NSW might have of whether faster rail can be feasible.
Duncan Edgehill, chief projects officer of ACT Government body Major Projects Canberra, bemoaned the poor state of rail service linking the ACT with NSW.
“It’s a national disgrace that while we are fortunate enough to have a capital city so close to the largest city in the country, the train service between them takes four-and-a-half hours.
“It’s not a sophisticated sort of operation,” he said at the NSW Infrastructure Summit.
“It’s just such an easy one for us to fix.”
Mr Edgehill said he was “heartened” to hear the Premier hadn’t ruled out looking at faster rail and if NSW wanted to build a line to Goulburn or Queanbeyan, on its side of the border, the ACT would be interested in extending it to Canberra.
“Imagine if we picked one of these offers for fast rail from 30 or 40 years ago it would have been done by now.
“Canberra to Sydney fast rail is a no-brainer.”
High speed rail is generally considered to involve speeds of more than 250km/h. “Faster rail,” which the Premier referred to, can involve a less expensive mix of new and upgraded existing tracks with speeds of up to 200km/h.
Trains between Newcastle and Sydney, a distance of 170kms, currently take around two hours and 20 minutes CBD to CBD. In contrast, trains from London to Manchester, which is almost twice the distance, arrive in two hours and 10 minutes.
The UK is currently building the $200 billion High Speed 2 line, a true fast rail project, connecting London with various cities. When built, London and Manchester will be little more than an hour away from one another.
The current slow Sydney to Canberra rail service has been slammed as a ‘national disgrace’.Source:istock
Rail won’t beat planes around nation
Western Sydney Airport chief Simon Hickey, the former head of Qantas’ international division, was less enthusiastic about faster rail. Which is perhaps not entirely unexpected given high speed trains would compete for passengers with planes.
“In Australia we have vast distances to travel. We don’t have fast rail and will never have fast rail routes moving people across vast distances in a way that can happen in more populated places like Europe,” he told the conference.
“So our most efficient way to move people around this big country of ours is by using aviation.”
This article first appeared on www.news.com.au
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