Editorial: A questionable railway line

A recently completed study on building a high speed railway line between Melbourne and Brisbane was submitted to Australian authorities, yesterday.

Federal Minister Anthony Albanese told ABC Radio yesterday that the newly proposed high-speed railway line’s proposed cost would be $114billion and it would cover a total distance of around 1,700 kilometres.

This fact in itself should have forced  the federall government to reject the proposal which would not be operational until 2053 anyways.

Former deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer and Minister Albanese have already started singing their praises about this project, with Mr Fischer comparing this unrealistic plan with the magnificent Snowy Mountain scheme of the Menzies era. According to Minister Albanese, for every dollar that would be invested in this project, the return profitability would be $2.30.

The praises that Minister Albanese and Mr Fischer have showered on this project, are widely reflective of the utter disdain and carelessness with which Australian governments have been treating day to day public transport problems that ordinary people are facing.

Owing to growing patronage and a rising population, a vast majority of public transport networks in Melbourne and Sydney are themselves struggling to cope up with rising patronage and heavy operational costs.

In Victoria, many people are now moving out of suburban Melbourne and heading towards the regions. For these people, coming to Melbourne for work or for the weekend footy is increasingly becoming a daunting and expensive task mainly because of the deteriorating standards of the state’s regional rail link services, the V/Line. The system has struggled to keep pace with the rising demands, as network discrepancies and air conditioner failures during summers and unexceptional delays have become the norm.

Over the years, successive Victorian governments have failed to address these messy issues of the regional rail links, citing lack of funds as a convenient scapegoat.

Similarly in Sydney, CityRail’s consistent failure of being unable to cope up with rising demands has fuelled public anger against it in the past. It has also forced many commuters to drive to work every morning during peak hour travelling, thus adding further strain and pressure on the city’s already disastrous road networks.

Instead of praising an incredulous train project, Minister Albanese and Mr Fischer should have instead advocated ongoing negotiations between Infrastructure Australia and the Victorian and NSW state governments to chalk out a partnership through which these stakeholders could prepare  funding plans to address these more urgent public transport issues.

Although high speed interstate trains are required to facilitate travel and business activity across the country, there is no need for such an expensive project whose feasibility is questionable. Public money would be put to better use if the lawmakers and the infrastructure industry would utilize it to repair and renovate the existing infrastructure that is being used by CountryLink. The idea of adding new trains to the CountryLink network can also be explored.

Public transport across Australia has for long been dealt as a basket case of failed policy. CityRail’s dismal performance in Sydney and the consistent failure of successive state governments in Victoria to resolve Melbourne’s public transport mess and the regional railway links reflects this very well. It is time that our politicians address local public transport challenges and issues as a matter of priority, rather announcing wasteful programmes whose economic profitability is controversial and questionable.

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