South-eastern Australia is experiencing another epidemic of fast-rail fever.
There are two conflicting objectives, to move some 80 per cent of air travellers onto a fast, CBD-to-CBD 500-plus kilometre-an-hour train using the farebox and terminal rights; and a land development model using levies and profits without/with government subsidies.
Both have new alignments through the bush.
As is usual in NSW, there is an option that it, the ACT government and Infrastructure Australia wont look at - namely Perths Mandurah line which runs down the freeway.
There are also electrification options to mesh with rail freight efficiency (estimated at $2 billion with dual-voltage circuits), and track straightening of tracks that the 80 by 20 chaps have been pushing.
These are very relevant now that regions are to get $4 billion from the Snowy sale to the federal government which should have $4 billion added from outstandings from poles and wires (which the National Party supported conditionally).
Also, the feds have announced a Faster Trains study on the Newcastle line, with the PM saying that the Illawarra should get off its seat if it wants the same.
Ditto the Highlands.
The topics are reducing track curvature, deviations and realignments, removal of level crossings, junction rearrangement, and better segregation of passenger and freight services.
Then there are the blue sky dreaming options.
The NSW Business Chamber proposed to run a high-speed train from Newcastle on existing track including the Harbour Bridge which Minister Berejiklian shot down, rightly.
The Consolidated Land and Rail Australia $200 billion system will have five, now eight, new cities of about 400,000 each, operational from 2026 or 2025 whenever, with every $1,000 invested in land growing by 150 times.
Six will be in NSW, two in Victoria - 1.5 million new dwellings is a challenging environmental and engineering prospect, worthy of Hercules.
They say they own about half of the Melbourne-Sydney corridor already which needs to be tested; while access to CBDs and metropolitan corridors will be a different matter altogether.
Commuters will be locked out and CLARA acknowledges they will disadvantage existing cities.
Professor Paul Newman said that is enough to politically kill the concept.
There has been no real discussion about how people will live and work and how much they will pay the company upfront and ongoing.
John Alexander MP was reported as saying You will push up prices enormously around Goulburn; people will be delighted.
Value capture has every potential to make landowners and buyers very angry.
However reports are that PM Turnbull is keen on CLARA but his Infrastructure Minister Paul Fletcher is highly sceptical.
Anthony Albanese wants planning to start immediately on HST.
Infrastructure Australia is following a Government-funded model of four capitals, four fringe cities and 11 regionals by 2065. Is that the best governments can do?
Centurion plans a heavy metro service between Campbelltown and Wollongong as stage 1 of an HST between Canberra and Newcastle.
They include freight operations to/from Port Kembla. The NSW Government says it will unlock Wilton to the tune of 350,000 people (the Council is planning 11,000).
To make a big project feasible on the basis of betterment and the reality would be a mix 100,000 lots would have to pay some $2.4 billion a year over 30 years or $25,000 p.a. per lot.
Clearly that would be absurd. Maldon-Dombarton will be carrying 110 container trains a day plus car-carriers so Centurion are wrong.
Locking high speed rail into a value capture contract killed every previous attempt and will do the same.
Running a train largely down the freeway medians will better serve existing towns and allow some capture from new towns, for example, Marulan.
It would be cleaner, faster and more effective.
All of these considerations should be tested properly.
The Grattan Institute says do it independently of Government.
Infrastructure Australia is locked into Government so who else can?
Its up to the Highlands to sort out its case.
- Robert Gibbons is a former state planning executive and NewcastleCity Council general manager