This train could take you 900km in 3 hours at 350kmh
POLITICIANS representing the Northern Rivers have had mixed reactions to a renewed push for high speed rail on Australia's east coast.
Federal Labor's Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development Anthony Albanese introduced a private member's bill to parliament on Monday calling for the establishment of a High Speed Rail Authority.
Mr Albanese said the HSRA would "advance planning and corridor acquisition for the construction of a high-speed rail link between Brisbane and Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra".
Fourth time lucky
"It is time to stop talking about high-speed rail and to start working on the project," Mr Albanese said in parliament.
"A planning authority... would work with the governments of Queensland, NSW, the ACT and Victoria.
"It would begin to secure the corridor for the project before urban sprawl makes the project unviable."
Mr Albanese said it was the fourth time he had introduced the bill since the 2013 change in government leadership but "those opposite are coming around to a position of support for this visionary concept".
"This is partly due to the strong interest being shown in an Australian high-speed rail project from the private sector, including overseas companies with experience in the technology," he said.
East coast rail "a viable proposition"
A 2013 report commissioned by Mr Albanese found the project was "indeed a viable proposition".
"Once fully operational across the Brisbane to Melbourne corridor, high-speed rail could carry approximately 84 million passengers a year," said Mr Albanese.
"At speeds of 350 kilometres per hour, people would be able to travel from Melbourne to Sydney, or Sydney to Brisbane, in less than three hours.
"As this technology is being rolled out across the world the cost is becoming smaller and the technology is becoming better and more efficient."
Mr Albanese said the report found "east-coast trips would double from 152 million trips in 2009 to 355 million trips in 2065".
Jobs and growth
He said the project "would also be an engineering challenge, requiring at least 80 kilometres of tunnels, mainly in Sydney" and therefore needed policy-makers to "exercise vision".
He also pushed politicians to consider job creation by "investing in the infrastructure that underpins jobs growth".
"The decline in the investment stage of the mining boom means that we need to develop new industries and strengthen existing sectors-a process that will take many years," he said.
Mr Albanese highlighted Casino and the Gold Coast as "regional cities along the route of the line" that could "take some of the population growth pressure off our capital cities".
High speed rail "will transform these regional communities", he said but the response from politicians representing the Northern Rivers has been mixed.
"Take trucks off the Pacific Highway": Kevin Hogan, Page
"This will transform the way we move freight around the country, and take trucks off the Pacific Highway," said National Party MP Kevin Hogan, whose national electorate of Page included Casino, one of the towns earmarked as a stop on the line.
"As a Member of the Infrastructure Committee we are discussing with State Governments appropriate rail corridors and looking at alternative funding options.
"We have already committed money to Inland Rail.
"High Speed Rail is in the viability discussion phase."
"I just don't see it being competitive": Chris Gulaptis, Clarence
"Australia has 24 million but is the size of the US," said NSW National Party Member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis, also representing Casino.
"It's very difficult to work in a country like ours with a scattered population [and] it's all about putting bums on seats.
"It's a competitive market but let's look at cost, how many people would use it [and the] benefit to regions."
Mr Gulaptis said he hadn't been briefed on the bill but "as with any infrastructure in the regions which is going to create jobs and bring in tourists, the devil is in the detail.
"Maybe it's an opportune time to plan for a route now because we do need to look at the future and something that might suit in 20 - 30 years [but] when you have $50 airfares between Brisbane and Sydney I just don't see it being competitive."
"Grabbing new opportunities with both hands": Robert Mustow, Richmond Valley
Robert Mustow, Mayor of Richmond Valley and representing Casino on a local government level said Council had always been a strong supporter of any initiative which would boost economic development.
Cr Mustow said Council's core focus was to ensure the overall local economy thrived, and would work with elected members of parliament to ensure Casino and the wider Richmond Valley did not miss out on any opportunities.
"Council wants to grow our economy to make our businesses more competitive and our communities more prosperous - and this means grabbing new opportunities with both hands," he said.
Advocating another Northern Rivers' stop: Justine Elliot, Richmond
"This would create more local jobs and boost our regional economy," said Ms Elliot, Federal Labor Member for Richmond in the Northern Rivers.
"I will continue to advocate for a High Speed Rail stop in our region.
"This plan would further enhance our area as a first class tourist destination [and] has the potential to transform regional communities like the Northern Rivers."
Boost for arts industries: Tamara Smith, Ballina
Representing the far north coast of NSW, Greens State Member for Ballina Tamara Smith said she supported a plan for high speed rail "provided the environmental impacts of building such a rail line were properly assessed and mitigated".
"I would expect my electorate to be consulted on where the proposed line is to go and how that would impact on people's properties, what possible noise issues there might be for residents and on the wildlife and environments the train line would run through and for local aboriginal people to be properly consulted on impacts to their lands and sacred places.
"I would also expect that some of the jobs building the rail line would be offered for local businesses to tender for.
Ms Smith said she expected a high speed rail to increase tourism and associated job growth in her electorate but also predicted changes in commuter patterns.
"I would expect more people moving to this electorate and commuting to the Gold Coast or Brisbane for work if the high speed trains decrease travel times as much as expected," she said.
"The reverse could also be true - high speed rail could help the growth of the artistic, music and film industries (as examples) that are based here and people could commute from other cities to work here."
The Greens politician spoke of other public transport ideas for the Northern Rivers.
"A commuter service from Ballina to Byron supported by driverless electric buses to Lismore would enable residents who work across the three towns to commute without cars," she said.
"This would decrease the reliance on fossil fuels for the region and for those who don't drive or don't have a car it would provide connectivity in a way not experienced in our region since the trains left."
Need for bi-partisan approach: Anthony Albanese
Thomas George, National Party State Member for Lismore, was unavailable for comment due to personal reasons.
Mr Albanese urged politicians to take a bi-partisan approach to high speed rail, saying "the project would cover a period longer than the life of any particular government."
"We can anticipate significant population growth over coming decades along the route of this proposed line," he said.
"We can also anticipate that growing pressure for a carbon constrained economy will drive the economics of this project ever more positively over time."