Victorian Government Rail Blunder?

There is a railway boom coming to replace the mining boom. Some $200 billion non-mining investment in interstate High Speed Rail (HSR) and Fast Freight Rail (FFR) down the east coast would be spent over the next 10 years, paid for completely by value capture. It would boost economic growth from year two. There are three consortia interested in building HSR.

This would include housing by HSR for 500,000 people above railway tracks in trenches built in inner-city suburbs in Melbourne and Sydney and Brisbane. Housing for 10 million or more people would be built by HSR in regional cities for many of the additional 24 million people over the next 40-50 years. Higher housing supply would end housing unaffordability. FFR would halve interstate freight costs.

HSR/FFR would save enormous greenhouse gas production going towards co₂ reduction targets. FFR would save many thousands of lives over the decades from interstate semi-trailer accidents.

It seems the Victorian Government may be about to commit blunders which would prevent Melbourne and Victoria participating in HSR benefits of lower congestion that preserve liveability.

The Government has questions to answer. What population does it project for Melbourne over the next 40-50 years? Where does it plan for these people to live? What effect would HSR have on the population of Melbourne? What is the cost/benefit ratio for Metro Rail and for ‘SkyRail’?

The official ABS projections for Melbourne are that its population will increase from approximately 4m to 8m. HSR would cut this to around 5m. It envisages some 1.5m more people living to the east in Gippsland and 1.5m to the west in Geelong and beyond, all connected by HSR and FFR.

The Victorian Government appears to ignore HSR. It is planning to build Metro Rail that would be unnecessary and ‘SkyRail’ to feed it, spending extra $ billions. These assume Melbourne’s population will expand to 8m around the fringes. Neither can capture value to pay for them. They actually destroy value. In addition, ‘SkyRail’ would totally block HSR entry from the east through Dandenong to Melbourne. Their cost/benefits are no doubt small or negative relative to HSR.

HSR would distribute population away from Melbourne for greater liveability and provide free what the Government would spend $ billions on. HSR would cut a trench next to suburban rail from Dandenong to Melbourne, build higher capacity suburban tracks in the trench through to the west, remove all level crossings, shift trains to the new tracks out of sight and sound, cut a trench under the old tracks for HSR and build low rise housing above the trenches in inner-city suburbs.

Many people would live closer in and fewer in outer fringes. Most Victorian growth in population would be located in regions within 2-300km and 60 minutes commuting time of the CBD by HSR.

The technical questions that need irrefutable answers, audited by independent experts with inspiration, imagination and innovation, relate to old suburban rail practices: what capacity increase can be made through the 12 platforms at Flinders Street Station and 4 platforms at Southern Cross Station and around the Flinders St viaduct past the demolished Trade Centre for more trains from Dandenong onwards to the west? Probably these capacity increases would be free as they would be only schedule changes, or minor costs compared to Metro tunnelling. HSR would build new tracks and trenches and a new Flinders St. viaduct for HSR, free in exchange for free rail air rights.

Instead of freight trains continuing to pass through the CBD, FFR would circle the city via power transmission line easements. It would start from the Port of Hastings to a new eastern intermodal freight terminal at Hallam near Dandenong connecting with FFR from the east, then around the north to the western intermodal freight terminal at Tottenham and to the Port of Melbourne.

The private enterprise HSR/FFR Project would create huge value and enough value capture to fully pay for it, provided ‘SkyRail’ is abandoned/removed. Victorians need to get the benefits HSR/FFR offers and not miss out on the value created by the Australian interstate railway boom.

PJK © 25.5.16

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