Beautiful Gippsland is in serious strife. Its main resource, brown coal, is losing its usefulness for electricity generation. It is losing jobs and disrupting lives.
The population of Gippsland along 300km of coast from Melbourne at about 400,000 is double that of the 300km inland to Albury/Wodonga, which is the corridor for High Speed Rail (HSR) selected by the Federal Government, if it were to build at all. Inland does not have the mineral resources, nor the resources of the sea, abundant water, amenable climate, and large trained workforce as a foundation for large scale population growth based on industry, intensive agriculture and tourism.
This is relevant when planning the corridor for HSR to Sydney and Brisbane. The best, most economic route is east along the coast via Gippsland and up the Cann River Valley to Bombala, Cooma and Canberra. HSR would support the growth of the Gippsland population and build on the large existing customer and workforce base. Many jobs would be created.
The underlying imperatives of population in Australia must be taken into account. The population is projected to double in the next 4-5 decades. The question is: where will the extra +24m live? Melbourne and Sydney are projected to increase to +8m. They would lose their liveability with the growth of congestion and urban densification, if they grow to this size without regional HSR.
The VFT2 concept envisages 10m of the 24m living in the regions between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane connected by HSR and adjacent Fast Freight Rail (FFR). They would live in many new cities of up to 1m people around HSR stations. A new city of 1m in Gippsland is foreseen. Eventually, there would be another to the west of Geelong near the sea on the route to Adelaide. Gippsland would have the advantage of being first. In the meantime, Gippsland has to be persuasive that HSR should be built and that the route should be to the east of Melbourne. It is in competition with the northern route and with the attraction for people to settle in the outer fringe suburbs of Melbourne.
HSR/FFR has to be a private enterprise project, privately financed, as government will not build it.
Regional cities would be started in the 10 years construction period. Jobs that would be available in CBDs to new settlers in fringe suburbs of major cities would then be available to the same settlers, who instead move to the new, lower cost regional cities. In other words, the same jobs in CBDs would be available to those living in the new cities. The commuting time from new cities by HSR would be less than from fringe suburbs. HSR commuters would be subsidised by a small increase in major city land taxes. This would spread the benefit of lower congestion and greater liveability from people in the major cities to the regions. It would ensure the new cities get a good start.
New, smart, compact, sustainable, rapidly growing cities in the regions of one of the fastest growing countries in the world would be built over HSR stations located 2-300km from major cities. They would be less than 60 minutes from CBD jobs by HSR commuter trains (less than many outer suburbs today). The capital cost of the housing would be more affordable than in major cities based on cheap rural land prices, and the operating cost of commuter fares as part of the weekly bills would be affordable: a magnet for new settlers.
New cities would redistribute growing school populations from distressed city fringe suburbs to new high growth, attractive areas in these new cities. School funds saved would be focused on quality teachers, especial for children at the time they first learn to read and write to reduce illiteracy.
It is envisaged that Gippsland would grow to a population of some 2m in time, connected by HSR. It would relieve Melbourne of much congestion, without being congested itself.
Noisy HSR express trains would bypass existing Gippsland towns. Stations would be on loops closer to towns, but far enough away to develop into new cities on their own without disturbing town life.
As Gippsland develops, Sale military airfield would be converted to a civilian and military airport like Canberra and Newcastle. This would give rapid access to other parts of Australia and eventually international markets for Gippsland produce. It would obviate the need for people and goods to use Tullamarine Airport on the other side of Melbourne.
Advantages of Gippsland
Gippsland has natural advantages of climate, scenery and sea. It has a trained workforce for industrial development which would be connected rapidly to Melbourne industry by FFR. CBD jobs are as available by HSR as to fringe city suburbs. The NBN would make working for home in pleasant surrounding more attractive and available. As industry grows based on workforce and accessibility by HSR and FFR, more jobs would be created locally. A population of 2m would be self-sustaining.
Property prices in the country are attractive compared to city prices when there is rapid transport. Good schools are crucial to attract families. A local airport is an attraction to settlers and business.
There are many new business opportunities created by HSR/FFR and NBN based on high connectivity and lower costs than the city. Intensive agriculture becomes more economic with rapid access to larger markets. Tourism also would grow substantially and create many jobs based on the natural attractions of the area and HSR services. Travel time to Canberra would be about 1 hour by HSR.
The bigger existing population in Gippsland is attractive to the HSR project. Constructing the railway would create many jobs and be self-reinforcing. Building new cities would create many ongoing jobs.
The main drawbacks of the eastern route are the slightly longer track which would cost more, as would the Cann River section. These are offset by the predominantly flatter route to Canberra and therefore lower cost than the inland route. They are totally offset by the high value capture on sale of housing built above the inner Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane city tracks in trenches which pay for the whole railway project. Value capture of new cities would make them self-funding.
The Cann River route is environmentally sensitive. Bob Brown, then Leader of the Green Party, said at a railway conference in Sydney three years ago, that HSR was so important as a whole to the environment the Party would not object to some local environmental damage, so long as it was minimised. This section would be on viaducts which preserve the scenery and the wild-life below.
A major issue is the Victorian Government’s Skyrail project between Melbourne and Dandenong. It would block HSR from the east and cut funds needed to pay for the HSR project. Skyrail is intended to serve the expected 2-300,000 in outer fringe suburbs of Melbourne in Cranbourne, Berwick and Packenham, not the +1m in Gippsland. It is short-sighted because Skyrail goes to ensuring that Melbourne will grow to 8m. It is probably a matter for the Federal Government’s intervention.
The advantages of HSR in general and specifically for Gippsland outweigh the disadvantages that threaten the viability of the whole HSR project in Australia and should be overcome. HSR is crucial for creating jobs and for the development of Gippsland. The region of Gippsland would become one of Australia’s main growth centres. It should emphasise and nurture its liveability.
For further information please see the web site: www.veryfasttrain.com.au