So far all that can be seriously reported about the high speed rail study for a Brisbane-Melbourne link via Newcastle-Sydney-Wollongong and Canberra is that the government has flashed the wrappings but not the contents of the package which it will reveal today.
It looks good. But launching the box before the contents is classic media manipulation. There will be a 350 page report with extensive details released late this morning.
There are questions. If the projected cost for the ultra short M4 East motorway extension in Sydney is $11 billion, how could a high speed rail link in the order of 1800 kilometres in length (depending on route) cost only ten times as much, and presumably before the costs of rolling stock?
And the Minister for Infrastructure, Anthony Albanese, says one of the advantages will be the bypassing of airport security.
Hullo Minister! Why wouldn’t we screen a 350 kmh train which could carry around 1000 passengers and hurtle through cities on elevated tracks or through the longest tunnels ever contemplated in Australia where a fire or germ attack would lead to far greater loss of life than an attack on a jet. Please get real.
This morning Bryan Nye, the CEO of the Australasian Railway Association, appeared on news programs saying one of the advantages of the project was that the trains would be green because they used electricity.
Sure. Electricity from coal. Not green.
Both the minister and Nye have some very good arguments to make in favor of high speed rail. The writer is a rail fan, and spends as much time as possible using public transport systems when he travels. But it is important to ditch the simplistic lines trotted out to sell the concept, and get into the real merits, which above all, will lift and drive economic activity and wealth in this country.
And please, can we cut the nonsense about a high speed train to anywhere solving the need for a second airport in the Sydney basin. Sydney needs a second airport now. And those who want to use Canberra Airport, my favorite city airport, as an alternative to Sydney Airport, or even connect between them, can do that today by coach for around $30 (or far less for tour operators paying a wholesale price) and they will usually make the journey faster than they can by flying to the domestic terminals in Sydney and then transferring to international.
Let’s get on with fast rail, but without the fairy tales.