Regional cities beware – fast rail might lead to disadvantaged dormitories, not booming economies



Many commuters already travel from regional cities to work in capital cities like Melbourne so what impacts will fast rail have?
Alpha/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Todd Denham, RMIT University and Jago Dodson, RMIT University

Governments are looking to fast rail services to regional cities to relieve population pressures in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. The federal government is funding nine business cases for such schemes. But what economic effect might these fast links have on the regional cities?

The current fast rail schemes seem oriented at relieving population pressures in the major cities rather than a productive regional economic purpose. The minister for population, cities and urban infrastructure recently stated:

… the National Faster Rail Agency begins operating from today [July 1]. The new Agency will oversee the government’s 20-year fast rail agenda, which will connect satellite regional cities to our big capitals. This will allow people to reside in regional centres with its [sic] cheaper housing and regional lifestyle but still access easily and daily the major employment centres.




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The argument seems built on a pitch to city workers priced out of metropolitan housing markets. It treats regional towns as remote dormitories for metropolitan workers rather than as regional cities that serve as service hubs and employment centres. But will subsidising metropolitan workers to live in cheaper regional towns have a positive economic effect on those towns?

An unequal relationship

Concern is growing among international observers that fast rail connections between two cities benefit the larger of the pair. Professor Michael Storper observed:

One of the biggest mistakes we’ve made was being naïve about connectivity – give infrastructure and it spreads. Well, often it concentrates. The high-speed train network in France, guess what it did. It advantaged Paris.

While Paris is seen as benefiting the most from the national fast rail TGV service, the regional cities of Lyon and Lille have strengthened their economic positions. The Lyon and Lille fast rail stations form the hub of their respective regional transport networks and have attracted new commercial activity. They also sit at intersections of major European fast rail networks.

It’s a pattern that cannot be easily achieved for Australia’s regional cities due to our widely dispersed settlements. So what does this mean for our regional cities?

Improving transport infrastructure doesn’t just improve regional business access to metropolitan markets. It decrease the costs of trade in both directions. And large cities are typically more productive economically. This is because they offer more specialised goods and services and can leverage the agglomeration effects of shared high-quality labour markets and infrastructure, plus a concentration of skills and knowledge.




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Reduced travel times can mean regional businesses become less efficient than metropolitan competitors that can offer a wider range of specialist goods and services. This may lead to regional business closures, employment losses and wage decline. Unless a regional city is able to develop a specialised set of high-skill, high-wage industries that complement or outcompete the metropolis it risks being economically disadvantaged by faster rail.

New regional demand arising from commuter population growth might counter the loss of higher-order regional jobs due to improved transport links. But that will largely be in lower-value retail and personal service sectors. The result will still be a net economic gain for the metropolis.




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An influx of commuters earning metropolitan wages might also inflate regional housing markets. This would disadvantage lower-paid regional workers. The beneficiaries of this scenario are likely to be local rentiers, such as landholders and developers who can profit from land-price inflation.

This interest group will likely vocally promote regional fast rail. But sustainable economic prosperity for regional cities requires more than population-driven land speculation.




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The example of Geelong

The most advanced of the current Australian proposals is the Geelong-Melbourne route. It has received federal and state funding for planning with an estimated total cost of at least A$10 billion. But planners need to ask how this spending will provide a net economic benefit, and how the benefits will be distributed.

Growth in commuter population and the services this attracts may be seem like a resolution to metropolitan population problems, but could further concentrate higher-paid jobs in Melbourne. Faster commutes mean Melbourne-based firms will have a greater pick of Geelong-based workers, thus consolidating metropolitan competitive advantage. Fast rail thus risks placing Geelong at a competitive disadvantage, with jobs and workers being exported to Melbourne.

Meanwhile the pressure of housing another 145,000 residents in the next 20 years already falls on Geelong, a city of 280,000 people. The strain on infrastructure and services is proportionately greater than would be the case in Melbourne, which has nearly 5 million residents.




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What can policymakers do about this?

To resolve this conundrum, thought must be given to what specialised high-value jobs will be attracted to regional cities to accompany fast rail investments, so these cities remain competitive and productive, regionally, nationally and internationally. This might include policies such as relocating public agencies, regional targeting of university-based research and development spending, boosting services such as schools and hospitals, and providing incentives for innovative private companies to relocate to regional towns.

Policymakers should also consider positioning regional cities as rail network hubs in their own right. An example would be connecting Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo by rail, along with better linkages to national and international airports.

We don’t yet know for sure what the effects of fast rail on regional cities will be. But the impact of this infrastructure needs to be assessed very carefully lest it turns Australia’s regional cities into dependent population dormitories rather than regional dynamos, at vast public expense.The Conversation

Todd Denham, PhD Candidate, School of Global, Urban & Social Studies, RMIT University and Jago Dodson, Professor of Urban Policy and Director, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Uber in the air: flying taxi trials may lead to passenger service by 2023



Air taxis could soon offer passengers rapid transport from an airport to a city.
from www.shutterstock.com

Matthew Marino, RMIT University

Uber Air will start test flights of its aerial taxi service in 2020, and move to commercial operations by 2023, the ABC reported today.

Melbourne, Dallas and Los Angels have been named as three test cities for the trial.

As a researcher in unmanned aerial systems, I was asked recently if I would ride on an Uber Air taxi. After a brief ponder, my answer is “yes”.

The introduction of Uber Air in 2023 may feel way out of reach for many people, but I believe this is a feasible and exciting development in air travel.

If Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) has signed off on the safe operation of this new aircraft I would love to experience an aerial taxi.




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Passenger drones

The aviation industry is well developed, and various aircraft share the skies.
Helicopters, general aviation and large commercial aircraft are all regarded as a safe and considered an acceptable form of transportation.

A newer addition to the industry is the passenger carrying drone, and one which is being introduced at speed.

Boeing’s GoFly competition has been set up to “foster the development of safe, quiet, ultra-compact, near-VTOL personal flying devices capable of flying twenty miles while carrying a single person”. (VTOL refers to vertical take-off and landing).

US$2 million is up for grabs for successful designs and prototypes. Of the competitors, five phase two winners were announced in March 2019, and the competition is still ongoing to find the most innovative and optimum solution for a passenger-carrying aircraft.

Dubai’s police force is reportedly conducting trials with a hovering vehicle, something that resembles a flying motorcycle.

Uber says it has a vision to provide VTOL ride share services for passengers throughout the world.

Whether the first Uber Air vehicle will be piloted by a human on board or remotely, or via an autopilot is still unknown. This will depend on the required levels of safety set by CASA.

I believe the end goal would be to be fully autonomous, however, this would require extensive proof these system are completely safe.

Quite simple technology

Unlike a helicopter, the technology base of a drone is far simpler. Controlled by computers, they use electricity as a primary power source from batteries and brushless electric motors to make them thrust into the sky. This type of system has been used with great success with smaller drones in the commercial market.

Current smaller drones have the capability of flying autonomously: no pilot is needed. A pick up location and a return location can be programmed into the drone, and it is able to land, takeoff and fly without pilot assistance.

This is not strictly considered to be an artificial intelligence system. Drones operate through a series of checkpoints in the sky, which they track all the way to the final destination. This is reliant on GPS, much like the GPS in your phone or navigating the streets using a Google Maps.

The scaling up of this technology to carry passengers was only a matter of time.

But the clear next step is research on how safe these aircraft are going to be. This is important not just for future passengers on board, but also for the people and property they will fly over.




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Like traditional aircraft which go through a rigorous certification process, drones may be subjected to the same amount of scrutiny.

Due to the simplicity of the drone system, this type of certification may take less time than a traditional aircraft (which can take many years, depending on the complexity of the design being certified).

Fortunately, we have a very proactive regulatory body in CASA. This authority is seen as a world leader in not only drone policies and procedures for safe drone operation, but it already actively consults and assists people in the drone industry.

It’s likely CASA played a role in getting Uber Air trials assigned to Melbourne.

A few nerves

Much like the helicopter when it was introduced back in the 1940s, people are likely to be apprehensive about a passenger-carrying drone in the first instance. The idea that unmanned vehicles may soon be flying through the sky raises many questions and concerns about the implications on people’s lives and the safety of the community.

This is a natural response. It takes time to develop confidence in new technology – especially one that has the responsibility of flying people around cities.

Over time helicopter technology progressed, and it was made safe and reliable – it was eventually seen as an acceptable mode of transportation. A similar progression with drones is likely.

We can be confident the technology will be properly tested and proven safe before the common citizen will be able to phone order an Uber Air trip across town.

Australia is the perfect place for testing, especially this country’s capacity for rapid development and continuous testing in outback Australia.

Google and other international bodies have tested new drone technology in Australia in a safe and regulated manner.

The Uber Air taxi will be no different with extensive testing to improve the technology, efficiency and reliability.




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The Conversation


Matthew Marino, Lecturer and Researcher, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Business-as-usual record on transport leaves next government plenty of room to improve


Marion Terrill, Grattan Institute

This article is part of a series examining the Coalition government’s record on key issues while in power and what Labor is promising if it wins the 2019 federal election.


Election season means transport season: just as the recent New South Wales and Victorian elections gave us massive new transport promises, so too is the federal government relying on the enduring popularity of new roads and rail. But look beyond the rhetoric and the past three years have been largely business as usual. That leaves plenty of room for the next government, of whatever colour, to take a fresh look at how transport promises are made – and plenty of room to improve.

Last week’s federal budget committed to transport expenditure of A$7.4 billion in 2019-20, and A$33 billion over the four-year forward estimates period.




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The government claims it’s spending a record A$100 billion over a decade. Yet the opposition claims: “Across the four years of this budget, Commonwealth investment in infrastructure actually falls, from A$8 billion to A$4.5 billion.” And Infrastructure Partnerships Australia says recent budgets are down on the long-term average by about A$11 billion over the forward estimates.

How much is the government actually spending?

With such polarised views, who are we to believe?

In reality, the expenditure for 2019-20 is absolutely normal. At 0.37% of GDP, it’s close to the midpoint of spending on transport under treasurers Scott Morrison, Joe Hockey and Wayne Swan. In each of the past ten budgets, annual transport spending in the year following the budget has been 0.26-0.53% of GDP.

What is different is the extent of promises that lie beyond the forward estimates period. The move to a ten-year pipeline of promises might be fine in theory, but an interested elector can rely only on what’s in the budget papers. And from that they would conclude there’s nothing unusual to see here.




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A new enthusiasm for equity investments

All these figures concern grants to state governments, which are responsible for transport networks. But, in addition to these grants, the federal government has developed an enthusiasm for funding projects “off-budget”. In the past two years, the Commonwealth made equity investments of A$9.3 billion in Inland Rail and A$5.3 billion in Western Sydney Airport.

The Charter of Budget Honesty states that an investment can be treated as an off-budget equity injection only if the government has a “reasonable expectation” of recovering the investment. In other words, the entity must be expected to make a positive return over time.

But this gives governments a lot of latitude. A positive rate of return is not the same as a commercial one. And there seems little likelihood of commercial returns in either case.

For Inland Rail, it’s no secret that the Australian Rail Track Corporation will never be asked to repay the A$9.3 billion, even when project revenues start to flow in 2025. Let’s hope the finance minister is right to insist there’s no prospect the project will need even more taxpayer support, despite the risks identified in the budget papers themselves and by the Commonwealth Auditor-General. With no expectation of repayment, there is no practical difference between this “equity investment” and a grant.

For Western Sydney Airport, the government decided to build the airport itself after Sydney Airport Corporation declined its right to build it. The airport operator said the offer as it stood was “deeply uneconomic”. It cited operational, traffic, financial and political risks.

So it’s hard to share the confidence of the then treasurer (and now prime minister), Scott Morrison, when he said the new airport will “generate an income stream that’s going to pay for itself”.

In both cases, if a future government ends up writing down the fair value of these assets, this will appear on the balance sheet as a change to “other economic flows”. It won’t be separately identified. Nor will the write-down show up in the underlying cash balance figure that the media spotlight highlights on budget night.

The unavoidable conclusion is that pushing transport spending off-budget seriously diminishes not only the discipline that comes from competing for funds through the budget process, but also transparency in how public money is being spent.




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A foray into road pricing is stillborn

In November 2016 the government took an unusually bold step: it committed to holding an inquiry into road-user charging. The then minister for urban infrastructure, Paul Fletcher, was in good company. His commitment to commission a review led by an eminent Australian was in response to a 2016 recommendation from Infrastructure Australia, which invoked a similar recommendation in the 2015 Harper Review of competition policy, which in turn referred to a 2014 Productivity Commission recommendation. And the backdrop to all these reports was a recommendation of the 2010 Henry Tax Review.

But time passed and no eminent person was appointed. More time passed, ministers moved portfolio, and no eminent person was appointed. Finally, in October 2018, current minister Michael McCormack declined to commit to the inquiry.

An inquiry is no more than an inquiry, but a non-inquiry is a commitment to the status quo. Roads funding and roads investment are serious topics, and many commentators have argued that they are the laggards of regulatory reform.

A change to how road use is funded could significantly alter which roads are funded, what maintenance is done, and how networks are managed. It appears to have been all too much for this government. This task awaits a future government.




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The alternative government’s most important promises aren’t the sexy ones about electric vehicles. They are Labor’s promises that Infrastructure Australia should assess projects before the decision to invest, and to release assessed business cases. These promises may sound worthy and a little dull, but in reality they are big and welcome commitments.

Less obvious is how to square them with federal Labor’s promise to advance high-speed rail, or the promise to work with the Victorian premier “to deliver the visionary Melbourne Suburban Rail Loop”. Both of these are massively expensive projects with nothing approaching an assessed and publicly available business case.

It would be a significant improvement if whichever party wins government next month were to commit to, and follow through on, careful assessment of transport gaps and problems, consideration of the various feasible solutions, and rigorous evaluation of the preferred approach. And it’s not enough just to do this; it should be done in public.

Let’s hope.




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The Conversation


Marion Terrill, Transport and Cities Program Director, Grattan Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

All Boeing 737 MAX flights grounded – and travellers could feel it in the hip pocket


Chrystal Zhang, Swinburne University of Technology

With investigations under way into two crashes of Boeing’s 737 MAX 8 aircraft, the US manufacturer has caved to pressure and grounded the entire global fleet totalling 371 planes. That includes both model 8 and 9 versions of the aircraft.

The company issued a statement saying this occurred:

… out of an abundance of caution and in order to reassure the flying public of the aircraft’s safety.




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But the impact on passengers and air travel could last for months as airlines try to reschedule flights and seek other aircraft to meet demands. While things are still evolving, what should you anticipate as a traveller?

Everybody down

US President Donald Trump’s order on Wednesday prompted the Federal Aviation Authority to ground all 737 MAX aircraft flying in and out of the US.

While it is legitimate for a government to issue regulatory orders to intervene in an airline’s operation due to safety or security concerns, it is unprecedented that such a large number of countries are taking action.

At least 45 International Civil Aviation Organisation member states had already either ordered their airlines to ground 737 MAX aircraft, or suspended entry of such planes into enter their airspaces.

Countries affected include China, Indonesia, Germany, UK, France, the Netherlands, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and now the US.

While investigations into the two crashes could last for months or even years before any conclusion is drawn, the length of suspension is also unknown at this stage.

Yet holiday seasons such as Easter and school vacations are approaching, and many of us will no doubt be looking to fly away for a break.

Expect disruption

Airlines face disruption almost every day: airline operation is a complex system. Disruption can be caused by unforeseeable weather conditions, unexpected technical or mechanical issues of an aircraft, or associated safety hazards or security concerns.

Airlines therefore have strategies in place to manage or at least mitigate the effect of the disruption and reduce any potential delays. This could include but is not limited to:

  • changing or swapping an aircraft type

  • combining two or three flights into one operation

  • arranging alternative flights for travellers

  • moving travellers to other airlines if their tickets have been issued.

With only 371 Boeing 737 MAX family jets in operation, this is a small percentage of the total of more than 6,000 of the previous model and gives airlines the ability to use other jets in their fleet as a replacement.

A snapshot of Boeing 737 models in flight at 7:52am UTC Thursday (6:52pm AEDT) shows 1,500 aircraft. Not a 737 MAX in sight.
Courtesy of Flightradar24.com

But the current suspension will present significant challenges for some airlines.

Subject to their fleet size, the scope of their network, and other resources and capacity available, big airlines with multiple types of aircraft in their fleet are more capable of managing such disruption.

For example, Air China, China Eastern, China Southern, American Airlines and Southwest will have more resources to arrange for travellers to fly to their destinations.

In contrast, low-cost or regional carriers will be limited in their capacity to manage the disruption.

For instance, SilkAir and Fiji Airways have six and two Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in their respective fleets. Grounding the model means that both carriers will lose 16% of their total capacity.

Fares could go up

While airlines are making every effort to minimise the disruption, all these arrangements come at a cost.

Airlines might have difficulties in sourcing capacity to replace the aircraft, resulting in inevitable delays or cancellations. And delays and cancellations also result in additional cost to airlines operation.

Travellers could soon see an increase in airfares. The rising fuel cost and shortage of pilots have already put global airlines under pressure to manage operational costs.

Impact on Boeing

Boeing and Airbus are a duopoly, said to dominate 99% of the global large aircraft orders, which make up more than 90% of the total aircraft market.

Over the past few decades, Boeing has weathered problems before and maintained an exceptional reputation for its reliable and efficient aircraft design, manufacturing and service.

In 2018 , Boeing received US$60 billion for 806 aircraft deliveries, comparing to Airbus’s US$54 billion for 800 aircraft deliveries.

Of all the aircraft sales, the Boeing 737 MAX series – designed to replace the current 737 family – was becoming one of the most popular airliners, despite being only introduced to the market in May 2017.

But the two recent crashes have raised concerns about reliability of the 737 MAX 8 autopilot system, the Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System.

Some pilots have complained about a lack of training for the MAX 8. Others have complained of problems.

The aircraft represents a significant change from its predecessor models, including new engines, new avionics and different aerodynamic characteristics.

Potential risks

The risk for Boeing now is the potential consequences flowing from any investigation into the aircraft crashes. These could include:

  • complete or partial cancellation of orders placed by global airlines yet to be delivered

  • litigation by the affected airlines and the victims of the ill-fated aircraft, seeking damages caused by any product defect (if proof of any defect could be established)

  • new opportunities for its rivals to promote their aircraft; this could allow, for example, China’s state-owned aircraft manufacturer, COMAC, to make new waves in the industry.

Regardless, Boeing could face enormous financial losses and devastating economic consequences.

Boeing’s shares dropped after the Ethiopian Airlines crash on Sunday, but have started to recover.

While Boeing surely carries enough insurance coverage for losses, it is inevitable the damage to its brand is more far-reaching in the medium to long term. This will affect the confidence of aircraft operators and the general public.

Even if any technical defects discovered are quick to fix, a damaged brand tends to require more time and much more significant efforts to recover.

Is it safe?

Of course there is a question everyone wants answered: is it safe to fly?

The answer is definitely. Statistically speaking, flying on a commercial passenger airliner is the safest mode of transportation.

A recent study of US census data puts the odds of dying as a plane passenger at 1 in 188,364. That compares with odds of 1 in 4,047 for a cyclist, 1 in 1,117 for drowning and 1 in 103 for a car crash.

Globally, 2017 was the safest year in aviation history with no passenger jet crashes recorded.

The most advanced technology used in aircraft design and manufacturing, and in air traffic control management, and the comprehensive, efficient pilot training and management are aimed at a safe flight.

So the decision of Boeing to suspend flights of its 737 MAX aircraft is welcomed, for now. But, pending the findings of the investigations, the questions as to how long the suspension will be in effect and how Boeing will address the issue remain unanswered.The Conversation

Chrystal Zhang, Senior Lecturer in Aviation, Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How the NSW election promises on transport add up


Marion Terrill, Grattan Institute and James Ha, Grattan Institute

Sydney is awash with construction activity – new motorways, light rail and the Metro project are all part of an infrastructure deluge. And as New South Wales voters head to the polls, the two major parties keep raining promises on electorates of ever-larger, ever-faster transport projects.

But with early voting now open, it’s time to take stock. And Grattan Institute has tallied the numbers to help make sense of it all.

First, the total cost: Labor is promising about A$50 billion of transport projects, and the Coalition about A$70 billion. And the five largest projects on each side together account for more than three-quarters of the total cost. This matters – the bigger the project, the more likely it’ll go over budget, and in a big way.




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So far, 14 projects have been announced with price tags in the billions of dollars. Each A$1 billion equates to around A$125 from every person in NSW.

How different are the party platforms?

A striking difference between this election and the Victorian election last November is how much the major parties actually agree on. Both support three of the four largest projects. Voters take note: no matter who wins, you can expect to pay for most of the transport infrastructure promises now on offer.

The major difference is in the parties’ positions on roads – especially toll roads. The Coalition is backing the A$14 billion Western Harbour Tunnel & Beaches Link and the A$2.6 billion F6; Labor is promising to scrap them.

Before he resigned as state Labor leader last November, Luke Foley declared that Labor would “unashamedly prioritise public transport over toll roads”. His successor, Michael Daley, appears to have held the course.

The bulk of public transport spending by both sides will be on rail, nearly all of it in Sydney. An exception is the Liberals’ plan for regional fast rail. Sound familiar? Just a few months ago, the then leader of the Victorian Liberals, Matthew Guy, tried to woo voters with a similar promise.

Unlike their southern counterparts, the Berejiklian government is not taking an actual plan to the election, just a commitment to plan. It’s a move they might’ve learned from Victorian Labor Premier Daniel Andrews and his promised A$50 billion rail loop. The NSW Liberals have not provided any cost estimates for fast rail, so Grattan Institute has excluded it from these charts; safe to say, including it would make the Coalition’s total spending promises even more enormous.




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The coming transport infrastructure wave is heavily focused on Sydney. Both parties are set to pour cash into western Sydney, a clear battleground. It’s not surprising that regional NSW gets less of the transport love – voters outside the capital might be more concerned with hospitals and schools than with transport, particularly if they face little congestion.

How well justified are these projects?

Election campaigns can feel like birthday parties, with politicians bestowing gifts upon voters. But these gifts are largely paid for by the taxpayer, or by motorists in the case of tollways. Big infrastructure doesn’t come with a gift receipt; voters need to know in advance whether these projects’ benefits outweigh the costs.

Infrastructure NSW and Infrastructure Australia are two independent bodies that can identify worthy projects and assess business cases. Only two major projects have a tick of approval from either of those bodies – Sydney Metro (City and Southwest sections), and Stage 1 of the F6.

The Coalition supports both of these, whereas Labor supports only the City section of Sydney Metro. It is unclear why Labor would walk away from projects with established net benefits to the community.

Voters should be concerned that the other promised infrastructure is either not recommended or lacks business cases.

It can be difficult for an opposition to complete a business case, given it doesn’t have access to department resources. The government has no such excuse. Making promises without first scrutinising them forces voters to make risky decisions. Grattan Institute research shows that cost overruns were 23% higher for projects announced close to an election.




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Reforms promise a better way

Governments should do their due diligence before election time. Fortunately, there are signs of improvement on this score.

Labor is promising to introduce public planning inquiries on projects worth more than A$1 billion. This should help ensure business cases are completed, independently assessed and accessible to the public before projects are approved. When infrastructure is so costly and, at times, controversial, it’s very worthwhile to strive for community support and bipartisanship.

And Labor promises a new level of transparency in how government operates, by bringing in the independent pricing regulator, IPART, and the Auditor-General to shine a light on toll road contracts.

Labor also promises to strengthen the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) so that it runs all year round, not just before elections. Much like the Victorian PBO, this would enable minor parties to have their policies costed as well.

With 30% of voters planning to cast their ballots early this election, the PBO should also be required to publish budget impact statements two weeks before the election, not five days. This would help early voters to make informed decisions, as well as raising public suspicion about any policy announced in the fortnight before election day, too late for costing.

Recent experience suggests that promising splashy projects with big price tags can be very effective at election time. With more accountability and better processes, voters mightn’t be so easily swept off their feet.




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The Conversation


Marion Terrill, Transport and Cities Program Director, Grattan Institute and James Ha, Graduate Associate, Grattan Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How much will voters pay for an early Christmas? Eight charts that explain Victoria’s transport election


Marion Terrill, Grattan Institute and James Ha, Grattan Institute

The most magical time of the year is upon Victorians: election season. The (taxpayer-funded) gifts promised by the major parties far exceed anything Santa could bring. And the multi-billion-dollar toys on everybody’s wish list? Trains, tracks and roads.

There’s nothing unusual about politicians promising big-ticket items to curry favour with voters, but this election the size of these commitments is astronomical: more than A$170 billion worth of projects are on the table.




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Grattan Institute has crunched the numbers, investigating the major parties’ transport infrastructure pledges worth more than A$50 million. Although cost is a cause for concern, the recent trend towards first conducting business cases is encouraging.

How did we get here?

Population growth has been a big topic in the lead-up to Saturday’s state election. Politicians often cite it as the cause of ever-worsening congestion, despite evidence that Australia’s cities are actually coping quite well.




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It’s often assumed that a city’s transport infrastructure needs to grow at the same rate as population. This misconception allows politicians to promise popular mega-projects in the name of busting congestion.

Labor has the most extensive and expensive suite of projects, at a cost totalling A$95 billion. More than half of that is just one project: a A$50 billion suburban rail loop that rings around Melbourne’s middle suburbs and connects most train lines.

The Coalition’s commitments total $65 billion. The difference in the major party totals is mainly due to the smaller scale of the Coalition’s flagship rail project: a A$19 billion promise to deliver “European-style high-speed rail” to Victoria’s regional cities and towns.

The Greens’ promise with the biggest price tag is the A$23 billion Melbourne Metro 2 project (click map to enlarge).
The Greens Victoria

The Greens have so far committed to projects worth at least A$72 billion. The largest is Melbourne Metro 2 at an estimated A$23 billion.

These promises mean that every party wants the credit, if elected, for being the government that built the largest transport infrastructure project in our nation’s history. The current title holder, WestConnex in Sydney, totals only A$16.8 billion.

Critics might point out that Labor and The Greens have committed only to business cases for the suburban rail loop and Melbourne Metro 2 respectively. But since two-thirds of infrastructure projects announced with a price tag end up being built, voters are right to treat these promises as commitments to the entire project. Unfortunately, there is no election material with the nuanced message: “We support a business case for this project, which we will have rigorously assessed by an independent body, and if the project’s costs outweigh the benefits, we’ll scrap it.”

No matter who wins on Saturday, the full cost of the promised infrastructure won’t be felt immediately. Many of these projects are slated to run over years or decades and will have an impact on several budgets. Voters have the job of deciding not just where they want their money spent, but their children’s money too.

Total spend isn’t the only difference

The major parties don’t tend to agree on much, especially around election time. The value of their unilateral pledges exceeds the value of projects with multi-party support.

The largest promised project to have clear support from all three parties is the airport rail link, estimated at A$13 billion. (The Greens support this project but will not be announcing it as a policy until the business case is complete.)




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Parties differ in both what they promise and where they want to build it, and the patterns are fairly predictable.

Public transport (particularly heavy rail) is the winner this election, but it’s clear that parties tend to choose projects that fit with their ideology. The Coalition has promised the most for roads. The Greens have focused almost exclusively on public transport.

The Coalition’s projects are skewed towards benefiting regional Victorians. Labor and the Greens have announced projects that focus mainly on Melbourne.

These patterns may be influenced by where the parties’ respective voting bases tend to cluster, but also by the demands of different parts of the state. For instance, congestion may be a less salient issue in the regions, so voters there may prefer health or education investment rather than big-ticket transport infrastructure.

Is all this spending wise?

There is often a mismatch between the total cost of a project and how much a party pledges in an election campaign. The discrepancy is due to three factors:

  • only a business case is promised
  • the state government is expected to bear only part of the cost
  • the party has not made the funding arrangement clear.

An interesting phenomenon this election is the practice of pledging a business case only. At first glance, this appears misleading – voters might be enticed by the prospect of a mega-project, yet the party has to fork out only about 1% of the total cost if it wins.

Ideally, parties would have independently evaluated business cases ready before committing to projects, so voters could rest assured that any promised project is a smart one. This is important because projects announced prematurely tend to have the largest cost overruns. And without doing due diligence, there’s not enough evidence that the initiative will deliver enough benefits to justify its price; voters won’t know whether it’s a good use of taxpayer funds until it’s built and they’re stuck with it.




Read more:
Spectacular cost blowouts show need to keep governments honest on transport


So promising a business case is still better than committing to a project without one – or, worse still, committing to a project that clearly does not stack up.

Both Labor and the Coalition are guilty here. Labor has committed to rail duplication between Waurn Ponds and South Geelong, despite Infrastructure Australia – the nation’s independent advisory body – warning that “the costs of the project outweigh its benefits”. And the Coalition has promised to revive the massive East West Link, despite the Victorian Auditor-General’s criticism of the original project: “… the EWL business case did not provide a sound basis for the government’s decision to commit to the investment”.

Of the infrastructure promised this election, only the North East Link has a business case that Infrastructure Australia has assessed and approved.

But this is a state election and Infrastructure Australia is required to assess only projects of national significance for which more than A$100 million in federal funding is sought. Fortunately, since 2015 Victoria has had its own independent advisory body: Infrastructure Victoria. It set out recommendations for the state in its 30-Year Infrastructure Strategy.

The Greens’ platform is most closely tied to these recommendations, both by number of projects and total size. While the Coalition has made the most pledges that do not align with Infrastructure Victoria’s strategy, Labor’s set of non-aligned projects is worth far more, owing mostly to the suburban rail loop.

The huge infrastructure promises this election may excite some voters, but for parties to pledge “visionary” projects outside of what Infrastructure Victoria has recommended smacks of hubris. By building their own glitzy mega-projects without doing due diligence, politicians risk choosing badly and failing to solve the underlying problems voters care about. Worse, the state has a finite budget, so worthwhile projects will have to be relegated to the bottom drawer to make way for the attention-grabbing goliaths.

Going into the polls, Victorians should have one thing on their transport infrastructure wish lists: projects with rigorous and independently assessed business cases. Anything less than that is like buying your kids shoddily manufactured, untested toys. And that may well end in tears once they’re unwrapped.


A note on sources and assumptions: Election commitments were sourced from official party media releases and websites. Only infrastructure promises worth more than A$50 million were considered. Given Labor is in government, only Labor promises pertaining to a “re-elected Andrews government” were included. Judgment had to be exercised to avoid double counting when existing promises were subsumed into later ones. Similarly, care was taken not to double-count projects announced as part of a larger program, such as individual level-crossing removals. Where a party released a range of cost estimates, the largest value was taken.The Conversation

Marion Terrill, Transport Program Director, Grattan Institute and James Ha, Graduate Associate, Grattan Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

We hardly ever trust big transport announcements – here’s how politicians get it right


Crystal Legacy, University of Melbourne

Australian governments regularly spend billions of dollars cancelling infrastructure projects, or dealing with delays and legal challenges. The NSW Berejiklian government, for instance, is mired in legal battles around Sydney’s light rail project – with the Spanish company building the rail line suing the government for A$1.2 billion for costs and damages.

Other examples include the cancellations of the A$1.1 billion East-West link in Melbourne and Perth’s A$450 million Roe 8 project.

Research shows transport infrastructure is costly because of its size, complexity, and the misrepresentation of project benefits, resulting in cost overruns. But transport projects are also costly because they are controversial. Governments and project proponents can spend significant amounts of money to manage the risk of project cancellation, delays and legal challenges.

Why the constant controversy?

Transport will be a key policy battleground area in the upcoming Victorian election. Just this week, the Andrews’ government announced a A$50 billion underground suburban rail loop, which will link every major rail line in Melbourne and the new airport rail.

The announcement is politically motivated rather than being grounded in a publicly engaged strategic planning process attached to a clear evidence-base.




Read more:
East-West Link shows miserable failure of planning process


Victoria is not alone in such political infrastructure planning. The NSW government is currently embarking on the largest transport infrastructure project in the country’s history, with the 33km WestConnex. The project continues to attract opposition from some parts of the community and from the City of Sydney.

WestConnex is also currently subject to a parliamentary inquiry into its impacts, including the adequacy of the business case for the project and the compulsory acquisition of property. The inquiry comes following pressure from community groups and some members of the state’s Greens.

Large-scale transport infrastructure will always attract attention because it involves the distribution of a finite resource in complex regions pressed with significant infrastructure needs. But we need to consider why transport infrastructure is almost always so controversial, and how politicians can ensure they have the public’s trust when making announcements for all transport projects.




Read more:
Why fewer drivers are likely to use WestConnex than predicted


1. History

Australia has a history of anti-road activism that centred on the notion cities are for people not cars, as large motorways divide communities and promote car dependency. In the 1960s and 70s, large urban motorways were set to pave over suburbs as part of a wider urban regeneration agenda, which set the anti-road agenda in motion.

When the East-West Link was proposed again in 2012, many of the same activists from the 1970s returned to the scene. One such activist, Tony Murphy, would lead a high-profile legal challenge to the project in 2014.

Inner-city motorways – such as the East West Link and Stage 3 of the WestConnex project – are underpinned by this historic opposition. And it’s strengthened by the privatisation of roads and the introduction of toll roads. Under these conditions concerns will continue to be put forward about who actually gains to benefit from such projects – private companies, the government or the people?

2. Infrastructural symbolism

Inner-city motorways crystallise competing visions for the Australian city. Should we be investing in roads or rail, or both? How do we prioritise delivery? Where should we be investing? How will we pay for these investments? And do the benefits – and we need to be clear about how we define these – outweigh the costs of construction, the loss of natural assets and urban displacement?

The act of investing in one form of infrastructure over another becomes a symbol of what we value. Road based infrastructure planning is controversial because it’s often seen to value cars over non-road based alternatives.

We often see roads as controversial as they become a symbol of our value of cars.
from shutterstock.com

The East-West Link, West Gate Tunnel, North East Link and WestConnex projects are symbols of past poor investment in integrated land use and transport planning. They are also a symbol of little clarity and coherency about what it is we are aspiring to, and how these expensive projects will help us get there.

3. Trust in evidence

There are concerns projects are being announced before they are properly costed. And this has been further complicated by the introduction of public and private partnerships and more recently the use of market-led proposal schemes (where a private firm makes an infrastructure proposal to goverment), which calls into question the role evidence and the business case plays in decisions about transport infrastructure.

These concerns are only exacerbated when public access to this data is difficult to obtain. And they will only intensify unless bodies such as the ACCC demand data accessibility, including from tolling operators and sharing platforms.

In Toronto, project business cases are written before investment announcements are made. The business cases are then used in wider discussions about what kinds of infrastructures the region should invest in. While every city and region has its challenges, the controversy in Australian cities has become as much about the role of evidence, including its accessibility and transparency, as it is about the contents of those documents.




Read more:
A closer look at business cases raises questions about ‘priority’ national infrastructure projects


What politicians should do

As Australian cities continue to embark on ambitious infrastructure programs – both roads and public transport – governments must pause to ask themselves who these projects are really being built for. To abate future controversy, governments must:

  • develop plans for public debate and engagement, which will help provide a strategic case for projects when they are announced
  • deliver business cases before projects are announced, not after. This must include a clear evidence-base for land use, affordable housing, employment and integrated transport
  • plan transport with a regional outlook, but also be mindful of stories and histories of the places and neighbourhoods that might be affected.

Ultimately, residents must be engaged in discussions about urban scenarios and project alternatives. Infrastructure Australia recently released a set of guidelines for big projects. These guidelines are important.

We can also look to Infrastructure Victoria. They included a citizen jury method in the development of their 30-year strategy, which perhaps can be expanded into a larger planning exercise that ties the visions with short-term solutions – such as better quality bus integration. These can then be linked with the more ambitions ideas such as a suburban rail loop as announced this week.




Read more:
City calls on jury of its citizens to deliberate on Melbourne’s future


The Conversation


Crystal Legacy, Senior Lecturer in Urban Planning, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why roads and trains may be key to bringing peace to the Korean peninsula


Hussein Dia, Swinburne University of Technology

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un left his historic Singapore summit with US President Donald Trump last month with a massive political victory in hand, but questions remain how this will help his isolated country in pragmatic terms.

A Japanese newspaper reported Sunday that Kim has asked Chinese President Xi Jinping for his help in lifting the sanctions that have crippled the North Korean economy. But even if sanctions are lifted, will this be enough to improve the standard of living for North Korea’s impoverished citizens?

In recent years, Pyongyang has focused on twin policy objectives: achieving global political legitimacy, and embarking on a program of economic modernisation. The Singapore summit has arguably helped in reaching the first objective. North Korea will now be looking to achieve the second.

A possible high-speed future

Compared to neighbouring China and South Korea, North Korea’s infrastructure is crumbling and in dire need of expansion and modernisation. For decades, the government emphasised investment in heavy industry and weapons programs, allowing its roads, ports, rail lines and airports to fall into disrepair. North Korea’s energy, water and communications systems lag behind the rest of the world, as well.

When Kim met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in April, Moon said he would like to travel through North Korea to climb Mt. Paektu – a site of great importance in Korean folklore. Kim responded with a revealing admission that he would be “embarrassed” by his country’s railways.

Kim also told Moon how the North Korean athletes who took part in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang were impressed by the South’s high-speed rail network. This was seen by many as a likely signal that North Korea was motivated to bring its own rail network – and the rest of its infrastructure – into the 21st century.




Read more:
If a US-North Korea summit does happen, we’ll have Moon Jae-in to thank for it


And South Korea evidently wants to help. At the summit between the two leaders, Moon gave Kim a USB drive that laid out a vision for connecting the two Koreas through new infrastructure projects and special economic zones.

At the heart of Moon’s plan would be a US$35 billion upgrade of North Korea’s rail network, including high-speed rail lines connecting Seoul, Pyongyang and other industrial zones and a retrofit of other rail lines in the North.

Moon’s proposal is shrewd. The rail lines would also connect North Korea to its northern neighbours, China and Russia, and ultimately serve as a vital link between the entire Korean peninsula and the rest of Asia and Europe.

The promise of mineral wealth

More importantly, the South Korean proposal goes well beyond infrastructure. It would be a catalyst for unlocking the potential of the North’s untapped mineral reserves, which have been valued at somewhere between US$6-10 trillion.

These reserves consist of iron, gold, copper and graphite, as well as large amounts of rare earth deposits needed for production of smart phones and other high-tech gadgets made in the South. There are also unconfirmed reports of oil and gas deposits in North Korean waters.

However, modernising North Korea’s neglected infrastructure won’t come cheaply. The cost is estimated at several trillion dollars , similar to what West Germany spent to develop the East after the fall of the Berlin Wall.




Read more:
North and South Korea met – but what does it really mean?


The technical know-how and capacities of North Korea’s labour forces will also pose huge challenges.

Already, Samsung, Hyundai, Daewoo and other corporations provide training for the North Koreans they’ve employed in special economic zones along the border. These giants are well-placed to rebuild the North’s deteriorating infrastructure, but would need to invest much more time and money to train the local workforce.

Whether the North accepts the South’s help remains to be seen. This could prove to be a major stumbling block.

Of course, China could step in and play a major role. The country has built the world’s longest high-speed rail network, extending some 22,000kms, in a remarkably short span of time.

Beijing has strategic interests in developing the North’s rail network, as well. A future inter-Korean railway could serve as an extension of its ambitious “One Belt, One Road” infrastructure development initiative linking China with key markets in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Baby steps

Before any progress can be made on grand plans like these, North and South Korea need to take an important first step and reopen the rail links and roads between the countries. The two neighbours agreed in June to work towards that goal, but any material progress will need to wait until international sanctions against North Korea are lifted.

The two Koreas agreed to start limited cross-border rail service to an industrial zone just over the North Korean border in 2007, but the fraught relationship between the two countries soon brought the initiative to a halt.

The ConversationThis time around, progress will depend on the cooperation of the North Korean leader, who has been reluctant to accept help in the past, but might be persuaded to do so now with his country’s future in the balance.

Hussein Dia, Chair, Department of Civil and Construction Engineering, Swinburne University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

We can design better intersections that are safer for all users



File 20180601 69511 1r0hldw.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
When cars, trucks, bikes and pedestrians come together at an intersection, design makes the difference between collisions and safety.
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Paul Salmon, University of the Sunshine Coast and Gemma Read, University of the Sunshine Coast

This is the sixth article in our series, Moving the Masses, about managing the flow of crowds of individuals, be they drivers or pedestrians, shoppers or commuters, birds or ants.


A major issue for road safety is collisions at intersections between vehicles and vulnerable road users such as cyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians.

In such collisions, often the driver is momentarily unaware of either the vulnerable road user or of their planned path through the intersection. While many factors can cause this lack of “situation awareness”, the design of the intersection is critical. With numbers of vulnerable road users increasing, how intersections are designed requires urgent attention.

The status quo

If you look at the intersections in your local area, many appear to have been designed primarily with drivers and efficiency in mind. The designs show little consideration of the needs of vulnerable road users. Typically, we see high speed limits, no dedicated bicycle lanes through the intersection, no filtering lanes for motorcyclists, and short crossing times for pedestrians.

This can make it difficult for vulnerable road users to pass through safely. And critically, the lack of overt protection for these vulnerable users also reduces drivers’ expectation of encountering them. This can lead to something that we call a “looked-but-failed-to-see error”: drivers are not aware of vulnerable road users even though they may have looked at them (this phenomenon is explained here).

In response to these problems, we recently completed research using a series of on-road studies to understand:

  1. how different road users interact at intersections

  2. what they need to know to support safe interactions.

Our next step involved using a sociotechnical systems-based design process to create new intersection design concepts. A sociotechnical system is any system in which humans and technology interact for a purposeful reason. Our aim was to develop a series of new intersection designs that better support the “situation awareness requirements” of all users.

Understanding the diversity of users

The most important finding from our on-road studies was that different road users experience the same intersection situations differently. Critically, these differences can create conflicts.

For example, drivers tend to be concerned with what is ahead of them, and specifically the status of the traffic lights. In contrast, cyclists and motorcyclists are concerned with working out a safe path and then filtering safely through the traffic. Thus, drivers who are not expecting them are often not aware of them or of what they might do next.

A key implication of our findings was that intersections should be designed to cater for the diverse situation awareness needs of all road users. The environment should facilitate safe interactions by ensuring that all road users are aware of each other and understand each others’ likely behaviours.

Based on this, we set about designing a series of new intersections using a sociotechnical systems design approach. Among other things this approach aims to create systems that have adaptive capacity and can cope with a diverse set of end user needs.

To achieve this, it proposes several core values, including that:

  • humans should be treated as assets rather than unpredictable and error-prone
  • technology should be used as a tool to assist and not replace humans
  • design should consider the specific needs and preferences of different users.

Designs for better intersections

We used these values as part of a participatory process to create three intersection design concepts. The design brief was to replace one of the intersections from the on-road studies (see below).

Figure 1. Bird’s-eye view (above) and first-person view (below) of the intersection to be replaced with new design, Map data ©2012 Google.
Author provided

When we evaluated the designs with drivers, cyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians, two of the designs performed best against key criteria: alignment with sociotechnical systems values, attainment of key intersection functions (such as to minimise collisions, maximise efficiency, maximise compliance, optimise flexibility), and user preferences.

The first design is known as the “turning team” design. It works on the premise that different road users could work effectively as a team when proceeding through the intersection. To do this the design aims to make drivers explicitly aware of other forms of road user (to connect the team) and provides each with a clear and dedicated path through the intersection.

Like all good teams whose members function based on different roles, the design aims to clear cyclists from the intersection before allowing motorised traffic to enter. Other features include a pedestrian crossing path wide enough to accommodate cyclists who are not comfortable with using the road, motorcyclist filtering lanes, and phasing of traffic lights based on road user type and direction of travel.


CC BY-ND

The second design is the “circular” concept. It explicitly separates motorised and non-motorised traffic. A circular pathway around the intersection is provided for pedestrians and cyclists to use. This pathway links with cycle lanes running down the centre of the road, separated by a kerb from the roadway.

On the roadway, this design provides a separate bus lane and a motorcycle zone at the front of the intersection to encourage motorcyclists to filter to the front. Finally, the design incorporates signs warning motorists to be on the lookout for cyclists and for motorcyclists filtering through the traffic from behind.


CC BY-ND

The way forward for intersection design?

The road transport systems of the future will be markedly different to those of today. Intersections will become intelligent, with the capacity to “talk” with vehicles, and driverless vehicles will negotiate intersections for us.

This is a long way off, however. In the shorter term, intersections will likely comprise a complex mix of standard vehicles, driverless vehicles and partially automated vehicles, as well as cyclists, motorcyclists, pedestrians, and perhaps new forms of vulnerable road user. Without change, intersections will continue to kill and injure at an unacceptable rate.

Our research provides important messages for how the intersections of the future should be designed. Designers should equally consider the needs of all users, rather than considering drivers first and the rest afterwards. Critically, this should extend to driverless vehicles and automated systems. What, for example, are the situation awareness needs of a fully driverless vehicle when negotiating an intersection? How can intersection design support these needs as well as those of human users?

Designers should not fall into the trap of assuming that all road users require the same information when negotiating intersections. While separating them physically, the intersection of the future should aim to connect its users cognitively.


We would like to acknowledge our colleagues and collaborators who have contributed to this research, including Professor Mike Lenne, Associate Professor Guy Walker, Professor Neville Stanton, Dr Natassia Goode, Dr Nick Stevens and Dr Ashleigh Filtness.

The ConversationYou can find other articles in the series here.

Paul Salmon, Professor of Human Factors, University of the Sunshine Coast and Gemma Read, Research Fellow in Human Factors & Sociotechnical Systems, University of the Sunshine Coast

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Let’s get moving with the affordable medium-speed alternatives to the old dream of high-speed rail


Philip Laird, University of Wollongong

More than half a century has passed since high-speed rail (HSR) effectively began operating, in Japan in 1964, and it has been mooted for Australia since 1984. I estimate that the cost of all HSR studies by the private and public sectors in Australia exceeds $125 million, in today’s dollars. But the federal government is now less interested in high-speed rail (now defined as electric trains operating on steel rails at maximum speeds of above 250km per hour), and instead favours “faster rail” or medium-speed rail.

The 2017 federal budget provided $20 billion over the next 10 years for rail, with more allocated in the 2018 budget. It is now time for Australia to commit to medium-speed rail (trains operating on new or existing tracks at speeds of between 160km and 250km/h).

Indeed, three states have made progress in developing trains at 160km/h, with Victoria leading the way. New South Wales has failed to keep up with these states.

What happened to high-speed rail in Australia?

The first high-speed rail system dates back to 1964 when the Tokaido Shinkansen started operating between Tokyo and Osaka. At first, it took four hours to travel 515 kilometres; now some trains take two-and-a-half hours. Japan’s system has an impeccable safety record and the network extends for over 3,000km.

An image prepared in 1984 by the late Phil Belbin of what the Very Fast Train south of Canberra could look like.
Courtesy of Railway Digest (ARHS/NSW) June 2004, Author provided

France was next in 1981 with its TGV trains. In 1984, high-speed rail was first proposed for Australia. This was the CSIRO’s Very Fast Train proposal to link Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne using TGV trains.

At all levels, government was not supportive. The private sector, after a series of studies, found it was viable and could work with different taxation arrangements. This was not forthcoming and work stopped in 1991.

An image from the 1990s of a SpeedRail train at Central Station.
Courtesy of Railway Digest (ARHS/NSW), Author provided

A more modest proposal, called Speedrail, to connect Sydney and Canberra was proposed in the mid-1990s. With some federal government encouragement, it was studied, with detailed design. It was costed at about $4.5 billion, with finance arranged for some $3.5 billion. The Howard government would not fund the balance and commissioned yet another HSR study.




Read more:
Can Australian high speed rail overcome its bumpy history?


More studies have followed. One study in 2013 put a price tag of $23 billion on a Sydney-Canberra line involving much tunnelling in Sydney. This was part of a 1,750km high-speed rail corridor linking Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne. The total estimated cost was A$114 billion.

Despite many studies recommending the need to identify and protect a corridor for a future high-speed rail network, government has failed to reserve any land corridors (with the exception of part of a future Melbourne outer metropolitan ring road).

What about the alternatives?

Many countries do not have high-speed rail, but have medium-speed rail (MSR) instead. These countries include Sweden, Switzerland, the United States and Canada.

Queensland’s Tilt Train intercity service has been running for nearly 20 years.
QRtrains/Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

Three Australian states have trains operating at 160km/h. These are Queensland, starting in 1998 with its Electric Tilt Train service between Brisbane and Rockhampton, Victoria, with its Regional Fast Rail project using V/Locity diesel multiple units, and Western Australia, with the Prospector train.

Victoria’s service originated in 1999 when the then Labor opposition promised a new deal for regional Victoria, which included new trains and upgraded tracks on four lines to Bendigo, Ballarat, Geelong and Gippsland. The ALP won government that year. By 2006 the track upgrades were delivered along with new trains made in Victoria.

People liked the faster trains. Patronage went up by more than 15% in each of the first three years of operation. More trains were ordered and further major track upgrades followed.

Victoria was assisted by $3 billion in federal funding for a Regional Rail Link program. This was to provide new intercity tracks in Melbourne so suburban trains did not slow down regional trains.

Due to good ongoing planning attracting more federal funding,
further track upgrades are under way. The 2017 Victorian Infrastructure Plan outlines priorities and funding for projects over the next five years, with longer-term policy directions.

So what’s going on in NSW?

Questions are now being asked as to why Victoria and WA are doing do well with federal funding for passenger rail at the expense of NSW.

The rail situation in Australia’s most populated state is not good for its regions. By far the most NSW government attention and funding has gone into the Greater Sydney region.

Between the 2011 and the 2016 Censuses, Greater Sydney’s population (including Gosford) grew some 10% from 4.39 to 4.82 million. Rail patronage on the Sydney and intercity network had even stronger growth of some 15% from 2011 to 2016.

To try to cope with this increasing demand for rail a new Metro section is due to be completed in 2019. Light rail is also being introduced in Sydney, Newcastle and Parramatta.

Sydney continues to have serious road traffic problems, which are unlikely to be solved by WestConnex Stages 1 and 2 that are now under construction. The proposed Stage 3 received over 7,000 objections, including a sensible alternative proposal by the City of Sydney, but the NSW government has approved Stage 3 and even more motorways. This is despite overseas experience for cities the size of Sydney pointing to the best solution being a much-improved rail system with road congestion pricing.




Read more:
Road user charging belongs on the political agenda as the best answer for congestion management


Regional NSW is also growing in population, albeit not as quickly as Sydney. In spring 2017, Transport for NSW released a draft regional servicea and infrastructure plan not for the next five years, but out to 2056. However, these plans were very vague as to what may be delivered in the next five or even ten years.

The plans also omitted earlier Infrastructure NSW goals for Sydney-Gosford and Sydney-Wollongong trains to take one hours (instead of one-and-a-half) and Sydney-Newcastle trains to take two hours. In addition, there are calls for more and faster trains linking to each of Goulburn/Canberra and the Central West of NSW.

Clearly, NSW is facing major transport challenges to overcome rail infrastructure backlogs and meet the needs of a growing population.

The state government is getting new intercity electric trains and has committed to buying new regional trains. But it’s yet to commit to track upgrades to help the new trains go faster than the present slow ones.

The NSW ALP opposition is also yet to present detailed policies of how it would meet the transport challenges in Sydney and in regional NSW.

The ConversationThe people of NSW must hope the state budget due June 19 and the opposition leader’s reply will address these issues.

Philip Laird, Honorary Principal Fellow, University of Wollongong

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.