One question that seems to come back every so often, is will Australia's east coast ever get high-speed rail (HSR)?
Since, the 1980's there has been talks of introducing a high-speed rail system that will connect major cities and regions along Australia's east coast. Currently, the proposed route for the high-speed rail system will be from Brisbane to Melbourne, stopping along the Gold Coast, Newcastle, Sydney, Canberra and Albury. The proposed route is still very fluid, with many other cities and regional towns vying to be included along the track. Being a stop along the HSR is incredibly sought after, as it opens up the location to a bevvy of opportunities that may have otherwise not been available, due to poor access and minimal traffic.
The proposed HSR is expected to slash commute times, support the future travel demands of Australia's growing population and spread economic growth more evenly.
However, a high-speed rail system remains wishful thinking. The government continues to sit on their hands and half-heartedly fund high-speed rail studies, advisory boards and feasibility studies, rather than pushing beyond planning and taking actual steps to make high-speed rail a reality
Recommendations have been made for the government to act now and reserve the land required along the proposed rail corridor for approximately $720 million. This is because the price of land continues to rise and they may have to cough up a hefty $3.5 billion later on. However, no significant efforts have been made to secure this valuable corridor.
Another major hurdle to getting a high speed rail system across the line, is the sheer magnitude of the project.
It is estimated that building a 1,748km high-speed rail system connecting Brisbane to Melbourne will cost upwards of $114 billion and take approximately 50 years to be fully operational.
Crippling congestion and long commute times are expected to continue to be a hallmark of Australia's rail system if a reasonable solution is not proposed.
Turning To A More Realistic Answer
The huge price tag and lengthy time frame associated with the execution of this major infrastructure project has made it a pipe dream that won't be viable anytime soon.
Instead, the government should direct their energy towards establishing a medium-speed rail system that expands the current network, and better connects more regional parts of the Australia's Eastern seaboard with the major cities.
A medium-speed rail system will be significantly cheaper, faster t0 construct and implement, and deliver immediate benefits for local/regional economies.
By focusing the proposed medium-speed rail on connecting regional communities with major CBDs, it will help to decentralise economic progress, and reduce the congestion that comes with population growth. New hubs of economic activity will spring up and help to improve the state of the overall economy.
Greater connectivity to more regional areas will help to stimulate job growth, and strengthen local communities. When transport infrastructure effectively connects more diverse locations, more businesses enter new markets and access to a larger pool of work opportunities is enabled. This encourages more people to join the labour force, increases productivity, and may even help lower the unemployment rate.
Transport infrastructure creates huge volumes of both direct and indirect jobs, with the construction alone holding the potential to generate hundreds or even thousands of jobs over a number of years.
The delivery of a medium-speed rail system will also help to improve the quality of life for people living in regional areas. This is because having a rail system that links them to larger towns/cities means that they are able to access greater resources, healthcare, education, etc.
Another benefit of a well-connected medium-speed rail system is that it will help to improve housing affordability. It's no secret that housing prices are skyrocketing around Australia's major cities, especially in Sydney and Melbourne. With the population expected to grow, demand for these areas will only heighten, pushing more and more Australians out of the housing market. An expanded medium-speed rail network will make it feasible for people to live further out from major cities, where quality housing is inexpensive and cost of living is much cheaper.
Even though a high speed rail system may seem like a fantasy for a distant future, there are rail alternatives that can deliver significant benefits quickly and more affordably. Medium-speed offers a transportation solution that can realistically be implemented in the near future and will help stimulate growth in Australia's often neglected regional areas. Medium-speed rail is a more viable alternative to a high-speed rail system, that will help improve connectivity along Australia's eastern seaboard and drive economic activity.
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