It was great to hear the Australian High Speed Rail Authorities’ inaugural CEO Tim Parker on ABC Radio this week. Tim, a seasoned mega railway delivery executive, gave an insightful account to the role and succinctly explained the opportunity of high speed rail for us here in Australia. Due to our vast geography, we are well-positioned to benefit greatly from a high speed rail network that connects our major cities. Though the project faces challenges around cost, geography, politics and the environment, each issue has precedents and solutions from international best practices.
The geographic barriers posed by coastal ranges, forests and rivers are surmountable with proper engineering, as seen in high speed rail networks in Europe which traverse similar terrain. The advanced tunnelling techniques developed globally and used here across Australia over the past decade, can be applied to the task of engineering a safe and effective route. Precise route planning, with sound environmental and engineering design can minimise community and environmental impacts through sensitive areas including national parks and farming lands.
The use of developed technology across the rail systems that are already in service in other high speed rail countries including Japan and across Europe is a given. Linked to the extensive renewable energy sector that is being developed, we should expect significant environmental benefits on our journey as a country to net zero.
The political complexities of a multi-state infrastructure project require strong unified bi-partisan leadership, as the future line will cross state boundaries. Communicating the significant economic benefits to all states and territories will be a significant task but required to generate broader support for the projects. There are proven funding models from projects worldwide that combine government loans, private capital and value capture. Though the upfront cost is substantial, the long term productivity impacts and environmental benefits across sectors to the Australian economy could offset this.
Overall, with visionary leadership from the inaugural CEO, sound engineering expertise and considerate environmental design, high speed rail’s challenges can be overcome. The projects would stimulate jobs and growth for decades while linking key cities in a sustainable way as in comparable countries. Our nation has overcome massive infrastructure projects before, such as the original Snowy Hydro Scheme and most recently metro and freight rail systems. With sound planning, high speed rail could transform how Australians live and work for the next 100 years.