Australian Labor victory is good news for rail
The election of a federal Labor government is good news for Australia’s rail sector, with the new government having already pledged nearly A$3 billion (US$2.1 billion) to rail projects during the campaign while evoking the possibility of a boot on a high-speed network.
The Australian Labor Party has long favored public transport and rail in particular, and the new government is no exception.
Ahead of the May 21 poll, according to think tank Grattan Institute, the Labor Party has pledged nearly A$30 billion to public transport, while the Liberal coalition’s pledges accounted for just half of that.
The new government’s biggest single rail pledge is to support Victoria’s ambitious multi-billion dollar Commuter Rail Loop, which is designed to connect all of Melbourne’s rail lines in a 90km arc. The loop currently has a projected price tag of A$50 billion over several decades.
The Victorian government has already allocated over A$2 billion to the project for early preparatory work.
During his election campaign, the then Leader of the Opposition, now Prime Minister, Mr Anthony Albanese, said he could not think of “a more exciting infrastructure project in the whole country”.
“That’s why Federal Labor will contribute an initial A$2.2 billion to this project,” he says. “This project will transform the way Melburnians can get around this city, but will also transform the whole of Victoria.”
The other big spending pledge was in New South Wales. Albanese pledged A$500 million in the Labor Party’s first budget as seed funding to start work on the Newcastle-Sydney ‘fast rail’” project. The money would support land acquisition, planning and early works for the project, which will be designed for operations at up to 250km/h and cut Newcastle – Sydney journey times to just two hours.
The Prime Minister also believes the project will be the first step towards high-speed rail, indicating that the Labor Party would support a high-speed rail link between Melbourne and Brisbane..
“I want ours to be the first government that actually starts working on high-speed rail,” he said. “My vision is of a high-speed train linking Brisbane and Melbourne.
“Under a Labor government, the High-Speed Rail Authority will make the Newcastle to Sydney corridor, which includes stops on the Central Coast, its first priority. We will start with a rapid rail corridor, but we will plan and build for the transition to high-speed rail.
The new government has been more cautious about pledges for South Australia, saying only that it will support public transport projects in Adelaide without committing to a dollar amount.
Albanese said Labor had pledged to make the multibillion-dollar AdeLINK light rail network a priority and to restore funding for the Gawler Line electrification project.
The state government is preparing a business case for the extensive streetcar system, but still needs federal funding.
The state’s transport minister, Mr Stephen Mullighan, has said the proposed light rail network in Adelaide’s inner suburbs would cost billions of dollars if delivered in full. He said tram lines could only be built in stages.
In Western Australia, the new government made a modest financial contribution to Perth’s Metronet project during the election campaign, pledging A$87.5 million for a new Beckenham elevated station and the removal of level crossings.
The new government has also confirmed its support for the Inland Rail project to build a new 1,715km dedicated freight line between Melbourne and Brisbane. However, he says he will launch an investigation into the route selection process and funding arrangements.
New Infrastructure Minister Ms Catherine King said Labor was genuinely concerned about the escalating cost of the line, which now stands at A$14.5 billion. The project promises Melbourne – Brisbane transit times of less than 24 hours, making it competitive with road transport and offering the possibility of operating trains carrying double-stack containers.
Industry lobby group the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) hailed the election result. CEO Ms Caroline Wilkie said the National Rail Manufacturing Plan and the Labor Government’s National Reconstruction Fund would support the development of increased capacity in Australia’s rail supply chain.
“Policies that support a strong Australian rail manufacturing sector will ultimately lead to better deals for governments and create more jobs in the process,” Wilkie said.
Wilkie added that the Labor Government’s commitment to establishing a national infrastructure program and framework, and its firm commitment to faster rail, would maximize the benefits of rail investment in the future.
“A strong national approach to infrastructure development will help industry drive innovation, build workforce capacity and deliver better outcomes for the economy,” she says.
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