Once more the spectre of high-speed rail is being thrust upon the Border community. A new HSR project is being promoted for the Melbourne to Sydney route by a newcomer to the transport industry. In a damning critique, an editorial writer in The Age wrote: “The project is as much a real estate play as it is a transport initiative”.       

Consolidated Land and Rail Australia aims to use the highly speculative finance tool of capturing land value increases to assist in funding the venture. CLARA chairman Nick Cleary enthusiastically told a reporter from The Age they planned to turn farm lots bought for $1000 into residential lots worth $150,000. Really!

Erstwhile villages like Henty will then emerge miraculously from whistle stop status to become green field cities. 

It is fanciful rhetoric that defies eco-geographical reality and has been rightly criticised in the metropolitan press as being light on substance. Urban centres just don’t evolve like that. Why has it taken 175 years for Albury-Wodonga to reach 85,000? 

The perennial rallying call of decentralisation has been once more invoked. Hundreds of commuters are envisaged as taking the daily  trip to work at a distant metropolis.  

This latest project is presented by outside vested interests as a magic pudding for regional development and aspirations for growth and job creation in provincial centres. But do the promoter’s interests coincide with ours? What would the future be of the notably under-performing conventional rail services should HSR eventuate?

The Border Rail Action Group  believes the structure of the present regional transport system needs to be assessed before we launch into the exotica of HSR and the massive capital outlay it will involve. The scarce capital dollar needs to be spent wisely. Existing infrastructure should be taken into account. Public interest should always be paramount.

Such a survey would reveal Albury-Wodonga well-placed to regain its former position as a freight hub of national significance, when, and if, a further $9 billion is injected into the inland rail project. The IRP (Brisbane to Melbourne) would be a genuine national game-changer through its value adding capacity in servicing the national supply chain.  

The Albury to Melbourne corridor forms the southern segment of the project. Despite the tensions associated with that track’s revitalisation, it would cost only a few hundred millions of dollars to remediate the track formation problems and duplicate the standard gauge line from Seymour through to Melbourne.Those enhancements would enable optimal use of the corridor for both freight and passengers. 

Recently, the writer paid $47 for a return trip to Melbourne from Albury. On current TGV best prices in France, for a similar journey, a traveller would pay $226. Linkage charges to and from the city centre will add considerably to HSR costs.

Albury mayor Henk van de Ven’s comment was as practical as it was refreshing: “how about we get a decent service between Melbourne and Albury. We can’t seem to manage that”. (The Border Mail, April 12)

BRAG stands firmly beside the mayor and, we believe, the overwhelming majority of Border rail patrons. The HSR consortiums are a needless distraction. Further, they are an impediment to BRAG’s efforts to reform the conventional rail service on the north-east corridor through an affordable and staged rolling stock replacement strategy – not in 10 years’ time, but commencing now.

Bill Traill, Border Rail Action Group chairman