THE plan for a high speed rail network connecting Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney that claims to require no government funding has been released.
A long-awaited proposal will today be revealed by private company Consolidated Land and Rail Australia (CLARA) Pty Ltd, which has partnered with international companies to develop the proposal.
It’s expected to come with a $200 billion price tag, but, the company claims, it won’t cost taxpayers a cent.
The ambitious plan includes the construction of eight brand new island cities between the three capitals, with land deals already secured for the regional hubs that will set up close to existing towns.
Six new “advanced, sustainable, smart cities” are proposed for New South Wales and a further two for Victoria.
The company has labelled the plan “a quantum leap forward in the development of our nation”.
Land deals have been struck in regional areas, and if it receives support form three levels of government, the company says construction could begin within five years.
Phase one of the development will involve a $13 billion high speed rail into northern Victoria and the development of two new partner cities in the region over 30 years.
CLARA says the first stage of the new cities will be “online” within a decade.
Today’s announcement is the most significant development in the implementation of a high speed rail system for Australia in recent years, and follows Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s announcement to support such a project in April this year.
Among members of the company’s advisory board are former state premiers Steve Bracks and Barry O’Farrell, and recently retired trade minister Andrew Robb.
In March of this year, executives from CLARA met with Mr Turnbull.
After the mysterious meeting, the Prime Minister excited fast-train enthusiasts announcing a “radical new funding plan” that could see the transport fantasy, floated by Australian politicians for generations, speed into reality.
“Value capture” — the funding plan the PM proposed — is at the centre of CLARA’s proposal.
It relies on profits made from the transformation of existing farming land into new developments that would benefit from the new infrastructure and increase in value.
“Because CLARA has the land for new cities development our business model projects a commercially viable project that should not call on taxpayer funding,” the company’s website states.
“CLARA’s pre-feasibility business model has the city sites and rail infrastructure being privately funded through the use of land value capture. Unlike other proposals for high speed rail in the past, CLARA’s infrastructure can be paid for from the city development rather than from government coffers.”
The company’s chairman Nick Cleary told The Australian the profit margin to developers to fund the high speed rail system would mostly fund the project, estimating land bought for $1000 a lot could be sold for up to $150,000 once housing and civil infrastructure is built.
He called the ambitious project a “decentralisation program”, saying the new cities and the high speed rail network would be interdependent, making each other viable.
Mr Cleary said the private company doesn’t anticipate asking governments for “a direct financial injection”, but would need support from all three levels.
“What we really need is the assistance to plan out these communities to secure the corridors of the rail which state governments have to do,” he said ahead of the Melbourne launch.
“We are under no illusions as to how difficult it is, and we are buoyed by the fact that both Commonwealth and state government are open to enter into co-ordinated discussions.”
Both sides of federal politics have signalled support for a high speed rail network, but hadn’t been able to explain how a cash-strapped government would hope to pay for it until the value-capture model was floated earlier this year.
A vague plan for a network beginning at Sydney and leading to Canberra, with links to regional centres like Goulburn had been discussed with a similar plan linking Melbourne to its regional neighbour Shepparton. These regional links will be included in CLARA’s proposal.
Fast rail plans have been floated by every federal government since Bob Hawke was in power.
Former prime minister John Howard considered a very fast train plan in 2000. He famously said he “rather liked the idea of a very fast train”, but couldn’t justify the $1 to $2 billion expenditure.
In 2008 then Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd announced a $25 billion high speed network connecting Sydney and Melbourne that never got up.
His successor Julia Gillard commissioned a report predicting a high speed rail network connecting Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, would be budgeted at about $114 billion.
When talks of a government-backed high speed rail system cropped up again earlier this year, Greens MP Adam Bandt was among vocal critics, tweeting that the revolutionary infrastructure was “the train that only runs in election years”.
But with the plan being seriously considered post-election, Australia may be inching closer towards no longer being the only continent — with the exception of Antarctica — without fast trains of our own.