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National commitment to rail network urgently needed

A national coalition of transport groups has urged the federal government to fund a major rail network upgrade to enable the introduction of high speed passenger services and ensure the viability of regional rail freight services.

In a submission ahead of this year’s federal budget [1], the sustainable transport coalition, which includes Victoria’s Public Transport Users Association (PTUA), has recommended that the federal government’s commitment to infrastructure investment begin with dragging Australia’s rail network out of the steam age and into the 21st century.

“Regional Australians are bearing the brunt of climate change and high global oil prices,” said PTUA President Daniel Bowen. “A world-class rail network would slash greenhouse emissions and move people and goods more safely, efficiently and sustainably.”

The budget submission points out that investing in Australia’s rail network would reduce transport emissions, help to overcome infrastructure bottlenecks and capacity constraints in the economy, and help to rein in Australia’s ballooning oil import bill. The transport groups have called on the federal government to lead investments and upgrades including:

  • upgrading key intercapital and regional rail corridors such as Melbourne to Sydney, Melbourne to Adelaide, and Melbourne to Mildura city centre;
  • standardising Victoria’s broad gauge rail network; and
  • undertaking resleepering, duplication or providing ample passing loops on neglected rail infrastructure.

“The nation’s rail arteries have been left to decay under successive federal and state governments,” said Mr Bowen. “The Rudd government needs to lead a national program to rebuild the rail network connecting our cities, regional centres and ports.”

The call comes as yet another senior oil industry figure warns that within a decade “easily accessible supplies of oil and gas probably will no longer keep up with demand” [2]. “The cost of getting goods to market will become prohibitive for many communities unless a high quality, nationally integrated rail network is put in place,” warned Mr Bowen. “That same world-class rail network is also needed to slash our surging transport emissions and oil imports.”

The submission also urged the federal government to adopt world’s best practice in regulating biofuels. “When done well, biomass can be a useful part of the energy mix, especially in rural areas close to the feedstock. When done badly, biofuels lead to deforestation, displacement of vulnerable communities and force up grocery prices. Australia’s biofuel policies should ensure only best-practice production methods are used and rule out fuels from unsustainable sources such as cleared rainforest,” concluded Mr Bowen.

[1] PTUA Federal pre-budget submission

[2] Two Energy Futures

Contact the PTUA