$1 billion pledge to commence high-speed rail

By Myles Peterson

The prospect of a 32-minute commute between Shepparton and Melbourne came closer to reality yesterday with federal Labor pledging $1 billion for land acquisitions along the planned high-speed rail corridor.

Shepparton is the only regional Victorian city identified on Labor’s preferred route. Albury, Wagga Wagga, Canberra and Sydney sit on the northern line, indicating 2-hour trips to Sydney may also be a possibility.

Long championed by Labor’s infrastructure spokesperson Anthony Albanese, high-speed rail has been proposed at nearly every federal election for decades, but this is first time a party with the potential to form government has pledged significant funds to begin the project.

‘‘This is a game-changer for the east coast travelling from Sydney to Melbourne or Sydney to Brisbane in under three hours making an enormous difference to travel times, to convenience and also to reducing emissions,” Mr Albanese said yesterday.

Shepparton’s fortune at being included on the route resulted from a comprehensive $20 million review conducted when Labor was last in government which identified our region as the best location for a stop to maximise economic gains.

Labor expects towns and cities that receive a high-speed rail station will see enormous improvements in terms of population and industrial expansion, along with knock-on effects such as housing prices rises.

‘‘The other thing that high-speed rail would do is turbo-charge regional development, in towns in cities along the route, whether it be Canberra, Albury-Wodonga, Shepparton, Coffs Harbour, Grafton, Lismore or Newcastle,’’ Mr Albanese said.

The proposed rail system will see trains travelling at speeds of up to 350km/h up and down the east coast of Australia and cost $114 billion, the most expensive Australian infrastructure project in history, eclipsing both the Snowy Mountain Hydro Scheme and the troubled National Broadband Network.

Labor candidate for Nicholls Bill Lodwick said he was excited by the announcement which significantly added to his campaigning platform.

‘‘This is a fantastic announcement for Shepparton and the surrounding areas. Labor is looking to Australia’s future with confidence and optimism,’’ he said.

‘‘With Shepparton as a major hub in the fast rail system, the whole area can look forward to long-term, sustained economic benefits. Labor is supporting development in regional areas.

‘‘Imagine getting to Melbourne in less than an hour. This fast rail is exactly what is needed.’’

Earlier this year, Member for Murray and the Nationals’ candidate for the new seat of Nicholls Damian Drum said he cautiously supported the high-speed rail project, but only if infrastructure development kept pace with the expected population growth.

‘‘The answer to very fast rail is ‘Yes, I am very supportive’. But it has to be part of a wider population strategy where we move people into the regions, not just create dormitory suburbs where people might live regionally and travel to metropolitan areas for work,’’ he said.