Australia must protect a high-speed rail corridor along the east coast before it is usurped by urban sprawl, the nation’s infrastructure adviser warns.
Demanding action to protect vital corridors including the introduction of a national framework, Infrastructure Australia has described the rail pathway as the most urgent priority.
“This critical corridor faces immediate pressure due to its proximity to major population centres and should be a key focus for NSW, Victorian and federal governments,” chairman Mark Birrell said on Friday.
“A co-ordinated approach, involving joint governance arrangements to oversee land acquisition, joint funding commitments and joint agreement regarding land use management measures will keep governments at both levels committed to the urgent task at hand.”
Infrastructure Australia has mapped out seven corridors as national priorities, estimating protection and early acquisition could save taxpayers $10.8 billion.
“Strategically important infrastructure corridors need to be preserved early in their planning to avoid cost overruns, delays and community disruption during the project delivery phase,” Mr Birrell said.
“If we protect infrastructure corridors we will reduce project costs and especially minimise the need for underground tunnelling, where the cost to government and therefore taxpayers can be up to ten times higher.”
Federal infrastructure minister Darren Chester said protecting and acquiring corridors was primarily a matter for the states and territories.
“The coalition government is working with the states to ensure they are undertaking long term planning to protect corridors for any potential future rail corridors,” he said through a spokesperson.
“However, any potential high-speed rail between our capital cities is a long way off in the future.”
The government was instead focused on faster rail connections between capital cities and major regional centres.
Opposition infrastructure spokesman Anthony Albanese concedes fast speed rail tracks won’t appear overnight, but says it makes sense to start planning, believing the east coast link will be established within 20 years.
“You can’t make a decision today and then get on a train tomorrow. What you can do though, is plan today for tomorrow,” he told ABC radio.