Fast Rail for the Adelaide Hills

May 6, 2018

A recent front page of the Mt Barker Courier (21 Feb 2018) canvased a fast rail service to the Adelaide Hills and Southern Fleurieu from the Adelaide CBD. The headline idea is for a $1B fast rail service that could take passengers from Mt Barker to the city in 20 minutes following a new route through the Brownhill Creek area and down the centre of the Freeway with stops at Stirling and Hahndorf. It could then continue to Strathalbyn and then Victor Harbour and/or Murray Bridge.

While the $1B price tag is fanciful there is a lot of merit in the idea of bringing a passenger train back to the Hills. The article also canvassed slower but cheaper options costing between $50M and $350M and providing incremental benefits.

For those of you not old enough to remember, there used to be a passenger train service along the current freight corridor to Bridgewater. This closed in 1987, mainly due to the length of time that it took to get to the CBD along the meandering track through Belair National Park and the Mitcham Hills area. There is obviously still a freight line through the Hills, but the new government was elected on a promise to develop a rail freight bypass of the Hills, taking freight trains of Hills lines.

This provides an opportunity to bring a passenger train service back into the Hills on or near the existing rail freight corridor using new tilting train technology. This would allow trains to travel much faster and overcome the uncompetitive time taken by the former Bridgewater service.

A new high-speed passenger train service to the Adelaide Hills with stops in Adelaide Hills Council townships such as Stirling and Bridgewater would unambiguously benefit businesses and residents of the Adelaide Hills Council area. As the article states, fast rail would “…deliver a “renaissance in rail” that could drive economic growth, tourism and affordable living across the Hills and beyond.” Along with reducing traffic from the increasingly congested South Eastern Freeway during peak periods, the rail service would boost tourism in the Hills and would link Hill residents with major regional service centres such as Mt Barker and Strathalbyn.

The Adelaide Hills Council must join with other councils (in particular Mt Barker) and the State Government to explore this proposal in detail and develop a full business case for a fast rail in order to receive Federal Government support and funding. The Federal Government already has an interest in this area and it is only through the complacency of governments in our region that there is not a serious proposal on the table.

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Why the NBN is good for Australia

October 3, 2010

The Government’s National Broadband Network (NBN) was one of the main issues of the recent Federal election. In fact, it was probably one of the main determining factors of the eventual outcome, with the conservative independents citing it as one of the key reasons that they supported Labor. The fact that the Coalition wanted to scrap it and replace it with a slower but cheaper option didn’t help their cause either. I was a vocal critic of the Coalition’s policy on the NBN, even actively campaigning against it online through (among other things) a Facebook causes site.

The fact is that the broadband infrastructure in Australia is grossly inadequate to support the sorts of high technology, value added industry that we aspire too. For such a geographically challenged country (i.e. highly dispersed population centres separated by long distances) our investment in broadband networks has been under-done. When compared to the broadband networks of other developed countries in Europe, North America and Asia we are loosing out on a competitive edge for our industry – not just in the high technology area but in general. A fast broadband network makes activities such as telecommuting and other forms of working remotely, much more viable with resulting benefits in reduced traffic congestion, stress, pollution (including greenhouse gasses) and allowing people to better engage with their local community rather than spending time travelling.

In the 19th century it was rail-roads, in the 20th century it was electricity and telephone networks and in the 21st century it will be broadband digital data networks that will drive our economic and social development. The development of a National Broadband Network will be the sort of nation building project that the Snowy Mountains scheme was in the 1950’s.

History has shown that this sort of project will not go ahead at the required scale unless driven by governments. The dispersed nature of the Australian population means that servicing regional and remote country areas with the required grade of service is not necessarily economically viable for private industry (yet much of Australia’s wealth is generated in these areas.) In addition the sorts of technical and financial risks that are involved in building such networks mean that only the Australian Government has the capacity to drive their establishment.

There are precedents for this sort of project. The Electricity Trust of South Australia (ETSA) was created by South Australian Liberal and Country League (LCL) premier Tom Playford through the nationalisation of the Adelaide Electric Supply Company (AESC) in 1946. Before then it was a private company (with headquarters in London) which held a monopoly over electricity supplies in Adelaide at the time. It was the company’s refusal to use brown coal as advocated by Playford, even going to the extent of buying black coal only boilers, which triggered the request from Playford for Commonwealth funds to nationalise the company – Labor Prime Minister Ben Chifley readily agreed. The LCL suffered a split in its ranks with regard to nationalisation, and the state legislation only passed with the support of ALP and independent members of parliament. ETSA participated in the post-war growth and industrialisation of the South Australian economy, including providing modern and reliable power for regional areas. As a vertically integrated generator, distributor and retailer of electricity, ETSA was responsible for the development of new energy sources (brown coal mined at Leigh Creek), two major power stations (Port Augusta and Torrens Island) as well as expanding the electricity distribution network to areas where there was no supply, or low voltage (32 volt) supply generated locally.

Tom Playford recognised that to provide the necessary electricity generation infrastructure to grow the South Australian economy, only the government was could be trusted and have the resources.

The Opposition’s proposed alternative is a hastily thought, sub-standard alternative that relies on the private sector to provide the majority of the funding and uses old technologies to provide a poorer grade of service. While it is currently projected to cost less, this does not necessarily mean that it will actually meet the needs of Australia and our future economy.