The Federal Government has made Phase 2 of its previous election commitment into the study of High-Speed Rail along Australia's East Coast public.
Direct link to all the documentation here.
Setting aside cost and the timeframe for implementation for the moment (as that's what the mainstream debate will focus on) - let me emphasise we must ensure the regional cities - those that have a mooted station - have proper structure plans in place to harness the opportunity which fast connectivity to capital and other regional cities will bring.
It's unfortunate Julia Gillard has already been spruiking the commuting benefits of the project with this first (bottom) tweet:
Selling High Speed Rail as a commuting option to alleviate housing affordability in Sydney is the absolute wrong message we should be selling this project on. In fact using the system as any kind of long-distance commuting option should be discouraged.
Selling the benefits of the project to the public this way will have the effect of extending the issues of mass movement of people from the outer more affordable fringe areas of cities to the centralised employment centres, predominantly located in our respective central cities - it's garden city planning on steroids!
Fast commute? absolutely. Cheap to commute? not on your nelly - in 2065 it's estimated an Albury - Melbourne fare would be $42 one way.
Instead, Victoria and New South Wales have a unique opportunity to leverage the infrastructure to grow their regional centres - the Australian Inland Empire if you will.
Shepparton, Albury-Wodonga, Wagga Wagga are the three cities between Melbourne and Canberra that are likely to have a station with regionally-focused services. Our supplimentary debate about the benefits of High Speed Rail should include the respective councils of these regions and focus from the Federal and State levels of government should be on growing the economies of these respective cities to the point where new industries: be they services, manufacturing or further expansion of agri-business can flourish.
Growing and diversifying these economies will be made easier, as the fast access to and from the three capital cities on the route will provide quick access to airports for global connectivity. It's not rocket science, regional cities are lower-cost employment environments which businesses can leverage to create jobs which in turn will attract people to live in these cities - not commute to them.
Melbourne, and Sydney, are learning that in order to grow their respective cities, urban high-density, short-commute principles are the best to implement - as they take advantage of existing infrastructure, local economic activity expands and diversifies and this knowledge the development market is now catering for throughout capital metropolitan areas can be applied to these regional centres.
It's not just the capitals which should grow into true urban centres; regional cities are equally as relevant and deserving of a strong urban focus.