$11.9bn for roads, $1.22bn for rail does not compute

While it's an early Christmas present for roads funding around Australia, something to do with a federal election, with the Coalition promising more than $11.9 billion for roads in recent weeks and at least $6.8 billion by Labor, the same can't be said for investment in rail infrastructure.

According to a surprising source of support for rail projects, our good friends the Greens, the Federal Government has invested $58 billion in roads over the past 30 years, but only $2.2 billion for rail.

That ratio hasn't changed much in recent weeks with the Coalition announcing a "detailed and integrated" $1.56 billion "transport" policy – read 89% roads – for South Australia and $10 billion for mostly highway projects in Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales.

And the Coalition has also committed to a $405 million program for major roads in Perth.
Out of that total funding package of $11.9 billion about $1.22 billion has been allocated to rail projects, with almost $900 million of that in Sydney.

The SA package announced by Treasurer Peter Costello on Monday contains $165 million for rail projects, with most of that going to one project – $120 million for a grade separation of the Goodwood and Torrens junctions. The rest is for roads – $430 million for the regions and $766.5 million for the Adelaide urban road network.

In NSW last Sunday, Prime Minister John Howard announced $1.9 billion for road projects. According to the Coalition's plans, $834 million will be allocated to upgrade Sydney's main north freight line and $65 million to upgrade the Port Botany rail line.

In Victoria, also on Sunday, Costello unwrapped a $2.45 billion gift for "roads and rail" with rail getting a relatively paltry $160 million for critical projects.

The funding was to ensure efficient access for standard gauge trains to the Port of Geelong – $80 million. And another $80 million to upgrade inadequate rail infrastructure in western Victoria, include ballast, re-railing and installation of concrete sleepers.

Maybe the news was better on Super Sunday for rail in Queensland where Transport Minister Mark Vaile unwrapped a bigger $5.2 billion gift to fix South East Queensland's transport, er roads, network. But sadly, no. Nothing there for rail at all.

In the West late last month, Howard unwrapped a $405 million package, another one of those "detailed and integrated" plans for Perth's urban roads linking the airport to Fremantle. But again, nothing for rail.

Meanwhile, staying in the West, the State Government is waiting for the outcome of the federal election to determine the fate of a massive investment in the state's deteriorating rail freight network throughout the Wheatbelt.

In September the Coalition turned down a request for assistance towards meeting a $400 million bill to keep much of WA's grain freight line from closing down. The State Government is now hoping for a more sympathetic hearing from Labor if it gets across the line.

But don't bet on Labor being any more sympathetic to the massive under-investment in rail if its election spending promises on transport projects are anything to go by.

In recent weeks Labor transport spokesman Martin Ferguson has unveiled a smorgasbord of major transport funding announcements throughout the nation, including major projects totalling $6.8 billion with the only major mention of rail funding being for Tasmania.

In northern New South Wales Labor has committed $1.5 billion to fix five major road projects and $143 million in northern Tasmania.

It is here that we find hints of rail investment with $73.3 million allocated to three projects:

-- $31.6 million for Main North-South Line rail capacity improvements;

-- $30 million to upgrade the Wiltshire Rail Line; and

-- $11.7 million to upgrade West Coast Rail spurs to Hellyer Mine and from Melba Flats to Zeehan.

And even rarer, there was something about funding for shipping with $2.8 million to extend the Tasmanian Freight Equalisation Scheme to cover shipping movements between mainland Tasmania and King and Flinders islands.

But that is about as exciting as it gets for Labor rail funding commitments.

In WA, Labor unwrapped a $589 million AusLink 2 package for roads in the metropolitan area, Mandurah and the South-West and $361 million for Perth to Bunbury roads.

In Victoria it has committed $1.02 billion to upgrade Melbourne's motorways and freeways, $107.5 million for the Geelong Ring Road and $604 million to upgrade the Western Highway.

In Queensland, Labor has committed $2.55 billion for roads in Brisbane and South East Queensland.

But nothing on the mainland for major rail projects.

Ferguson said AusLink 2 spending will focus on Australia's "national economic priorities – productivity gains in export supply chains and the general freight task, integrating land transport with ports and airports and easing urban congestion".

"We would be investing in modern roads and rail for our major cities in our first term – not our last term, like Mr Howard," he said.

At the Australian Rail Summit held in Sydney on July 18, Ferguson said rail infrastructure will have a very important role to play in freight corridors under a federal Labor government.

"With the freight task in Australia set to double by 2020, we need both road and rail – used as efficiently as possible – as well as better use of coastal shipping," he said.

"Australia's most important transport priority for the future is to make intermodalism work and to plan supply chains to take advantage of the different strengths of road and rail in the freight task."

He said with the 2007 election fast approaching, federal Labor will be developing its own AusLink package, including rail, in consultation with state and territory governments and the private sector.

"It will be based on the economic priorities outlined above – productivity gains in export supply chains and the general freight task, integrating land transport with ports, and easing urban congestion," Ferguson said.

"With the land freight task set to double by 2020 and congestion in our cities already costing billions of dollars a year, the Federal Government's contribution must be properly refocused on national strategic transport priorities and not on pork-barrelling to prop up safe and marginal Coalition seats."

Or for that matter, Labor seats?

While politicians talk the talk about rail, but refuse to walk the walk, the Greens have called for significant investment in Australia's railway networks including a very high speed train between Sydney and Canberra.

"Instead of a plan to address climate change, this election campaign is simply offering ad hoc expenditure on roads aimed at winning votes in marginal seats. Where is the funding for public transport?" said NSW Greens Senator Kerry Nettle.

The Greens have also called for the introduction of a very high speed train service between Melbourne and Sydney via Canberra and Queanbeyan.

Tim Slater is deputy editor of SupplyChainLogisticsNews.net