Since the outcome of the Federal Election last year, the wide and varied array of light rail projects being undertaken by State Governments is now said to be in limbo. As the Abbott Government slashes spending across a variety of sectors, it seems that public transport infrastructure projects are taking the deepest cuts. If we are to move forward with light rail, it may be time to consider alternative funding options.
Although the Sydney Light Rail project has been ensured to transform Sydney, the Federal and State governments have chosen to back the WestConnex project as the priority. Shadow Minister for Transport, Anthony Albanese, wrote an opinion piece for the Guardian on why backing road projects is misguided. It’s an interesting read but Albanese focuses too much on the effect urban rail has on traffic congestion.
Many of our European counterparts are undergoing phases of reinstalling and retrofitting their light rail systems as well. Slovakian Minister for Transport, Construction and Regional Development, Jan Pociatek, stated that the goals of a world class urban rail is to create a safer, faster and more comfortable network.
“Getting from A to B is not enough, though. We require a certain level of comfort while travelling. And here, I am very happy to say that, as we add more trains, so does the quality of the service improve.”
“More than 60 modern regional trains will be supplied under the government’s current EU funded programme…Furthermore, I wish to underline that this effort will continue through future government programmes” the Minister added.
A similar sentiment is being carried out throughout the rest of Europe as the new public-private partnership called SHIFT2RAIL, was created to enhance rail transport and freight. On the outside of this discussion, it’s easy to see that both Australia, the EU, and many other Asian countries are undergoing a phase of creating modern and sleek urban rail systems. The only difference is, Australia has a Federal government that is cutting funding to public transport. So maybe it’s time to explore alternative funding avenues, such as the ones discussed above.
Bryan Nye, CEO of the Australasian Railway Association agrees that we need to move forward with urban rail, and in order to do so we should explore all the possible funding options.
“With our constrained economy Governments at all levels need to get smarter at funding and financing public transport infrastructure. The infrastructure backlog and growing pressure for improved public transport systems is too large. We can’t afford to continue relying on an allocation from general taxation revenue to fund transport improvements and infrastructure investment.”
Nye continues, “there are plenty of successful overseas examples where governments have implemented funding tools such as value capture, congestion charging or payroll taxes to fund vital transport infrastructure.”
According to Nye, we should be looking at success stories such as the ones from Europe, and we should be replicating them.
“Rather than re-invent the wheel, we should be looking at funding and financing success stories and replicating them here.”
For more information on the funding issues of light rail, you can view the Light Rail 2014 agenda on our website. Bryan Nye, as well as a few international speakers and state government representatives will be joining the discussion on these important issues.