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Fast train shelved by lack of vision: Stanhope

29/03/2002 7:51:30 AM
The high-speed train project had been shelved because the Federal Government lacked national leadership and vision, ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope said yesterday.

Federal Transport Minister John Anderson said on Tuesday the Commonwealth was abandoning its support for the fast-rail service linking Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne.

Mr Anderson said it would cost taxpayers too much, about $50 billion, and to continue to support would raise false hopes.

Mr Stanhope said the decision was a disappointment for all Canberrans.

It was a reflection of the federal Budget situation, where the Commonwealth Government had squandered an enormous surplus and was now cutting at every opportunity. The matter was a dead issue as long as the federal Liberal Party was in power.

He said the ACT had to move on and maximise the opportunities available to it, working on road and regional air links.

He also saw a need to strengthen the ACT's links with western Sydney and Campbelltown.

Opposition Leader Gary Humphries said the ACT Liberal Party would continue to lobby the Federal Government to keep the high-speed train project on the drawing board.

It was not a question of whether Australia should have a high-speed rail project, but when. Important nation-building projects never came cheap, but the fast train link would provide thousands of construction jobs and permanent jobs when completed. It would connect capital cities and encourage Australians to travel more and boost tourism.

"Australia's aviation industry has an uncertain future and the days of cheap air fares for Canberrans wishing to depart from the territory are long gone," he said. "The Australian population continues to grow and more viable transport options to cross our vast land must be considered. The very-fast-train project is a worthy candidate."

The Canberra Business Council also expressed concern that the train had been abandoned. Council deputy executive director John Miller said it appeared the study had been prematurely terminated, before the benefits and costs of the network had been fully determined.

"The study so far indicates only very broad brush figures which obviously need much refinement," he said. "This is indicated by the very wide range of construction costs referred to in the Government's announcement. The proportion of Government contribution referred to in the Federal Government's statement, of 80 per cent, appears inconsistent with that sought by high-speed rail proponents in the past."

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