Fast rail will get commuters into Brisbane quicker than ever. Picture: Courier Mail
Fast rail will get commuters into Brisbane quicker than ever. Picture: Courier Mail

$70b plan to cut commute times

A BOLD $70 billion proposal to fast-track southeast Queensland's development into a world-class super- metropolis of the future has been unveiled.

A new report recommends a rapid rail network that would carry passengers to the centre of Brisbane from the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Ipswich and even Toowoomba in under 45 minutes.

Vast improvements to public transport and carefully-targeted road projects would enable people to travel across individual cities within half an hour.

The blueprint is outlined in a report by major infrastructure consultants SMEC, who were commissioned by the SEQ Council of Mayors to investigate transport as part of a feasibility study into a possible Olympic Games bid.

It proposes a major shift in priority to public transport, reversing a trend towards private car use over the past 30 years.

The centrepiece is a new "faster rail" network of frequent trains travelling at up to 250km/h. That is slower than so-called bullet trains overseas but average speeds of 150km/h would be almost three times the current 60km/h.

It would halve the travel time from the Gold and Sunshine Coasts to the capital, and slash up to two-thirds off the journey from Ipswich.

Stage one of the "SEQ People Mass Movement Study'' found that enormous population and employment growth would increase transport demand across the region 31 percent by 2031, and by 53 percent a decade later.

Current planning and investment would not keep up, resulting in serious congestion, lower quality of life, slower economic growth and a decline in global competitiveness.

"Intervention is required, both in terms of investment in the missing 'gaps' of the transport networks, and in terms of shifting away from the private car usage towards more sustainable mass transit passenger services," Jason Van Paassen, SMEC's transport planning team leader for Queensland . said.

A "base'' scenario, including existing projects such as Cross River Rail and Brisbane Metro, would allow major centres to become half-hour "smart cities"

But a recommended ''advanced scenario" envisages the state's southeast corner becoming an interconnected "smart region'' over the next quarter of a century, securing its position as the country's most liveable and efficient metropolitan area.

Is a rapid rail system for Brisbane on the horizon? Picture: Courier Mail
Is a rapid rail system for Brisbane on the horizon? Picture: Courier Mail

The rapid rail network would involve existing lines and new ones. They would include the North Coast Connect proposal -- which has already received federal Government funding for a business case -- for a new 40km track from Beerwah to Maroochydore.

It proposes a new fast link to Southport from the current Gold Coast corridor. A fast initial connection to Ipswich would be extended to Toowoomba, although another recent $15 million business case grant to determine passenger rail requirements to the Darling Downs city could also see that brought forward.

Trains carrying 500-plus passengers would be expected to run about every half-hour throughout the day -- offering an express alternative to existing services and stopping at a limited number of stations in other council areas including Moreton Bay, Logan and Lockyer Valley en route to the capital city.

Those stations could include Caboolture and/or Petrie from the north, Beenleigh from the south and Gatton from the west.

Modelling suggests it would take 45 minutes from Maroochydore to Brisbane -- 41 minutes quicker than the current trip from Mooloolah. The 35-minute Southport-Brisbane journey would be under half the current 73 minutes from Nerang.

Trains from Ipswich could take 20 minutes, compared to the current 58 minutes.

The initiative would be expected to take thousands of cars off the region's highways but the proposal does also factor in major new road infrastructure.

More than 50 projects were identified in the study and a second stage, due to be completed by the end of the year, will determine the optimal priorities to achieve the strategic vision.

A spending model for the transport plan, which includes the $944 million Metro and $5.4 billion Cross River Rail, puts the total cost between now and 2041 at $68 billion.

That works out at $2.9 billion a year -- close to the average historic combined infrastructure spending in SEQ by State and federal governments of $2 billion to $3 billion.

But the report suggests that a bid by southeast Queensland to host the 2032 Olympic Games could be used to accelerate the investment, bringing forward the delivery of the projects by more than a decade.

That would mean spending just over $4 billion a year to 2031 but only $1.5 billion per annum for the decade afterwards.

It proposes a City Deal-type funding agreement between federal, state and local government and says more than a quarter of the money needed could be sources from the private sector through things like new tolled motorway links and developments around stations.

Deputy Premier and Treasurer Jackie Trad said: "I love fast rail. It's a terrific people mover but you need the population density to support it. We need the right investment at the right time.

"It's something that in a city region -- rather than a region of cities -- it will make much more sense.

We are preserving rail corridors where we think it's important."

International cities expert Professor Greg Clark said: "Southeast Queensland is going to need to continually invest in its connective infrastructure as it becomes one very successful globally-oriented integrated region over the next couple of decades. There will need to be more rail infrastructure in particular."