Ian Thorpe and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian in Tokyo on August 22. Ian Thorpe is an ambassador for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. Photo supplied. Photos via email from Kirsty Needham.Tokyo: NSWPremier Gladys Berejiklian says she wants to see bullet trains in NSW, reversing her previous scepticism of high speed rail.
Ms Berejiklian told the Herald: “Of course we would love to see high speed rail servicing our State but for this to be viable it would need to travel beyond NSW and it would require federal involvement.”
The Premier has raised the prospect of bullet trains for NSW, but only if a high-speed rail network crossed the state border and connected major cities.
Ms Berejiklian had previously been cold on the idea of high-speed rail, which is now common in Asia and could significantly cut travel time between Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne.
But two days of meetings in Tokyo, the home of the bullet train, with Japan’s top bankers appear to have prompted the shift in her position.
“I think it is getting closer and closer to the time we can start thinking about having fast rail services in NSW,” Ms Berejiklian told a business audience in Tokyo on Tuesday.
“It would have to be beyond the boundaries of one state to make it viable, I think. It would have to be potentially be a Sydney-Melbourne service to make it viable.”
She acknowledged her attitude change, recalling the last time she was in Tokyo as transport minister she had told people “don’t hold your breath” waiting for fast rail to come to Australia.
But Ms Berejiklian said on Tuesday NSW’s train services were “in an evolution” and catching up to Japan, which was at least a generation ahead of the world.
Bullet trains travel at speeds of 240-320 kilometres an hour and could cut the travel time between Sydney and Melbourne to less than three hours.
Federal Transport Minister Darren Chester travelled on a high-speed train in China last month and said the experience was “quite staggering”, and Australia was “envious” of the way China’s high-speed trains had not only shortened the travel time between Chinese cities but sped up the entire rail network.
A fortnight before his high-speed rail trip, Mr Chester had also poured cold water on bullet trains in Australia, saying high-speed rail was “a long way off in the future”.
High-speed rail has long been debated in Australia, but nothing has been done because of the perception Australia’s sparse population meant the service wouldn’t be economically viable.
But an Infrastructure Australia report last month concluded population growth would make a Sydney-to-Melbourne high-speed rail link viable by 2032.
It warned state governments needed to act in the next three to five years to secure a land corridor for a high-speed rail route, at an estimated cost of $720 million, before rising property prices made it unaffordable.
Infrastructure Australia chairman Mark Burrell complained high-speed rail was continually pushed to the bottom of government priority lists.
Japanese and Chinese rail companies could be expected to be competing bidders, should Australia proceed with its first high-speed rail line.
Mitsui executives met with Ms Berejiklian on Monday and gave her a copy of a press clipping from the August 20, 1901, edition of The Sydney Morning Herald, which recorded the arrival of Japanese merchant Mr C. Asano of the trading house Mitsui Busan Keisha in Sydney to look for business opportunities.
Mr Asano told the Herald reporter he would travel to Melbourne by Japanese steamer, and return by train. Mitsui is part of a consortium, Consolidated Land and Rail Australia,that was pushing a privately funded bid for high speed rail between Sydney and Melbourne earlier this year.
Mitsui and bullet train operator East Japan Railway this month struck a deal in Britain to run inter-regional services and a Birmingham metro, and are competing for a British high-speed rail contract. HongKong’s MTR and a Chinese rail company are bidding for a second British high-speed rail tender.
MTR will operate NSW’s first private railway, the Sydney Metro North West. Federal governments have previously released reports into high-speed rail in 2011 and 2013.
The Turnbull government is expected to call for proposals next month to develop business cases for faster inter city rail connections, although not necessarily bullet trains.
Ms Berejiklian said high speed rail was expensive and “all relevant options” would need to be considered to improve transport to regional areas and between major cities.
“This includes improving the performance of existing networks, rather than solely focusing on new alternative infrastructure,” she told Fairfax Media.
She said Australia’s small population was challenging and this meant to get faster trains, they “can’t stop everywhere”.
She said the punctuality of services and “selflessness” of staff working in Japan’s transport system had inspired her as minister to try to change the culture of the Sydney transport system.
“These were notions that had been lost on NSW for some time… I am very proud of the fact we have changed that culture in NSW. We have a much more customer centric organisation.”
Former Olympian Ian Thorpe joined Ms Berejiklian on Tuesday to tour an Olympic swimming venue in Tokyo, and later recycled his mobile phone in a ceremony with Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike.
Tokyo is turning the gold and silver from recycled mobile phones into medals for the 2020 Olympics to send a message of sustainability.
Thorpe is an ambassador for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.