High Speed Rail advocacy from Moreland Council over aviation emissions growth

The transport sector is the second largest and fastest growing source of emissions. Will Australian governments take steps to rein in emissions from the aviation sector? Community climate champion, John Englart, explores.

High speed rail is being placed back on the political agenda by Moreland Council arising from the problem of growth in aviation emissions as embedded within Melbourne Airport expansion plans, and the necessity to find alternatives to aviation emissions.

Moreland Council passed a resolution at the October Council meeting to advocate “to State and Federal Governments by writing to the Ministers for Planning, Transport and Environment as well as local Members of State and Federal parliament, that investment should be focused on the establishment of a Very Fast Train to connect Australia’s cities instead of expanding the privately-owned airports.

The Melbourne-Sydney flight route is the second busiest domestic flight route globally.(Note 1) A high speed train service could provide a 3 hour Melbourne CBD to Sydney CBD service as a cost effective and low emissions alternative to flying.

For domestic travel in the Melbourne-Sydney-Brisbane corridor High Speed Rail makes enormous sense, and could be built within a ten year period and be operational by 2030.

It could repay it’s initial capital investment from operating profits over a 40 year period, not an unusual period for capital return for a major infrastructure project.

If the full environmental costs of aviation were included in ticket prices, the fares for high speed rail would win hands down. High Speed Rail for this corridor is competitive even without factoring in the full climate impact of east coast flight routes.

There have been two government feasibility reports conducted in 2011 and 2013, and an independent report by Beyond Zero Emissions released in 2014.

Beyond Zero Emissions took issue with some of the fare pricing and revenue raising potential for the profitability of such infrastructure in the previous reports while substantially having a similar rail route. Here are some of the highlights of the Beyond Zero Emissions report:

  • Travel times between Melbourne and Sydney and Sydney to Brisbane could be around three hours.
  • 21 High Speed Rail stations connecting 11 regional centres and seven major cities
  • Ten minute train frequencies are possible during peak hours at Sydney station
  • Fares could be priced similar to current air fares.
  • Rail could be powered by renewables for close to zero emissions.
  • A High speed rail network could be delivered within 10 years
  • Estimated $7 billion fare revenue when fully operational in 2030
  • The capital cost of about $84 billion could be fully recovered from operating profits within about 40 years of operation.
  • The second Sydney Airport at Badgery’s Creek would become largely redundant
  • Expansion of Melbourne Airport and a third runway would become redundant

The motion at Moreland Council’s October meeting is important advocacy work and needs to be pushed further at the State Government and Federal Government levels of politics.

The IPCC 1.5C report highlights we need to move rapidly to zero emissions and transform our infrastructure, such as in transport, to reduce emissions if we are to meet our Paris Agreement climate targets. Aiming for 1.5C is still possible but requires transformational change at speed, but with substantial benefits in limiting the damage to ecosystems, human life and life on the planet.

The climate science says we need to be limiting our aviation emissions, and teleconferencing and high speed rail provide feasible alternatives for some of our flying to reduce demand.

The motion on the agenda put to Moreland Council’s October Council meeting:

That Council:
1. Notes that the aviation industry is responsible for a very high level of greenhouse gas emissions and that the expansion of air travel has exacerbated the impact of these high level emissions.

2. Advocates to State and Federal Governments by writing to the Ministers for Planning, Transport and Environment as well as local Members of State and Federal parliament, that investment should be focused on the establishment of a Very Fast Train to connect Australia’s cities instead of expanding the privately-owned airports.

The wording was slightly improved to add climate emergency, before being voted on and carried by Council. (Minutes have not yet been published to provide an accurate wording for the motion as passed – this will be amended once the minutes are available)

At the September Council meeting the Officer recommendation was very bland and failed to raise substantive issues about the airport expansion and increased emissions:

That Council endorses the submission to the 2018 Preliminary Draft Master Plan for Melbourne Airport, at Attachment 1 to this report, and submits it to Melbourne Airport and the State Planning Minister.

Climate Action Moreland lobbied Moreland Councillors on the agenda item on the Melbourne Airport Masterplan submission. We raised important issues of how the airport has a growth model embedded in the masterplan and fails to take into account what this growth model will do for increasing aviation emissions and climate impact.

The Following motion was passed:

Cr Abboud moved, Cr Martin seconded –

That Council:

1. Reserves its support for the 2018 Preliminary Draft Master Plan for Melbourne Airport until further details relating to the third runway development plan are released to the public, with detail about mitigation for expected risks, not limited to, but including, increased traffic projections and traffic management plans.

2. Endorses the submission to the 2018 Preliminary Draft Master Plan for Melbourne Airport, at Attachment 1 to this report, and submits it to Melbourne Airport and the State Planning Minister with the inclusion of a requirement for pre-approved management and offset plans for major development projects such as the development of a third runway.

3. Requests that Melbourne Airport, consistent with their Take2 Climate Change pledge, brings forward development of the Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation Framework and Carbon Management Plan to inform the Runway Development Program and release these documents for public comment and consultation concurrently with the Runway Development Plan.
Carried


Background
Read more on Melbourne Airport and Aviation Emissions
Read our submission on the Melbourne Airport Masterplan
Read our Call for a moratorium on Melbourne Airport Expansion
Climate Action Moreland has signed on to the Stay Grounded Global network position paper on 13 steps for a Just Transport system and for rapidly reducing Aviation


Notes:

(1) in 2017 Melbourne (MEL) – Sydney (SYD) is listed as the second busiest domestic flight route, and Brisbane (BNE) to Sydney (SYD) is listed as the 8th busiest route globally, according to Statistica, The world’s busiest domestic routes in 2017, ranked by frequency of flights https://www.statista.com/statistics/794380/frequency-of-domestic-routes/

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