The debate about a rail trail along the corridor of the former Great Northern Railway (GNR) has raised claims that the existing rail infrastructure should be preserved for future passenger and freight services.
It’s a reasonable suggestion at first sight, since rail transport is experiencing a resurgence in other countries.
So, what is the nature of this resurgence and why is it occurring? Could the GNR be part of this?
The resurgence is occurring in four main areas:
1 Metro systems, light rail and commuter services within large cities, integrated with road transport.
2 High speed inter-city services across regions where there is a high density of large cities.
3 Containerised rail freight across regions with a substantial density of manufacturing industries.
4 Long-distance transport to coastal ports of bulk export commodities from mining and agriculture.
The resurgence of rail is driven by urban growth and road congestion, the need for more fuel efficient and less polluting transport, the growth in global trade and technological innovations that have vastly improved the efficiency of rail transport.
The New England region is sparsely populated, largely dependent on agriculture that does not lend itself to bulk commodity transport and is not situated between major mineral resources and a port.
Our strengths are in service industries, including education, health, aged care, tourism and boutique agriculture and horticulture. None of these will create sufficient demand to make rail transport economically viable.
To bring back the GNR would require major government subsidy to refurbish the line and support uneconomic services.
Demands for bringing back the GNR should consider where government spending could be cut, or revenue increased, to pay for this service.
This is not to say that the GNR corridor will not be needed for rail transport in the distant future. After all, Britain is now considering reopening some lines that were closed in the 1960s.
That is why it is imperative, whatever the interim use of the corridor, that it remain in public ownership.