The likelihood of a “faster” passenger train linking Western Australia’s capital with its main tourism and food region may hinge on an assessment of its social, economic and environmental benefits.

The federal and state governments have already committed $8million to ‘high level’ investigations into a service from Perth to Bunbury that could run on a separate track from an existing line that carries a diesel hop-on hop-off commuter train .

That service, the Australiannd, is set to be compromised for up to 18 months by an upgrade to the Armadale rail line in 2023.

The new line would also have the potential for new transport links to the tourist area of ​​Busselton and Margaret River.

WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said a $500,000 planning contract had been awarded to international consultancy KPMG to have a business case ready by mid-2024.

The journey on the existing Australind diesel train takes at least two and a half hours.(ABC Southwest: Gian De Poloni)

“The strategic business case is a first step in understanding what a faster public transport link between Perth and Bunbury would look like,” Ms Saffioti said.

“The business case will use demographics, travel patterns, land use and other parameters to assess the economic, social and environmental benefits of the project.”

But she said if the study found it feasible, it was “realistically many years away”.

How fast is fast?

Liberal South West MP Steve Thomas asked for clarification on the government’s use of the term ‘faster rail’.

A collection of documents spread out on a table
Several route options were identified in a previous study.(ABC Southwest: Sam Bold)

“The fast train is the old proposal which would bring an extension of the train line from Mandurah to Bunbury or if they plan to increase the speed of the [existing] Australind train service,” Mr Thomas said.

“The fast train proposal is a multi-billion dollar exercise that has been talked about for many years and to date the business cases that have been made have not accumulated.

He said the Australianind acceleration was a much cheaper option but wasn’t sure it was the best option.

A state government spokesman said the $500,000 assessment would look at a “range of transport links between Perth and Bunbury”.

power to prove

Bunbury MP Don Punch said the twin lines would best meet the growing needs of the area.

“The existing South West line has a lot of freight and a hop-on hop-off commuter train I think will continue in the future,” Mr Punch said.

“As economic and social conditions develop, we will see the opportunity for express service.”

Bunbury member Don Punch stands in the main street of Bunbury
Don Punch had been critical of spending money on a new fast train plan before he came to government.(ABC Southwest: Jacqueline Lynch)

Punch said the combined $8 million in state and federal funding would also help determine what could power the train.

“This particular study will focus on engineering, including new technologies,” Punch said.

“It could be a hydrogen train that we’re starting to see in Europe…I have a feeling it’s either going to be electrification or alternative fuel.”

He said the study would also seek to set aside land for the railway line.

Long history of train talk

The potential for faster rail links between Perth and Bunbury has been mooted over the past two decades.

Former Labor Prime Minister Alan Carpenter commissioned a feasibility study in 2008 on the cost of a diesel train that would run the Perth-Mandurah line to central Cockburn and then follow the Forrest Highway.

A collection of documents spread out on a table
The 2010 report pegged the cost of the line at at least $1.2 billion, excluding many geotechnical and environmental costs.(ABC Southwest: Sam Bold)

This study found that extending the railway line from Mandurah to Bunbury would be extremely expensive, costing at least $1.2 billion.

In 2015 the Barnett government suspended the scheme, but it re-emerged as a problem in the run-up to the 2017 election, where the government switched from Liberal to Labour.

The nationals have pledged $3 million for another feasibility study on extending the Mandurah line.

Labor rejected the plan and instead campaigned for a $30million pledge to upgrade the Australind diesel line, which runs through inland towns like Harvey and Brunswick.

A collection of documents spread out on a table
There are several route options along the Forrest Highway and the South Western Highway.(ABC Southwest: Sam Bold)

In 2017, then Labor candidate Don Punch described it as a “fast train mirage”.

“Why would you spend $3 million replicating work that already exists?” he told the ABC five years ago, referring to the previous plan.

But in December 2020, the state and federal governments announced the new study at a cost of $8 million.

The plan comes amid billions of dollars in cost explosions for the state government’s metropolitan rail expansion, Metro.


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