After a century of struggle, why has the Sunshine Coast rail link left the tracks again?

Just when it appeared that the lure of the Olympics would finally tip the scales in favour of a Sunshine Coast rail link, the funding gremlins are once again meddling with the project, writes Greg Hallam

Nov 15, 2023, updated Nov 15, 2023
An artist's impression of the Sunshine Coast Direct Rail Line, which could cover 37km and feature six stations. The plan is once again in doubt because of funding issues (Picture: TMR).

An artist's impression of the Sunshine Coast Direct Rail Line, which could cover 37km and feature six stations. The plan is once again in doubt because of funding issues (Picture: TMR).

The long,  messy, convoluted, contentious, unsuccessful history of funding major railway lines in SEQ continues and continues.

Last week’s brouhaha over federal funding, or more specifically the lack thereof, for the Sunshine Coast’s proposed new heavy rail line from Beerwah to Maroochydore follows over a century of delays , backflips, political (even same party) punch-ups in the South-east and god forbid the line to the Gold Coast being ripped up in the 1960s.

It’s seemingly political quicksand and wracked with difficulty to execute both the long term strategic planning, including the land acquisition, then actual delivery of major new rail lines to our designated growth areas. Our current model fails us, badly.

In truth, our federal and state governments have been shameful over generations in making the tough decisions on big, defining rail infrastructure pieces; approve the growth, but kick the infrastructure spend down the road. Their inaction and procrastination have cost Queenslanders billions upon billions of dollars in congestion, pollution and lost economic opportunities.

In my three decades as CEO of the LGAQ and as a senior executive in two councils prior to that, I saw countless examples of timidity, buck passing, blame gaming and obfuscation between state and federal governments on big infrastructure projects to know the system has failed. It’s a miracle any are built.

The current blow-up follows the Albanese Government walking back the commitment by the former Coalition Federal Government, (and Palaszczuk Government) in 2022 to fund the much-needed heavy railway line into the heart of the Sunshine Coast’s new city centre in Maroochydore .

Whilst not officially canned, the Treasurer Jim Chalmers, a Queenslander, refused last week to confirm funding for the project which is included in a current review of federally funded transport projects.

It honestly beggars belief that the compelling case for a heavy rail connection to the fastest growing area of Queensland can be delayed yet again. Imagine driving between Brisbane and the Sunny Coast in the world’s biggest car park in the early 2030s. Road can’t be the only solution to cater for another 200,000 residents in Brisbane’s northern neighbour.

I’m reminded of both the comments of, and attire worn, by former Moreton Bay Mayor Allan Sutherland in 2016 when the line to Kippa Ring in Redcliffe was officially opened. The Mayor wore top hat and tails to the big event to mark the fact the railway line to Redcliffe had been promised by any number of state governments for over 100 years. That’s how bad and drawn out proper rail funding has been in SEQ.

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Then there’s the calamity in the 1960s when the Country Party State Government of the day closed down and/or sold off the rail lines to Southport, Beaudesert and the Brisbane Valley – incredibly short-sighted decision-making on the premise the car was king.

The Southport line was closed in 1964 and a new line and service opened to Robina in 1996, 32 years later. It’s worth noting a heavy rail service operated until 1961 to the Tweeds Head border.

Griffith University Associate Professor Matthew Burke co-wrote the history of transport on the Gold Coast and pointed out how calamitous that decision was. “We lost so many opportunities by ripping up the South Coast railway line at the time,” he wrote. He went on to point out it wasn’t just Queensland that was blighted by poor rail decisions at the time, with WA and Victoria following suit.

With the upcoming Brisbane Olympics in 2032 and the forecast enormous expansion of the Sunshine Coast to 500,000 residents over the next 25 years , the Federal Government and State Governments have to bite the bullet on that funding, or sentence Sunshine Coast residents to the same fate the Gold Coast suffered without a proper urban heavy rail connection for three decades.

Moreover, the Sunshine Coast has been the poor cousin all of this century and across five different federal governments in securing much needed infrastructure.

Australia has to do better and implement an apolitical ,properly-funded Infrastructure Authority that can provide the long term certainty needed to put the most basic infrastructure in place. Depoliticise the process and bring logic to bare. Other first world countries can do it , why not us?

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