EXCLUSIVE

The process of buying a corridor for an east coast high-speed railway line would begin under a re-elected Rudd government, which will pledge $52 million over the next four years for a Sydney-Canberra-Melbourne line.

A Rudd government would also introduce legislation to protect a corridor for fast trains between Australia's two largest cities, and would establish a high-speed rail authority within six months to manage the project.

The money would not be enough to buy the required land, but Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said it would enable a start to building a line that could be operational within 17 years.

''There are some people that say this won't occur but wouldn't it be a tragedy if, as the economics of a project like this improve over time, it becomes impossible because the planning and foresight wasn't there,'' Mr Albanese said.

This is the second federal election Mr Albanese has promised money for high speed rail initiatives.

In 2010, Mr Albanese committed $20 million for a study into a fast train service. It found that such a line would ultimately be profitable but only after the government had contributed the bulk of $114 billion in construction costs to link Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra and Brisbane.

In response, Mr Albanese set up an advisory group whose report, released on Monday, says high-speed rail could be built faster and cheaper than the earlier study had suggested.

It also called for the creation of a high-speed rail authority and legislation to preserve a corridor, recommendations Mr Albanese says he will adopt.

That study said construction of a high-speed railway lin  between Canberra and Sydney could start in 2022 and be running by 2030. The travelling time between the two cities would be a little more than an hour on trains travelling up to 350 km/h.

A Melbourne-Sydney link (travel time 2 3/4 hours) could by running by 2035.

Regional stations are also proposed, including at Wagga Wagga, Albury Wodonga and Shepparton.

Mr Albanese said the new high-speed rail authority would be set up in six months and would have an independent board and chief executive.

''What I want to do is to be realistic and thoughtful and considered about this – there's no doubt in my view that high speed rail should be part of Australia's infrastructure future,'' the minister said.

The Greens want to fast-track the project and spend $1.2 billion on it in the next four years. The Coalition's transport spokesman, Warren Truss, has previously raised concerns about cost of high-speed rail.

The government says the $52 million will be spent on a  business case and market testing of cost estimates, and possibly include some land acquisitions.

The minister said a growing population would make a fast train more feasible.

''Over a period of time it becomes more economically viable than it is today,'' he said.

 

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