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Fast train from Melbourne to Brisbane proposed by Prime Minister -

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EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: The Prime Minister is keeping alive a decades-old discussion about building a fast rail line linking Melbourne to Brisbane. Labor, which took a fast rail proposal to the last election, has accused Malcolm Turnbull of another thought bubble. But his real intention seems to be sparking a broader debate about infrastructure funding centred on a concept known as value capture. But, as political correspondent David Lipson reports, it's no silver bullet.

DAVID LIPSON, REPORTER: Bob Hawke had the very fast train. In the end, very much too expensive.

Decade later, John Howard's own version of high-speed rail was similarly derailed.

JOHN HOWARD, THEN PRIME MINISTER (2002): You can't justify spending $1 to $2 billion to subsidise a rail track between Sydney and Canberra.

DAVID LIPSON: And at the 2013 election, Kevin Rudd also got on board.

KEVIN RUDD, THEN PRIME MINISTER (2013): If we do not have world class infrastructure, there is no future for the Australian economy.

DAVID LIPSON: With the regularity of a city loop train, every decade or so the highly popular policy arrives at the station and invariably moves on down the line.

The Prime Minister, famous for his love of all things rail, today's headlines had tongues wagging again.

DANNY BROAD, AUSTRALASIAN RAILWAY ASSOC. CEO: From the rail industry, we're delighted to see the debate continuing.

DAVID LIPSON: And the PM wasn't about to shut it down.

MALCOLM TURNBULL, PRIME MINISTER: Look, as you know, we have a new cities and new approach to infrastructure. Obviously there'll always be a big role for the Government to make grants, to make direct investments.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, OPP. TRANSPORT SPOKESMAN: Malcolm Turnbull is relying upon people having the memory of a goldfish. He comes up with ideas that are old, that have been progressed, that indeed his government and Tony Abbott's government have wound back and stopped.

DAVID LIPSON: The reality is stations like this one aren't about to be bustling with very fast train customers. One senior source told Lateline the Government was a long way off doing anything on fast rail because the numbers still don't add up. But really, this isn't about very fast rail. The infrastructure debate the Prime Minister wants is much broader. He's been talking about a concept called value capture and it's likely we'll hear a lot more of it before the election.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: That's how railways were financed in the 19th Century, actually. It's not a radical new plan at all. It's actually a sensible old plan that's been forgotten.

DAVID LIPSON: When new infrastructure projects are built, the value of surrounding property usually increases. For example, a new train station will make nearby apartments more desirable and improve their sale value. Value capture skims off some of that increased value and directs it back to the Government so there's less upfront cost for other taxpayers.

DANNY BROAD: Obviously there's a pot of gold, but there's only so much there so there needs to be - all parties need to look at other innovative ways of funding these projects and value capture is one amongst others.

DAVID LIPSON: Britain's Crossrail project is considered the gold standard in value capture infrastructure projects, but even it only managed to raise 35 per cent of its cost from value capture.

MARION TERRILL, GRATTAN INSTITUTE: That's probably as good as it's going to get and in London, they - around half of it was funded by government grant funding. So I think for Australia that's the absolute upper bound, I would have thought, 35 per cent, and it may well be very much lower than that.

DAVID LIPSON: And though the concept may be simple enough, implementation can be anything but.

MARION TERRILL: It is very hard to isolate the particular impact of a new rail line or even a new station and it's likely to be quite contentious. That's not necessarily a reason not to do it, but I think it's important to recognise that this is not a simple solution and it may well be very hard and very contentious and that's one reason why governments struggle to extract all that much value from these sorts of mechanisms.

DAVID LIPSON: Still, for a government focused on improving cities and adamant about living within its means, value capture is an attractive proposition that also enables the Prime Minister to show, unlike his predecessor, he's no enemy of urban rail. But it's unlikely to solve all of the Government's infrastructure problems.

MARION TERRILL: There's no magic pudding. In the end, it's either taxpayer funded or it's funded by users and beneficiaries.