FEDERAL Infrastructure and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese last week released the High Speed Rail (HSR) Study Phase 2 Report, which among other matters, identifies a potential route, estimates costs and benefits and examines issues around construction, patronage and economic viability of a high speed rail line along Australia's east coast.
Mr Albanese described the study, which was undertaken by an AECOM-led consortium, as "the most detailed and comprehensive study ever undertaken into high-speed rail in this country," with 450 pages of analysis, 1900 pages of appendices and nearly 300 detailed maps.
The report finds that the HSR network would comprise approximately 1,748 kilometres of dedicated route with four city centre stations, four city-peripheral stations (one in Brisbane, two in Sydney and one in Melbourne) and 12 regional stations.
According to the report, typical express journey times would be two hours and 37 minutes between Brisbane and Sydney, one hour and four minutes between Sydney and Canberra and two hours and 44 minutes between Sydney and Melbourne.
The estimated cost of constructing the preferred HSR alignment in its entirety would be about $114 billion (in 2012 terms), comprising $64 billion between Brisbane and Sydney and $50 billion between Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne.
The government would be required to fund the majority of the upfront capital costs, as the potential to attract private finance is limited, according to the report. "If potential commercial funding were maximised, a funding gap in the order of $98 billion, or 86 per cent of the up-front capital cost of the HSR program, would remain," the report writes.
Tunnels make up 144 kilometres (eight per cent) of the preferred alignment and are found to be the most significant construction cost element (29 per cent of total construction costs). Access to and from Sydney would require 67 kilometres of tunnelling compared to five kilometres in Brisbane, eight kilometres in Melbourne and four kilometres in Canberra.
It is predicted that once fully operational in 2065, the HSR could carry 84 million passengers each year at speeds of up to 350 kilometres per hour. Sydney-Melbourne is expected to be the largest market for HSR, with about 19 million passenger trips per year forecast, followed by Brisbane-Sydney, with nearly 11 million passenger trips per year.
"The optimal staging for the HSR program would involve building the Sydney- Melbourne line first, starting with the Sydney-Canberra sector. Subsequent stages would be Canberra-Melbourne, Newcastle-Sydney, Brisbane-Gold Coast and Gold Coast-Newcastle," the report states.
According to the 'optimal staging' program, major construction on the Sydney-Canberra line would begin in 2027, with operations commencing in 2035. Construction on the Canberra-Melbourne line would commence in 2032, with operations commencing in 2040.
For the Brisbane-Sydney section, works would start on the Newcastle-Sydney line in 2037, with operations commencing in 2045. This would be followed by the Brisbane-Gold Coast line (works commencing 2043, operations commencing 2051) then Gold Coast-Newcastle (works commencing 2048, operations commencing 2058).
The report also outlines an accelerated staging program that could allow each stage to be delivered five years earlier.
Mr Albanese, who has released the report for public comment, said the report does not represent the government's position but provides a comprehensive analysis on which an informed public debate is now possible.
"Decisions about if, where, when and how high-speed rail would proceed, ultimately are decisions for governments but they are also a process which should involve the business community and should involve the broader community," the Minister said.
Mr Albanese said his Department's High Speed Rail Unit will conduct detailed consultations with industry, local governments and community groups, while an HSR Advisory Group will provide advice on key industry and community issues arising out of the report.
The report is available from the Department of Infrastructure and Transport's High Speed Rail website at <http://www.infrastructure.gov.au/hsr>. Feedback can be provided until 30 June 2013.