THE Australian Government today released the first stage of the implementation study investigating a High Speed Rail link (HSR) connecting Australia's east coast.
The HSR is expected to cost between $61 billion and $108 billion, with over 1,600 kilometres of standard-gauge double track, connecting Brisbane, Newcastle, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne.
The project could potentially achieve speeds of up 350 kilometres per hour in non-urban areas, allowing journey times of 3 hours from Sydney to Brisbane or Melbourne, 40 minutes from Sydney to Newcastle and 1 hour from Sydney to Canberra.
The report outlines expected ticket prices, with one way fares from Brisbane to Sydney costing $75 - $177; Sydney to Melbourne $99 - $197; and $16.50 for daily commuters between Newcastle and Sydney.
It is estimated that the rail link would carry around 54 million passengers a year by 2036 including, for example, about half those who would have flown between Sydney and Melbourne, currently the world's fifth busiest air corridor.
Possible station locations include Roma Street and South Bank in Brisbane; Central or Eveleigh, Homebush and Parramatta in Sydney; Civic and Canberra Airport in the ACT; and Southern Cross and North Melbourne in Melbourne.
The report states that patronage demand analysis suggests that CBD locations would be the major trip generator and attractor in each city and that stations closest to the CBD would generate the most demand for a HSR network.
It also states that Sydney and Melbourne airports have not been short-listed for stations because initial patronage demand forecasts indicate most demand would be for travel to the CBDs, rather than to airports.
However, the study did identify an access corridor in Melbourne which passes close to Melbourne Airport. It found that while "HSR services will not provide suitable Airport Rail Link services, there are potential synergies from the joint use of an access corridor and infrastructure by HSR and the proposed Airport Rail Link services between Melbourne's Tullamarine airport and the city's CBD."
Infrastructure and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese said high speed rail could be a game changer, with potential benefits including better integration of regional and metropolitan communities, reduced congestion pressure on roads and at airports and a substantial reduction of carbon pollution.
Mr Albanese added that "this kind of monumental endeavour must take place in a deliberate, thoughtful manner."
He said over the next 12 months, these preliminary findings will be further refined including via the commissioning of geotechnical work.
A 'visionary' project
Following the release of the study, the Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) said it fully supported the 'visionary' high speed rail proposal.
PIA National President Dyan Currie said a high speed rail network linking Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne is bold thinking and good planning.
"Planning in the 21st century means looking further ahead than we might have in the past. We need to be better prepared to meet the growth challenges of the future," Ms Currie said.
"High speed rail is good nation-building transport infrastructure and looking at it now rather than putting it on the back burner will help to address a number of planning issues."
A 'realistic and feasible option'
Infrastructure Partnerships Australia (IPA) said the report shows that HSR is a "realistic and feasible option for Australia's east coast."
"The identification of a corridor is a significant step forward, because it now allows for a rational consideration of the economic case for High Speed Rail in Australia," said IPA Chief Executive, Brendan Lyon.
"While it is likely that some corridors, such as Sydney to an existing airport like Canberra or Newcastle, will stack up for delivery in the short term, others may not be feasible for several decades.
"The acid test will be the willingness of governments to put in place planning protections after the second phase of the study, to ensure that the long, straight HSR corridors remain available for development in twenty or thirty years' time," Mr Lyon said.
Mr Lyon said the economic benefits of HSR could be substantial. He said the cost of congestion in Australian cities is expected to reach over $20 billion in 2020 and $80 billion by 2050.
Mr Lyon said although the HSR requires significant investment, it remains a realistic proposition when the amount is considered across a twenty or thirty year delivery horizon.
The Australasian Railway Association (ARA) said the release of the report was monumental, emphasising that it is an implementation report, rather than a feasibility study.
The ARA said that considering $293 billion has been invested in roads since 1985, $100 billion to link the east coast through a High Speed Rail network is minor.
The ARA said the benefits of High Speed Rail far outweigh the costs and that it would "dynamically change the way we live, where we work and how we travel."
"High Speed Rail can be emissions-free. It will create more jobs, allow people better access to employment, take cars off our roads, improve the links between major cities and regional areas, defer the need for a second Sydney airport and increase land values in regional areas."
The study's first stage was conducted by an AECOM led consortium comprising KPMG, Sinclair Knight Merz and Grimshaw Architects.
The contract for the second and final stage is currently out to tender.
More information about the high speed rail project is available from the Australian Department of Infrastructure and Transport website at <http://www.infrastructure.gov.au/>.