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Apr 11, 2013

Bring on the $114 billion high-speed rail network -- it's a no brainer

Melbourne to Sydney by rail in under three hours? Don't listen to the inflated forecasts of cost and time that the federal government has released today, argues Tim Bohm, president of the Bullet Train for Australia political party. It's a no-brainer -- build it.


While it is certainly progress that the federal government’s $20 million Phase II Report on building a high-speed rail (HSR) network down eastern Australia is finally being released today, why the report has been delayed for more than five months is a mystery.

The report, meant to outline the route, stations, and financial viability of HSR, shows major benefits of building the network:

  • 80% of the population will have access to bullet trains;
  • big cities and regional towns will benefit;
  • tens of thousands of jobs will be created;
  • travel times will be slashed;
  • most importantly, every dollar invested will bring a $2.30 return returned to the Australian economy, ensuring financial viability; and
  • enormous environmental benefits.

But by pushing a figure of $114 billion as the total cost to build the network, Transport Minister Anthony Albanese is trying to paint HSR as too expensive. The picture painted in this review shows the total costs of HSR on the entire east coast — without mention of benefits to the local economies, populations, or industry-related job creation. When factoring in the other cost-saving benefits such as a second Sydney airport, combined with a projected $262.2 billion dollar return into the Australian economy for its investment in HSR, the feasibility of HSR is a no-brainer.

Lastly, the reported timeframe would make it the slowest construction of HSR on earth. Comparable projects around the world have proven that HSR building can be measured in years rather than decades. The Singapore and Malaysian HSR link will be built in seven years; UK HSR will take 13 years; Thailand HSR will be complete in five years; and the California HSR is set to be all done in 16 years, with functioning routes in five years.

Estimations of 52 years for Australian HSR prove that Albanese refuses to take HSR seriously as a feasible option.


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22 thoughts on “Bring on the $114 billion high-speed rail network — it’s a no brainer

  1. Wombat

    If the report had the HSR being completed by 2030 I would have been sceptical. 2050? That’s pushing something beyond the Never-Never, off the edge of the unknown world. So blatant they must think the average punter is thick as mud. Oh wait

  2. ggm

    Mate, Libs don’t do trains. Tony said so. Abbott is a ute-man. Never mind they have maglev in Shanghai. He just doesn’t do trains.

    Also, much though it pains me to write this, the green element repudiate the concrete footprint. I think its bunkum, but wiser heads might need to adjudicate. I thought smart crete absorbed CO2 but apparently the dumb kind we make railroad ties out of don’t.

    As a boy, I watched Deltics cruise up and down the east coast (ex-LNER) line. I cannot wait to get my book out, and write down the shinkansen numbers as they fly past. That, or hopefully the occasional Bayer-Garrett which will trundle along puffing steam…

    Keynes, where are you. we need you.

  3. Harry1951

    I understand the feasibility study for his project was agreed to as part of the deal with the Greens to secure their support for Labor. The report thus delivers on that commitment but I can’t see either of the major parties agreeing that it should proceed. This is the depressing reality.

  4. Ron Chambers

    In Europe high-speed rail caused a dramatic fall off in airline traffic: trains are faster because you don’t need to drive out to an airport, more reliable, safer, more frequent and just as fast – no sitting around the airport for hours. The airlines will be lobbying furiously today. Did you know a previous Minister for Transport got the nickname Minister for QANTAS?

  5. Glen

    Sure seems expensive; even questionably so. Based on recent project completions on the NSW Pacific Highway Upgrade, you can still buy rural dual carriageway in hilly terrain for $20M/km. It’s 1700km from Melbourne to Brisbane, so that amounts to $34B. What does the other $80B buy, on rail v road? We’re not even going through (as opposed past) Canberra and Gold Coast.

    [I’ve worked on the PHU and moderately high speed rail alignments in Queensland (yes, there are some…). The requirements are different, but not as far apart as you might think.]

  6. Glen

    To begin to answer my own question, there’s $33B in tunnels alone — half of that in and out of Sydney (perhaps we should bypass?).

    The consultants priced tunneling at $230M/km, which looks OK. (Brisbane is currently buying road tunnels of similar proportions for $190M/km.)

  7. mikehilliard

    I think this is such a cool idea @ Albo was so totally into it even when he knows he will be dead & gone before “the first (HSR) train out of Sydney’s almost gone” (credits Cold Chisel)

  8. Stephen

    Labor could have left an indelible mark with HSR.

    Instead we get the NBN.

  9. mattsui

    One of the main shinkansen lines out of/in to Tokyo boasts an often filled capacity of 450,000 passengers per day. That’s a viable railway (and that’s why they’re in the process of boosting their engine speed to 360 km/h).
    The state and federal governments would need to work pretty closely together to pull something like this off – given what we’ve seen at coag and especially with regard to the Murray-darling (a much more pressing issue) – when is this likely to ever occur?
    Even after September, when we’ll probably have governments from the same party in three key states and federally, there’s no chance. As mentioned here already, the Liberal party think trains are for the proletariat and, therefore not on the radar.

  10. jackspratt

    This is pie in the sky and will never happen. Do what is feasible. Don’t try to compete with aircraft on a 900km route (Syd-Melb) or 1000km (Syd- Gold Coast-Brisb). Vast majority of HSR is less than 400km per route. What is viable is a serious upgrade of existing lines which has to be done for freight anyway toherwise the semis and B doubles will tear the roads to shreds every two years or so, hence it makes economic sense from the taxpayer’s point of view.

    The put high tech trains for passengers on the upgraded track such as the Alstom (ex Fiat Pendolino) tilting train. It would cut the Melbourne Sydney time down to 6 hours without ridiculous investment of what is being proposed above. You then upgrade the rail corridor bit by bit, starting with electrification, concrete sleepers, smoothing of curves, grade separation, and so on. The Alstom Pendolino will get up to 200km/h on existing upgraded track, 250km/h on duplicated new sections, such as Sydney to Newcastle.

  11. Raaraa

    The thought of European or Japanese style rail in Australia gives me a hard-on, but this is more and more just looking like a pipe dream to me. I can only keep fantasizing.

  12. Allan Houston

    Living in London currently, I can see the value of high-speed rail, but this is a completely different reality. UK/Europe is a densely-populated place, and high-demand destinations are mere hundreds of kilometres apart, not 1000km. Could we not just improve rail infrastructure in and around our major hubs, so that it takes 10-15 mins from airport to city centre, on regular services (every 15 minutes for instance). This could cut down a door-to-door trip from Sydney to Melbourne to under 2 hours, assuming no delays at the airport. Airport links to the city centre is what lets air-travel down, and is the reason that high-speed rail wins out against air travel in Europe, for distances under 600km. But as the distances are much more vast in Australia, a combination or Plane, and high-speed, short distance rail links surely makes more sense.

  13. Gareth Robinson

    How about they spend the money on improving Sydney’s horrible road infrastructure.

  14. Mike Flanagan

    What is the bloody hurry???
    For these sums we could renovate and develope our urban and regional railway infrstructure to have a real impact on our national carbon footprint

  15. duke the lost engine

    The report’s findings appear consistent with the idea that we don’t currently have the population density to make high speed rail viable. (note that the estimated 2.3 return is if we build it over a very long time. building it sooner would give a lower economic return.)

    but, if our population and economy continue to grow, and barring some unforeseen technological development, it will eventually be feasible.

    it makes sense to start planning for it, but also not to commit to anything yet.

  16. mikehilliard

    You don’t have to look hard to find out avgas costs have increased nearly 400% in the last decade.

    Here is a reasonable view of what rising fuel prices mean for airlines-

    “A “strategic change threshold” is reached when oil prices reach between USD100-120 per barrel. This becomes a tipping point for the industry and, unless stabilised, will progressively force more changes in the way airlines operate. Up to a certain level, incremental fuel price changes can be met by similarly incremental pricing adaptation. But as cost profiles of certain routes start to drop below profitability, so airlines begin to review their operating networks, redirecting or reducing capacity and even terminating some routes.”

    Haven’t we already seen this happening with some of the regional links. For example I had a project in Dubbo for 2 years (2010-12), flying from Sydney the cost increased nearly 50% in that time. In the near future short link air flights may not be viable at all or at the least so expensive as to make HSR competitive.

    At least an electric HSR system has the option of obtaining it’s power from a sustainable source.

    However I do agree with Tim’s comment that the 50 year programme is far too long, 20 years max it should be.

  17. tim bohm

    The question isn’t ‘why?’ its ‘WHY NOT?’

    The politicians have puffed about high speed rail for 32 years and DONE NOTHING, and now they are doing nothing again!

    This is a political problem that requires a political solution.

    Now it’s up to us – WE have to make it happen, WE have to lay the tracks of change.

    Don’t listen to Negative Nelly Bernard and talk to your friends and family, become a volunteer, donate to the cause.

    The Bullet Train for Australia Party will be giving everyone a chance to vote for national infrastructure
    In this years election – if we can get enough votes we CAN make it happen.

    TRAIN NOW!!!

  18. jackspratt

    With lead times such as announced by Albo (from the report), the so-called bullet train tech will be obsolete by then.

    Perhaps Albo was throwing a stink bomb into the path of the oncoming Liberal express train. This is not a serious proposition.

    The person who will build the HSR will be Gladys Berejiklian (currently NSW transport minister) when she moves into federal parliament.

    The delay in building an eastern corridor HSR is political not technical. The money is there for a Commonwealth contribution if it were to decide to buy German submarines off the shelf instead of building them; and if it were to abandon the F35 semi stealth fighter purchase and instead spend a lot less money on UAVs to do the job. That’s $100 billion right there in the bank.

    The HSR Gladys will be building for us will be linear induction motor (LIM) fast train. Not necessarily and probably not the magnetic levitation train, which is being tried out in Germany, Japan and China. We are talking about a wheel-on-rail technology with a difference.

    The LIM fast train’s main advantage is that the vehicles can be a lot (a lot!) lighter and therefore faster than the current HSR technology for the power used.

    This is not some new technology. LIM trains already run in metros and so-called skytrains with amazing reliability in Canada, China, US and Malaysia. Canadian transport giant Bomabardier markets the technology under a brand called Innovia. It is currently rapid transit but it is transferrable to long distance HSR.

    The main advantage of this system is that it does not require heavy gearboxes to be attached to wheel bogies or even full-size electric motors under the train. In LIM trains the wheels are not driven and can therefore be a lot lighter and made to steer allowing the train to go around more acute curves. Such a train is pulled along by electro-magnetic interaction between one part of the induction motor on the train and an aluminium induction strip placed between the rails.

    In theory existing rail permanent way could be used after modification.

    This whole system could be built in 4-6 years. Initially it doesn’t even need electrification all the way as power cars can carry the power generation motors aboard. Ideally, it should use an electrified line.

    The technology has been around in commercial use for about 30 years, including roller coasters.

  19. johnno48

    I am glad to see that you have pointed out the massive savings made by not having to construct a second Sydney airport and its associated infrastructure such as road and (hopefully) fast rail connections. Has there been a costing of this? Nobody else seems to have mentioned it.

  20. Harris Evan

    No brainer yes,but not only as a business case. The 20 year outlook changes the fossil fuel and population factors. This week I found two more reasons for the urgency of HSR. The big pressure on transport infrastructure has pushed larger and larger trucks onto the roads. The road system in rural Vic is deteriorating and can’t be kept up, let alone any increase in density. Goods and people travel dangerously compete for road space. Melbourne airport actually loads up the road network. It is now a national security issue. Lose one airport or transport hub and the economy goes into a tailspin. A lurch in fuel prices leaves no alternative but to raise prices and scale down travel. In a national emergency Oz needs a diverse system, with connections between major centres including Darwin and Perth, where possible duplicated to reduce risk from outages. The long hauls all need HSR and the cross-state much faster trains, not necessarily HSR. Scaling up solar power in the regions also increases the availability of energy in regions as well as strengthening travel security. Rail can be underpinned by solar much easier than road. There must be a strong case for east west linkages given the emergence of long term economic development. East west is more cost effective in construction terms, flatter and climatically stable.

  21. China Medical

    Sounds about as viable as the Alice to Darwin rail link. Lots of grandiose claims before construction – never made a profit, went bankrupt in 2008. State and Federal governments poured in billions in funding then it was sold off for peanuts to a private consortium.

  22. Harris Evan

    Fair enough , China, but remember, bridges, airports and roads don’t of themselves make a profit, they are essential infrastructure. The point here is that planes are doing it hard, one hour to the airport, one hour to wait, one hour to fly, one hour to the hub. And roads and planes do it hard on energy and space, and they are both running out.


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