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Apr 12, 2013

High-speed rail just doesn't add up -- time to move on

The new report on high-speed rail shows that in Australia the numbers simply don't add up for it. And won't for many, many decades. It's time we all moved on.


For anyone who can add up, the high-speed rail phase 2 study released yesterday (or, if you were a newspaper journalist, Wednesday) should bring to an end the flirtation Australia’s polity is having with the idea of a high-speed rail network. There, in black and white, not very far into the report, is the key reason why:

“Based on charging competitive fares, the HSR operations and ancillary services (such as car parking and lease revenues from related property development) would not deliver sufficient revenue to fund or recover the expected capital cost of the HSR program.”

That is, if governments spend $114 billion (in 2012 dollars) building the thing, that’s the last taxpayers will ever see of that money. It’s sunk. Gone. The best a high-speed rail network could do is cover its operating costs, if it prices tickets competitively with airlines.

Like the phase 1 study, the report assumes airlines won’t respond to this new competitor on their key routes, but simply reduce capacity, allowing HSR to take up to 40% of air passengers on east-coast routes. However, it does model a scenario in which airlines engage in a two-year price war with HSR, declaring it doesn’t substantially change the financial outcome. More damaging is the scenario in which the NSW and federal governments get their act together and resolve Sydney’s aviation capacity constraints, which increases the losses of the network and reduces the economic benefits of the investment.

Advocates of HSR will doubtless respond that writing off the cost of the investment is acceptable when it comes to roads. Putting aside that we should be charging for road access, at least in metropolitan areas, this misses the signal that failing to cover capital costs sends: this is an investment that isn’t needed. We already have a highly competitive, efficient transport network between Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra — called airlines. There is no market failure for government to address here: indeed, in constructing such infrastructure and then failing to price it to cover its costs, governments will be engaging in a vast exercise in anti-competitive behaviour against private companies that have to generate a return on capital.

“And for $114 billion, you could buy airline tickets for everyone who currently flies …”

In contrast, the much smaller (despite whatever Malcolm Turnbull claims) government investment in the NBN will generate a return because access pricing is intended to cover the cost of capital and yet will still be attractive to service providers. In the case of broadband, there is a market failure (one facilitated by successive governments), and the government’s investment will be repaid. High-speed rail is like investing in a new copper network when we already have fibre-to-the-premises.

There is also the issue of cost. Australia is a vast country, with only 23 million people. There are no European or Japanese-style population densities and short distances that normally make HSR viable. We have long distances and few people. The $114 billion price tag is in 2012 dollars, for a project that wouldn’t start until the 2020s and take 31 years to build. The final cost, even without the delays typical of major projects, will be in the hundreds of billions of dollars, all of which will need to come directly from the budget, because there will never be a return on it.

And for $114 billion, you could buy airline tickets for everyone who currently flies on the Sydney-Melbourne, Sydney-Brisbane, Melbourne-Brisbane, Sydney-Gold Coast, Melbourne-Gold Coast, Sydney-Canberra, Melbourne-Canberra, Brisbane-Newcastle and Melbourne-Newcastle routes, for free, for more than a quarter of a century.

Probably even longer if you asked for a bulk discount.

Forget $114 billion on HSR. For 5-10% of that, you could make a serious dent on congestion in Melbourne or Sydney, generating a substantial economic return by reducing the $20 billion-plus per annum in congestion costs we’ll be facing by 2020. For 1% of that, you could further improve reliability and cut maintenance costs on the east coast rail freight corridor, slowing the growth rate of trucks on inter-city roads and curbing freight-related greenhouse emissions. And that’s before you start looking beyond transport for Australia’s infrastructure needs.

Labor has fulfilled its election commitment to investigate HSR. It turns out it’s not a goer. Let’s move on.


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61 thoughts on “High-speed rail just doesn’t add up — time to move on

  1. Achmed

    There are more important infrastructure needs.

  2. Mark Duffett

    A potentially significant flaw in the assumptions of the report and Keane’s ruthless analysis is the possibility that current reports of the death of peak oil will turn out to have been exaggerated from the perspective of 2030 or 2060. The bugger is that if jet and other high energy density fuels do turn out to be a lot more expensive then, it will also make HSR even more expensive to build.

  3. Mark Errey

    Bernard you are spot on once again. For HSR to work it has to be between large population centres which are the right distance apart. You get this in Japan and you get it in Europe. In Australia the only major population centres that are the right distance apart are Sydney and Canberra. Canberra isn’t big enough to justify it. Hopefully it never is.

  4. Savonrepus

    Funny how it can add up in Europe and China but not here? Bernard you have no vision.

  5. Mark Heydon

    Savonrepus, Germany has four times Australias population, France has three times, Spain has two times. Each of these is smaller than NSW. China has 50 times Australia’s population in a land area only 25% larger. It isn’t “funny” how it adds up. It is exactly as Bernard states – Australia does not have the concentration of population as other countries with HSR.

  6. Bo Gainsbourg

    Bam! Where to start.
    1. There are European population densities here, especially along the Melb, Syd, Can, Bris corridor. Don’t believe me, check the stats. RMIT public transport experts can help.
    2.There is a thing called climate change response. Its kind of important, and by 2030 we won’t be flying like we are now, or for the same costs. Guaranteed.
    3. We are going to spend some $42 billion on needlessly subsidising the extremely well off via superannuation over the next few years. Savings anyone?
    4. Reallocating just some of the squadrillions we spend on road funding to a rail project won’t cost us the farm, and will again help with that pesky minor issue. Climate change. Not to mention the cash we seem to be hosing to the U.S. on defunct fighter planes.
    5. If there are other better options for rail use and reduction of CC lets favour them, but rejecting HSR on the grounds above alone doesn’t stack up.

  7. Achmed

    Comparison with Europe and China has its faults. Population is but one and possibly the most important, for example the city of Shanghai has a larger population that all of Australia.
    To have such a railway it must be cost effective and have a large “client” base.
    Built on the eatern seaboard of what benefit will regional taxpayers or those west get? Fund it but never have the chance to use it with soending $1,000’s to get to it

  8. Ron Chambers

    Nice article. Objective journalism at its best.

  9. Terry de Ste.Croix

    I am an avid enthusiast of train travel and when travelling in Europe I will take the train ahead of plane travel or car hire any day. The system is vast and will always get you to where you want efficiently, relatively cheaply and in a very relaxed manner. The reason why that is so is population and geographical size – which are the same reasons it makes not sense for Australia. Build a second Sydney airport and increase passenger capacity as necessary – end of sory.

  10. Francis Erin

    Clearly, this is a very expensive project. I’m interested to hear you say that it does not add up however, when I understand this report projects benefits to the economy of 2.3x the expected cost? The east-west link in Melbourne on the other hand provides benefits of just 0.8x cost. Even the rail only option of that transport plan – which no government is seriously planning to implement – would deliver benefits of 1.2x cost. Oh at $15 billion (in 2008), it’s a lot more than the 5-10% of the cost of HSR you flippantly suggest. And that single project would not “put a significant dent” in congestion.

    In terms of demand, Australia has the 5th and 12th busiest air routes in the world. Madrid -Barcelona used to be in the top 10, before a 621km railway linked them and reduced air travel by 34%. Journey times and passengers served on this route is not significantly different to Mel-Can-Syd.

    It seems to me this project does indeed add up, especially when compared to the poor value metropolitan road projects governments appear to prioritising instead.

    East west economic study: http://www.transport.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0015/34260/EWLNA-MeyrickandAssociates-Economic_Benefits_and_Costs_Analysis.pdf

  11. Scott

    Does it make more sense if we leave out Brisbane and everything north of Sydney? (Declaration of interest: I’m a Queenslander happy to fly to Sydney.)

  12. Peter Evans

    Apparently there are going to be eggplant-only dining cars.

  13. Hill Peter

    Consider land-value betterment taxes or rates upon land in and near those towns and cities that would enjoy access to the HSR service. If the HSR is really viable in generating patronage AND resettlement of people into the regional towns, then the aggregate revenue harvested from such betterment levies would largely pay for the capital costs of the HSR. Railways and public transport have always been a boondoggle for advocates who week to position themselves to free-ride on the net social wealth increase generated by these government-funded projects

  14. Achmed

    A lot of people take a train journey to enjoy the view and scenery

    Not much to see at 300kph

  15. Jim McDonald

    The problem, Bernard, is you do not take account of the economic savings/higher efficiency of HSR compared with airlines in terms of tonnes of greenhouse gasses per X no. of passengers or the costs/emissions of transport to/from CBDs to airports, etc. Nor do you take account of the economic benefits generated in the short term by investment in construction of a major infrastructure project or the long-term economic benefits to key regional centres at which the HSR would stop and pick up passengers. Sure, the fares will – as they do in Europe – have a premium, but the overall benefits outweigh any of your gloom about a HSR. 19th-century colonial governments were far more willing to invest early in the newest transport technology than 21st-century Australians. Government sloth on fast rail undersells the Australian economy: one relatively cheap project to link existing rail easements in a fast primarily freight operation from Junee to Toowoomba and from there to Darwin and Brisbane Port has languished from government inertia through 5 elections and a 6th approaches. Instead Howard built a white elephant from Alice Springs to Darwin, remote from the Eastern Coast freight routes that would save transportation costs and delivery times.

  16. zut alors

    Agree with Jim McDonald @ 3.16pm, especially regarding environmental issues. Remember how the atmosphere cleared over the USA in the week after September 11 when all flight was cancelled?

    Damn competitive cost, I’d take HSR over air travel anytime – at the same price or even a little more (for convenience).

  17. Ron Chambers

    PS Earlier comment was sarcastic

    @Achmed: “Not much to see at 300kph”
    Spoken like someone who has never ridden on a bullet train.

    Asia and Europe have bullet trains, but we’re different. If we don’t support our airports where will we get our ugh boots and overpriced parking from? Thinks of QANTAS. If you don’t support them they’ll be forced to Merge with AQ and stop serving pork. Please, please, think of the shareholders.

  18. tim bohm

    Hey Bernard 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. 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!!!

  19. dazza

    I’ve read something similar about road building in Australian history books/papers.

  20. pertina1

    You need to get out more Bernard, as should the contributors endorsing your Luddite opinion. If you lot had been making the decisions back in early1900 we’d still be taking ferries across from the CBD to Nth Sydney.

  21. Marcus Ogden

    Bernard you nearly managed to write the whole article without mentioning greenhouse emissions.

    The #1 reason to build a HSR network is that in decades to come we will simply not be able to consume the quantities of carbon emitting jet fuel that we do today. Unlike ground transport, air transport lacks a renewable alternative to fossil fuels.

  22. Damien

    I agree the HSR will never be built. I haven’t read the report but $67,000 per metre seems a tad expensive. It’s a railway line, not a stairway to heaven. Who comes up with this nonsense? As for recovering the cost of capital, when was this a pre-requisite for rail projects? If it was, we’d never have built any suburban rail network in a major city.

  23. Kevin Cox

    Few transport projects are supported by the fares collected on the routes. Construction of roads are never justified on the basis of the collection of petrol taxes.

    The value of transport infrastructure comes from the increase in wealth that occurs because the infrastructure exists – not just from the fares collected on the route. A high speed route with 10 stops is likely to mean that 1M or more “blocks” of land have increased in value in the stops along the route by at least $100K each. The wealth of society will increase by $100 Billion simply from the increase in value of some of the land. Fares are the tip of the value that is created.

    The economic calculations to justify long term projects use one or other form of discounted cash flow analysis. This approach says that a dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow. While the dollar today may be worth more than a dollar tomorrow because of inflation, a railway track tomorrow is worth just as much if not more than a railway track today. Discounted cash flow analysis is useful as a tool to choose between like projects. It is not an appropriate tool to use to justify long term infrastructure projects.

    Look at the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The value of the bridge is much higher today than it was when it was built because more people use the bridge – yet the mechanics of how economists and accountants value long term projects is that the value of the bridge is worth less today than the value yesterday. The accountants and economists have got it back the front and it stops us creating wealth by the sterile catch phrase “where will the money come from”.

    The money will come from the future because the infrastructure exists.

  24. Achmed

    The plan involves 30-40km to be built under Sudney….now that would be expensive. Land to be appropriated, compensation as farms etc are bisected, fencing to prevent wildlife getting on the tracks…imagine hitting a roo at those speeds…roads to be redirected and bridges over them or under them, the number of bridges that would be needed to get over every river and stream….$114b is the low end of what it would cost

  25. ben host

    Now if it could do high speed freight and cars, it would be doing something the airlines can’t do. Perhaps a sleeper on the Melbourne to Brisbane route. In any case I could have told them 144km of tunnels wouldn’t work even before they started the study.

  26. Mark from Melbourne

    Here, here. Great idea when you have the volumes and distances as in Japan for instance. But not so good for here.

    And getting freight off the trucks on to rail is an excellent idea.

    Plus the best thing I’ve heard for years in Melbourne is to put a second airport down towards Tooradin ie near the centre of population and stop 2/3’s of the cross town traffic in one fell swoop. Now that would help congestion and is clever on a lot of fronts – mind you the guys who have invested down near Avalon will squeal.

    Plus “more bike trails and facilities” I hear you say – well done that man/lady.

  27. Mark from Melbourne

    Ah Bo Gainsbourg!

    You have made the fatal mistake of arguing for something because it’s not as bad a waste of money as some other projects. Tish boom! (Or whatever sound effect goes with a bitchslap)…

  28. Christopher Nagle

    To some extent, this is a global warming free discussion.

    Aircraft are hideously energy and carbon intensive vehicles. But so are 300kph bullet trains, albeit not as bad as aircraft. It isn’t just the problem of moving the trains from A to B, but the enormously energy intensive construction demands they make on the landscape they have to travel through.

    The reality is that in a carbon constrained world, we are going to have to accept much lower traffic speeds.

    Existing long distance railway track can probably be electrified and tweaked up a bit to deliver speeds up to say 150-60 kph, at an energy consumption rate that will make a difference in getting global warming gas production down in a meaningful way. But that would only make sense if air traffic were made so expensive it becomes rationed for only very high priority purposes.

    This kind of conversation will only start to become rational when we move into serious environmental rationing/budgetting. And that won’t happen until the coming environmental crisis starts to actually crash in on us. So until then, delusary nonsensespeak will be the order of the day.

    Aircraft or high speed trains? Same. Same.

  29. Rena Zurawel

    We have already wasted lots of money on ovals and stupid stadiums.
    Since when Australians are so concerned about profit?
    As long as we can get cheap petrol and (very polluting) aviation industry -monopoly, no one would encourage building high speed trains.

  30. Roy Inglis

    If / when energy does become prohibitive for jet plane travel, more efficient turboprops will come into their own. With up to 50% of the per passenger fuel burn of a jet albeit at slightly slower speeds compared to a jet, turboprops can be up to 50% faster than a current high speed train @300kph. Turboprops can be introduced gradually, don’t need new airports and use regional airports too. A bit further out, whether it’s still rising fuel costs that makes turboprops prohibitively expensive or or global warming that drives the change, Christopher Nagle’s post will come to pass.

  31. Marrickville Mauler

    Bernard: Perfect. Agree in all respects

  32. AR

    Bernard – 1975 just called, they want their P76 back.

  33. Simon Mansfield

    E=MC2 – there is no energy shortage in this universe. Never has been – never will be. Planes, Trains and Automobiles will be with this us for a very very long time.

  34. Roy Inglis

    Although there is undoubtedly energy everywhere, not all is cheap enough, accessible enough or fit for purposes. A “long time” has different meanings in different context. In the time frame of 2050 to end of century and into the next many energy, climatic and significantly other limits to growth (http://www.csiro.au/files/files/plje.pdf audio at http://www.csiro.au/Portals/Multimedia/CSIROpod/Growth-Limits.aspx ) will require complex responses. Endless and presumably clean energy in theory but in practice and in the time frame this thread is about, more unlikely than likely.

  35. Apollo

    That’s right Simon. Some brilliant high school girls in Nigeria have invented power generator running on urine. Imagine if that goes commercial. We can run our power on piss and possibly the planes can fly on piss as well, beat the new clean green jet fuel. Bloody fantastic!!!

    ps. I have not read the article, can’t comment on what BK said.

  36. Bob the builder

    As a number of people have said – peak oil.
    Rail travel uses far less energy per passenger than air travel, so, apart from reducing pollution, rail travel will be far less affected by energy price rises.

    But, regardless of whether we build HSR, how about upgrading normal rail? Comfortable, overnight travel between Sydney-Brisbane, Sydney-Melbourne, Melbourne-Adelaide and Adelaide-Sydney should be happening now, but instead we have large stretches of ageing, single-line track and grubby, uncomfortable, unreliable services, often – unbelievably – replaced by bus for some sections.
    Antiquated tracks sit side by side never-endingly upgraded highways across the country, yet somehow train infrastructure is meant to ‘pay for itself’, while billions get poured into subsidies for road transport companies and citizens who have no alternative but to travel by road.

    If business travellers could get on the train, have a nice meal, have phone and internet access, a work space, a shower and a comfortable sleep, it’d make much more sense to get on the train in the early evening and arrive refreshed the next morning, rather than get up at the crack of dawn and struggle to the airport for an early morning flight (the flight may be an hour but check-in, travel, parking add another two hours) we could drastically reduce polluting air travel relatively easily.
    If you can have business meetings in specially designed meeting rooms on the Moscow to Petersburg service, surely we could do it here?

  37. Simon Mansfield

    Thanks for that story tip Apollo – did not see that last year at all. There’s been a slew of these developments of late – with many involving transportable energy systems – including liquid, gas or solid. What many people cannot grasp is that a century from now the average home could easily be using 100 times more energy that we use today. Those replicator machines alone – will need a lot of electricity.

  38. Achmed

    Apollo/Simon I know its abit off subject. Look at the experiments of a scientist named Nikala TELSA. He was developing the technology to draw electricity from the atmosphere. That would mean no coal/nuclear plants, no power lines. Each house could draw there power from the atmosphere. His funding was stopped when the backers realised they could not make a lot on money selling what was free in the atmosphere

  39. dennis altman

    But what if high speed rail meant no second airport for Sydney?–how much money, carbon and unnecessary travel to and from airports for short domestic trips could that save?

  40. Ron Chambers

    @Damien writes “I haven’t read the report but $67,000 per metre seems a tad expensive. It’s a railway line, not a stairway to heaven.”

    Too right. Sounds like construction companies are gilding the lily. High-speed rail lines are regular jointless train lines laid on concrete and kept flat and ideally elevated so Daisy doesn’t wander on to them. There is no new technology there. That comes from the trains and the signalling systems, which are themselves cheaper because they are entirely electronic. At 350 km/h you don’t need flashing trackside signals because the driven won’t see it either.

  41. fractious

    The assumed $114 billion would blow out anyway, to who knows what. But it’s all pie-in-the-sky dreaming, since it would appear that the majority of the electorate can’t get its head around spending less than a third of that on the NBN. 1Gbps capacity would obviate the need for many many people to travel at all, whether by train, plane or Shanks’ pony, whether commuting to work or for a business meeting or a seminar in another city. Spend another 5% of the figure on building decent freight rail lines, job done. But that’s too hard because governments and the majority of the electorate are too short-sighted and too focussed on short-term popularity contests.

  42. Achmed

    dennis – can Sydney wait that long?

  43. AJH

    We don’t need high-speed rail. We just need “acceptable speed rail”.

    Currently, to get from Maitland to Sydney by train takes around three and a half hours.

    To get there by car, on a good day, takes a bit over two hours.

    The real bottleneck is the Newcastle-Sydney service, which is actually marginally slower than the Newcastle Flyer was in the 1930s.

    Forget trying to build a network that is as fast as air travel. Let’s just build one that can compete with cars.

    On some legs of the Newcastle-Sydney service, the train plods along at 50km/h according to GPS readings. When I can be on the highway doing 110, why would I bother catching the train?

    Let’s just fix our current services so they are at least faster than they were eighty years ago. Hopefully by 2030, we can have a Newcastle-Sydney service that is significantly faster than it was in 1930.

  44. Liamj

    Oil prices quadrupled over last decade, from that trend how can airlines possibly be in anyones long term scenario?

    Yes AJH, basic maintainence of our current rail remnants is what we really need, in order to adapt to CURRENT oil prices and transport needs.

    Instead we have backward-looking economic rationalists trying to fend off a BiggerFasterHarder monorail, its like Daffy Duck vs the Coyote without the gags.

  45. GeeWizz

    The problem for HSR in Aus is that our capital cities are too far apart and HSR is too slow.

    Nobody wants to spend 3 1/2 Hours on a train from Melbourne to Sydney when they can do the same trip in an 1 1/2 hours probably for the same cost.

    Probably the only place high speed rail would work is Sydney CBD to Western Sydney and maybe Newcastle. Not long distance destinations.

  46. Robert Black

    Tend to agree GeeWizz. 3 to 4 hours by train plus transit to and from your destination at each end is going to pretty much take up your day. I’ve used the shinkansen (bullet train) in Japan many times and it’s wonderful but I can travel between major cities in 1 to 2 hours and then you have the marvelous metro networks at each end so it works brilliantly.

    I like the idea of trying HSR on some shorter key links. I would love to see a Brisbane to Gold Coast link. The recently upgraded highway link is already back to choking point. Would be great to see some more investment up here in sustainable public transport infrastructure.

  47. Apollo

    Achmed/Simon, yes my nephew told me about Tesla, he’s amazing. If I was not so senile I would read a lot on him.

    Yeah, many different forms of energy system are being invented, and I with the acceleration of technological developments future use will be more abundant but efficient at the same time.

    Comments on Fast Train assume that electricity provided for the train will be generated by green energy and all coal and gas power stations are eliminated. But there is development in green jet fuel for planes too. I don’t have much thought on this issue.

  48. Apollo

    If I’m not too tired or busy next week, I guess I’ll be reading BK’s analysis of Labor’s uni funding cut.

    I have no idea what the fuk this mob is doing!

  49. Apollo

    hav a good Sunday moderator

  50. Roderick Taylor

    Australians are so past oriented.

    High Speed Rail will not make travel between city centres for self-centred, baby boomer, business class types any easier. It’s a shame they make all the decisions because they only really care about their own status and convenience.

    In Europe, and Asia high speed rail is a tool to direct growth. Australia’s size and the lack of affordable housing in it’s cities is exactly why high speed rail is needed. Regional areas need to be opened up for development taking pressure off Sydney and Melbourne.

    High speed rail does not NEED to go to the centre of major cities, those places are crowded enough. Look at Taiwan. The only city centre Taiwan’s high speed rail visits is Taipei Main Station and it goes there only because they had under-utilised railway lines underneath the city to begin with.

  51. Mike Flanagan

    In discussing the HSR report we should remember these glitter infrastructure proposals find their impetus and genesis with a small coterie of self interested engineering and bulk earthworks companies. Bureaucrats are also willing partners in producing glossy reports that show little or no feasibility or national coherence in future planning.
    As others have pointed out in previous posts, a properly constructed FTTH enabled internet will not only aid delivery of medicine and education etc, but will radically change the requirements for the public’s interstate and inter-capital travel. The absence from commentary or consideration of this project (NBN) and the perfunctory consideration of Climate Change implications, in the report, is indicative of the incoherence that seems to develop in our bureaucracy when they fall under the spell of self interested business lobbies.
    We have now had three of these reports over the last twenty years and none of them have added up. Meanwhile the existing rail infrastructure is radically deteriorating and is subject to storm surge inundation on large sections of the east coast rail according to a number of reports.
    With the predicted exponential growth in road freight it is time we seriously looked at a roll on, roll off, green fields anchored east coast freight rail investment. The opportunities to remove a considerable number of 600hp behemoths off our roads will relieve the public demands, maintenance cost pressures and carnage rates on our highways. At the same time it offers the opportunity to lower our national carbon footprint and eliminate a lot of the inbuilt inefficiencies in our freight movements.
    There have been many reports over decades that have suggested we needed to attend to our rail freight infrastructure but they have never been resolved, due mainly, to the undermining of the proposals by the road freight lobby. And that will continue until these people can see a return from the rail section of the movement, with the infrastructure and capital to be funded by the taxpayer, I might add.
    With a predicted 15% growth rate over the next ten years for the road freight element of our national freight movement, one can only suggest this proposal is nothing more than a piece of infrastructure glitter that diverts national focus and resources from the actual challenges we face.
    In conclusion may I suggest we wait until CERN masters the Higgs Boson and its’ family of particles, as all this infrastructure may prove superfluous to the public, or our freight, requirements.

  52. GeeWizz

    Roderick… are you kidding?

    Taiwan is a island city, where else would the trains go?

    And you are incorrect about Europe and Asia. The reason they work there is:

    1. The destination is less than <500km away
    2. There are major population centres both at the departure and destination as well as between stops

    An Australian HSR FAILS on both points. The destination is too far away(making flying much faster/affordable) and the population centres just aren't that big with no intermitten population centres inbetween.

    If you fail to understand these 2 very basic requirements you fail to understand why HSR works overseas.

  53. Em_E

    Roderick Taylor –

    1. In Europe, and Asia high speed rail is a tool to direct growth.
    2. Australia’s size and the lack of affordable housing in it’s cities is exactly why high speed rail is needed.
    3. Regional areas need to be opened up for development taking pressure off Sydney and Melbourne.

    First point sounds feasible and definitely agree with points 2 & 3.

  54. Michael James

    For Australia to have high speed train network may not be such a bad idea provided connects to every capital city, train is fast, magnetically elevated, and powered by solar energy readily available across country. This massive project should be in parallel with NBN National broadband optical fiber notwork to minimize the cost of project infrastructure and installation of train tracks and optical fiber cable ducts. Cost of such a project is high but it is nothing in compassing to cost of wars we have spend on Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and now on asylum seekers that drain millions from our budget.

  55. Achmed

    Roderick – by time its built there will be no baby boomers

  56. Suzanne Blake

    Considering the second airport down in Sydney has been discussed since 1969, this chestnut will never happen, we will have flying Jetsons transport by then

  57. Salamander

    It is a pathetic situation that it takes almost 3 hours to travel by train between the two largest cities in NSW, which are only 160 km apart!

  58. cud chewer


    As much as I respect your usually well researched and well thought out views, what you’re failing to notice is the real story.

    The real story is a cost-benefit analysis where the benefits have been given considerable attention, but the costings, and especially the assumptions underlying those costings have been given little effort.

    In short, what we have is an exercise in how to build something the most expensive way possible.

    I’ll give you a few hints.

    Firstly, there are a host of basic physical parameters that are adopted for the study that simply haven’t been questioned. The most important of which is the assumption of roughly a 7Km minimum horizontal curve radius and with that a maximum of 8 degrees of cant.

    Why? Its not justified or gone into. Its just taken and run with. But that simple assumption is the basis of billions of dollars of extra expenditure going through things that could have been gone around.

    There is nothing in the laws of physics that would stop a train going at speed (350Km/hr) on a track with minimum horizontal radius of 2.5Km and with that a necessary combination of cant and tilting suspension of 22 degrees.

    On that simple fact alone, the entire costing should be considered rubbish. They haven’t done the sensitivity analysis on it.

    Nor have they considered modest compromises on speed that would make small differences in timing but have a large effect on cost.

    Something else for you to consider.

    They assumed that the Sydney terminal station is going to be a terminal station. Its there in the report. Its stated. But its never questioned. The consequence of having a terminal station (rather than a through station) is that you’ve consumed 3 times the real estate for platforms. Again, the billions add up.

    A far more sensible approach would be to have a through station located somewhere like Olympic Park. You will have noticed by now that their preferred route means having tunnels that stretch from Hornsby into Central and then from Central back out towards Holsworthy. This means considerably longer tunnels.

    A more sensible approach would be to have a through station at Olympic Park and then build a “fast” train (roughly 180Km/hr) into the city that would provide a fast connection. This fast train would require smaller tunnels and would be incorporated into Sydney’s wider network.

    The net result is that the larger HSR mainline tunnels would be considerably shorter and less expensive.

    No consideration whatsoever was given to this idea. And it was suggested to Aecom personally, and directly and also in the form of submission to the Department.

    Bernard, there are of course other assumptions built into the process that by their nature probably bloat the cost by 2 to 3 times. The engineers have adopted a tried and tested, but ultimately outdated and expensive method of construction. That’s called cut-fill-bridge-tunnel. Whilst tunnels are to some extent unavoidable, a lot of the cost and complexity of such projects is because of their sheer size and complexity and that’s a consequence of having a very large footprint.

    Before we are to get serious about high speed rail we need to seriously consider going back to basics on the engineering. And one such approach is to light-weight the trains themselves and to use a pre-fab (largely drop into place) viaduct construction technique. This approach literally steps over many of the issues and costs involved with the cut and fill mentality. We don’t need a heavy rail system. We need a fast rail system.

    Again, none of this came anywhere near to being studied.

    And that surely is worth another article?

    Oh and btw, I won’t get started on the presumed cost of tunnels but their assumptions amount to “lets pick a number that we hope won’t get exceeded and justify it with a few examples”. Its hardly a first principles “lets figure out how to do it better and cheaper”.

    In the end, HSR will depend on better, faster and cheaper engineering. And its about time our governments started hiring, or even offering serious multi-million prizes to the worlds best engineers to get to work and design a system we can afford. Rather than just engaging report-writers like Aecom to do the predictable.

    Aecom btw are the people who were engaged to cost a single train station in Newcastle (the result of cutting short the train line). The managed a bloated $500M estimate. Yes, really. This is why I do not trust Aecom.

  59. a js

    Fast rail would open up regional australia to development and jobs, give greater access to land that would increase supply in a commutable distance thus making housing more affordable. Money invested in the project would go into back into the economy in jobs and association economic activity. It would reduce the dependance on highly polluting aviation fuel . Instead of isolated city states reliant on air travel this infrastructure would synergise areas into a cohesive economic zones. At least Sydney to Newcastle/Canberra should be started…. Its a gamble, believe that petrol will always be available and at this price and accept the pollution, or believe that there is a better future for our children, with less pollution, more affordable and a revitalised regional australia. I know which vision I want to believe in.

  60. Aidan Stanger

    In the case of broadband, there is a market failure (one facilitated by successive governments), and the government’s investment will be repaid. High-speed rail is like investing in a new copper network when we already have fibre-to-the-premises.

    No, it’s like investing in the NBN when we alreadly have wireless broadband. What we have serves the existing demand with some constraints, but is expensive and even with new infrastructure it will be totally inadequate for future requirements.

    It would be possible to extend the analogy further by likening conventional railways to copper and maglevs to optic fibres, but such an extension would be deceptive. Optic fibres are only slightly more expensive but perform much better. Maglevs would be much more expensive but perform only slightly better.

  61. iggy648

    I’m with Suzanne Blake. I plan to fly to the opening in Melbourne or Brisbane on my anti-gravity rocket assisted Zimmer frame. Wouldn’t HSR be as vulnerable to terrorists as aeroplanes? A bomb anywhere along the track would be devestating at high speed. Could you derail a HST by putting a penny on the track? Would there need to be luggage inspections and X-rays and metal detectors at the station?

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