April 12, 2013

Australian high-speed study published

Written by  Mark Carter
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THE Australian government has released its long-awaited Stage 2 study into options for a future high-speed rail link between the major cities on the country's east coast.

The study estimates the cost of building a 1748km line linking Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne at $A 114bn ($US 120bn), with an expectation that the government would be required to fund most of the upfront capital cost.

It would be built as an electrified, standard-gauge, double-track line with a maximum operating speed of 350km/h. A contributing factor to the significant projected cost is the need for approximately 144km of tunnels, nearly half of which would be under Sydney and surrounding districts.

Federal transport minister Mr Anthony Albanese says the report is more than just a feasibility study. "This work has detailed designs, right down to the stations with estimates on costs and benefits, construction schedules, patronage predictions, environmental implications and, importantly, a proposed optimum route," he says.

The study envisages that construction of the first stage between Sydney and Canberra would not commence until 2027 and operations would begin in 2035, giving a travel time of 1h 4min for the 280km journey. An extension to Melbourne would open five years later with a journey time of 2hr 44min for the 844km Sydney – Melbourne journey. A full east coast route linking Brisbane and Melbourne would not be completed until 2058.

The study concludes that once fully operational, up to 84 million passengers would be carried each year.

While no funding commitment has yet been made, Albanese has indicated he will initiate a comprehensive programme of public consultation and debate on the role high-speed rail could play in Australia's transport future.

"My department's HSR Unit is also embarking on detailed consultations with industry, local governments and community groups," he says. "I am also establishing a high level HSR Advisory Group to work along with the HSR Unit in directly advising the government on key industry and community issues arising out of the report."

The minister has indicated he will also be writing to the state premiers of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, as well as the Australian Capital Territory chief minister, seeking their formal views on the report and assistance in safeguarding land along the proposed route.

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