High speed rail in Australia: a close reality

Completion of the initial phase of its government’s high speed rail study marks a monumental step forward for the Australian rail industry, and more importantly, for Australia as a nation

This announcement demonstrates Australians’ readiness to look into the future and embark upon transformational infrastructure that will significantly benefit the next generations. The current high speed rail study is truly distinct from previous high speed rail studies conducted in Australia as it presents genuine opportunity for this transport dream to become a reality.
Driven by the Commonwealth Government with strong support from all political parties and the general public, Phase One of the high speed rail study plans preliminary high speed rail corridors along the east coast of Australia and outlines possible costs for the introduction of high speed rail in this region. Capital cities and major urban centres along the east coast including Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Newcastle, Sydney, Canberra, Wollongong, the Southern Highlands, Albury and Melbourne have been identified as potential areas to be linked by the high speed network.


This $61to $108 billion rail link will connect the east coast capitals and urban centres, allowing Australians to travel freely and with great comfort. It will also allow the Australian economy to prosper through a modern, high speed transport system. Considering the amount of money that has already been spent on Australian roads, the cost estimated for the construction of the high speed network is minimal. Since 1985, more than $293 billion has been spent to support the Australian love affair with cars. This love affair has led Australia to critical challenges, including severe road congestion, high levels of carbon emissions, the decline of health and well-being of its populations and a rising road toll. This love affair must end and greater use of public transport must be encouraged.
In addition to greater economic prosperity, high speed rail will connect families and allow people access to more job opportunities. These benefits are witnessed across the globe where high speed rail has been implemented. The high speed network will also promote regional development as well as increase land values in the east coast region.
The UK’s Kent to St Pancras high speed rail link is a good example of how the introduction of high speed rail changes the way people live and work. The high speed rail link attracted London commuters who preferred country lifestyles to relocate to Kent and travel to London with travel times reduced by more than half of the original transit time. In Australia, a high speed rail network that connects Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, with their satellite suburbs, will make those suburbs more attractive to live and work in. This will be a direct result of greater accessibility to city centres.

Phase one of the high speed rail study shows that Australians can travel from Sydney to Brisbane or Melbourne in three hours and to Canberra or Newcastle in less than one hour. The time saving will not only benefit commuters but will also enhance the country’s productivity. By shifting the movement of people from road to public transport, high speed rail will help address the congestion issue in major cities which currently costs Australia around $15-20 billion per year. In Sydney alone, the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics has estimated that over the 10 year period from 2010 to 2020, congestion is costing Sydney around $70 billion. This cost is rising.
The introduction of high speed rail on the Australian east coast will remove the need to build another airport in the east coast to address the increasing travel demand and ease the highly congested air routes. The Sydney – Melbourne air corridor is ranked fifth of the world’s busiest air corridors, with Sydney – Brisbane not far behind. The introduction of a high speed network will save Australia from spending a considerable amount of money building a new airport and a transport system to support this new infrastructure. The high speed rail network will allow for greater use of existing airports such as those in Canberra and Newcastle. Australia must make better use of its existing infrastructure. It should also be noted that some of the world’s most popular corridors are now being replaced by high speed rail. Ninety per cent of people are travelling by high speed rail between Paris and London and there are no longer flights from Paris to Brussels.

Aside from the ability to alleviate road and air traffic congestion, high speed rail can also help reduce unnecessary carbon emissions from road transport. Australians are ranked amongst the largest carbon-emitters in the world on a per-capita basis. The transport sector is the third-largest contributor of carbon dioxide emissions in Australia as it is largely powered by fossil fuels. Burning fossil fuels creates emissions such as carbon dioxide and particulates that can cause air pollution. In 2007, transport generated 15 per cent of Australia’s total carbon dioxide emissions. Of this figure, road travel contributes 87 per cent. Australians must be encouraged to travel by a more environmentally friendly mode of transport, such as rail.
In a recent study conducted by Deloitte Access Economics, The True Value of Rail, it was found that in one year, one passenger train reduces carbon emissions by the same amount as planting 320 hectares of trees. High Speed Rail is also more energy efficient. An American study shows that electrified high-speed trains are about nine times more energy-efficient than private cars or domestic jet travel. It emits about one-ninth less pollution than an airplane or a private vehicle.
At the current time, high speed rail is being constructed and actively planned throughout the world, including in the USA, UK, Argentina, Poland, Morocco, Turkey, Iran, Portugal, Saudi Arabia and India. By 2025, 37,500km of high speed rail lines will operate globally. In Japan, the government is about to launch a high speed rail program that allows customers to travel at 500km/hour.
As witnessed around the world, the benefits of high speed rail are real and must be realised in Australia. The high speed network is a matter for today and not tomorrow. Let this study be the last so we, as a nation, embark upon this exciting future.

Stage Two of the High Speed Rail Study

The High Speed Rail Study Reference Group has now commenced work on stage two of the study. The second phase will look at the corridor alignment in detail, outline preliminary geotechnical issues and investigating investment and financing options for this transformational infrastructure project.
Other considerations for stage two include:
The topographical and environmental constraints in the identified Newcastle to Sydney corridor as well as options for integrating high speed rail services with the conventional inter-urban services.
The preferred location of a high speed rail station in Sydney, and the potential for integrating existing and proposed urban rail services with high speed rail.
Further engineering and environmental appraisal for the preferred alignment in the Wollongong and the Illawarra Regions in comparison to an inland corridor via the Southern Highlands.
Potential synergies from the joint use of an access corridor and infrastructure by high speed rail and the proposed airport rail link services between Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport and the city’s CBD.
Further operational and engineering analysis to examine the impacts of the access corridor through Canberra.
It is envisaged that stage two of the study will be completed in September/October 2012.
The Australasian Railway Association will continue pushing for strong public and political support to see the implementation of a high speed rail network along Australia’s east coast become a reality, not just another study to put on the shelf.

Written by Rhianne Jory, manager, Passenger Transport Policy, Australasian Railway Association


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