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Boondoggle or best thing we’ll ever do? What to make of high speed rail

Transport Minister Anthony Albanese today released the second phase report for Australia’s High Speed Rail Study. The AECOM report plots out a preferred route from Brisbane to Melbourne, predicts how many…

So high speed rail might be a good investment, in future. It just might also be the worst of the possible rail projects to fund at this moment in time. AAP

Transport Minister Anthony Albanese today released the second phase report for Australia’s High Speed Rail Study. The AECOM report plots out a preferred route from Brisbane to Melbourne, predicts how many passengers will ride the system, and suggests the system would be marginally beneficial and economically feasible.

The costs are staggering. At around $114 billion it would dwarf any national infrastructure program yet undertaken – around three times the size of the National Broadband Network.

Even using a 4% discount rate (which would be considered “unusual” in most economic circles) the economic benefit/cost ratio is worryingly low at around 2.3 to 1 (that is, for every one dollar spent, it generates $2.30). And that’s after factoring strong population and economic growth through to the year 2065.

The patronage projections are also difficult to pull apart. There is a long history of inaccuracy in forecasting patronage in such projects due to two reasons. Bent Flyvberg, Professor of Planning at Oxford, calls “optimism bias and strategic misrepresentation”.

And we are hardly world-beaters in this country in estimating the value and viability of projects. The high speed rail projections are brought to you by the same firm responsible for the calamitous Lane Cove Tunnel, Sydney Cross City Tunnel and Brisbane Clem7 forecasts.

By my estimation if only half the business passengers on the Brisbane-Sydney and Sydney-Melbourne routes switched from air to rail, rather than the two-thirds estimated in the AECOM report, the high speed rail system would require massive subsidies to meet its operating costs.

Most people would baulk from committing at this point. The only review of the international experience with high speed rail, published by researchers at the University of Las Palmas in Spain in 2009, is sober reading. The average subsidy for the German, French, Spanish and Italian systems was calculated at over A$65,000 per seat, per year.

Indeed, it is claimed that only two routes in the world are currently profitable, in Lyon-Paris and Tokyo-Osaka. It is extremely doubtful that even the Sydney-Melbourne route could match that performance.

The reasons are many:

  • Australian cities are small by international standards (Greater Osaka’s population being ten times bigger than Brisbane’s)

  • our cities are less dense and have employment centres more dispersed than in Europe or Asia

  • the distances betweeen our major centres are both huge and sparsely populated (the Tokyo Osaka line passes ‘small’ cities like Nagoya, which is half the size of Sydney

  • there are few feeder rail lines from regional cities outside the corridor to support a high speed network.

Only when Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Sydney and Melbourne are of greater size, and the regional centres between them are larger, does high speed rail seem to warrant investment. Unless of course oil suddenly becomes scarce.

All that said, it seems prudent to plan and protect a corridor. It’s not overly expensive to work out a detailed alignment and preserve it from incompatible land development. This does little harm and ensures we can move forward if and when circumstances change and/or the time is right.

But should high speed rail be built right now? Let’s compare some options. The cost of getting from Brisbane and the Gold Coast to Newcastle (and no further) is projected to be around $21 billion. If we take that on face value (without knowing how much it would really cost to tunnel through mountains to the Gold Coast) what could that buy in terms of other rail investments?

The figure of $4 billion could give Brisbane a federal contribution to the much needed Cross River Rail project, which Tony Abbott ruled out funding in favour of freeways last week, consigning most Brisbane residents and Gold Coast commuters to what is already becoming Australia’s worst rail system.

And $1.5 billion could triple the size of the under-construction Gold Coast light rail. Another billion dollars would give the Sunshine Coast its first high-quality public transport infrastructure, which is becoming one of the most pressing needs in all of urban Australia (but there are no marginal seats up there). Half a billion dollars could give Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie embryonic public transport systems. And you would still have $12 billion change to do the next set of necessary improvements in all those cities.

Similarly, a much smaller slice of the total high speed rail funds could give Sydney its metro system, Melbourne its rail tunnel, and give Perth, Canberra, and Adelaide the high quality light rail systems they are all planning for.

Alternatively, a major investment in freight rail to allow double-stacking of containers from Melbourne to Sydney and Brisbane, as works so well on the Melbourne-Adelaide-Perth route, would deliver undeniable long-term economic benefit to the nation and remove thousands of trucks from our roads.

So high speed rail might be a good investment, in future. It just might also be the worst of the possible rail projects to fund at this moment in time. Alternative investment strategies would more likely change people’s lives for the better and make our cities more efficient and productive.

Join the conversation

78 Comments sorted by

  1. Colin MacGillivray

    Architect, retired, Sarawak

    Any study by consultants will recommend any project because it is in the interest of the consultants so to do.
    "Half a billion dollars could give Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie embryonic public transport systems." Privately owned and operated 15 seat minibuses will do the job without any public funding. Look at the third world for how it works.

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  2. Dale Bloom

    Analyst

    I can't find it in the report, but I think the last time this was looked at, there would be 100 meters either side of the track, where no buildings would be allowed, and any vegetation would be slashed and kept short.

    That is a 200 meter strip from Brisbane to Melbourne will be almost kept bare, and this makes it high level environmental impact.

    I also can't figure out the necessity to travel so much with a NBN.

    Surely the NBN was meant to reduce the necessity for travel, and enable video conferencing etc.

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    1. Mike Jubow

      forestry nurseryman

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Do you know something that the rest of us don't? Is the NBN going to replace air and rail travel? Is the NBN going to be linked to the Tardis for ease of travel?

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    2. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Mike Jubow

      NBN should be used for something, other than downloading imported movies or music.

      See webinars, video conferencing, online workshops etc.

      And what is the road haulage to Cairns?

      Nothing, except delivering tourists and produce from Brisbane (that was often grown in Nth QLD).

      And what is at Brisbane?

      Nothing, except people, warehouses and public servants who want to travel to Cairns to attend conferences on how to increase the number of people in the state.

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    3. Mike Jubow

      forestry nurseryman

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      "And what is the road haulage to Cairns?

      Nothing, except delivering tourists and produce from Brisbane (that was often grown in Nth QLD).

      And what is at Brisbane?

      Nothing, except people, warehouses and public servants who want to travel to Cairns to attend conferences on how to increase the number of people in the state".

      I sincerely hope you don't work as an analyst for any government department. To ask such questions and make such statements is breathtaking in their ignorance if they are sincere. Strewth, if this is so, it is no wonder the people of Northern Australia get such a rotten deal.

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    4. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Mike Jubow

      This is a very large amount of money that will add nothing to our natural environment, but will take from our natural environment only.

      In fact, it may cut a 200 mater swath from Brisbane to Melbourne, destroying a lot of trees and wildlife, and reducing migration routs for wildlife.

      And Australia already has one of the worst ecological footprints of any country.

      As for Cairns, it is fast becoming a rat race.

      As for travel, I recently knew a person who travelled from Hobart to Cairns to attend a conference, not as a speaker, but to be a member of the audience. They were there for 3 days, never left the hotel, and then flew back.

      It was a total waste of natural resources for them to do that.

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    5. Michael Block

      Idler

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      LOL Dale, we have thousands of those swathes already, they are called roads and verges!

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    6. Michael Block

      Idler

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Dale, it's pleasing to hear that you are so concerned about the state of our environment, you obviously care so much that you rarely leave the comfort of your own home.

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    7. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Michael Block

      I have not made any personal remarks about you.

      I can, so would you like me to?

      I am stuck home because it keeps raining and the worksite is flooded out.

      One would think that $114 billion could be spent on reducing the necessity for travel.

      Any travel = reduction of natural resources.

      Be it reduction of materials, or wildlife.

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    8. Michael Block

      Idler

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Dale, we don't have to not travel, we just have to travel efficiently and avoid unnecessary travel. Some of the benefits of that $114 billion include opportunities to develop our inland cities and reduce the burden on our 2 developing mega-cities, the cost savings that come from avoiding a second Sydney Airport, the cost savings that would come from high speed freight lines (or at least higher speed)

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    9. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Michael Block

      Regards our population growth, about 50% of immigrants now live in Sydney and Melbourne.

      But there isn’t much difference between Sydney and Melbourne regards what they are producing. They have no agriculture, and manufacturing is declining.

      They are service cities that also run on ponzi demography (which involves creating short term demand by artificially increasing population growth).

      Regards increasing the population of inland cities, there is minimal water inland.

      There is a lot of evaporation, but minimal surface water. There are also few jobs inland, and a long distance to ports.

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    10. Michael Block

      Idler

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Dale, surely you'd agree that one of the reasons for low population in our inland cities is a lack of jobs. one reason for the lack of jobs is the lack of infrastructure. If we see this as an important issue we need to spend money to address it. We don't need a population of 50 million to have a sustainable country but we do need to care for our environment better by being more efficient with our use of water. At the end of the day 22 million people who mainly live in 2 cities use as much water as 22 million people who are more distributed across the eastern states. We don't need to create inland mega-cities just lots of smaller ones that place less stress on local resources. If we want people to sty in inland cities then we need comparable infrastructure in education, health, internet access and transport.

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    11. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Michael Block

      The congestion in Sydney and Melbourne is basically the fault of Sydney and Melbourne for wanting more people.

      People living in rural Australia really don’t owe much at all to people living in Sydney or Melbourne.

      In fact, I’m inclined to think it is the other way around.

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    12. Michael Block

      Idler

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      I agree Dale, Melbourne and Sydney are already a large ecological drain on rural Australia. Isn't it better to distribute that wisely along the eastern coast rather than concentrating it? The problem is that HSR is being looked at purely from an economic perspective rather than as a nation building exercise

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    13. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Michael Block

      I was involved in a project where the taxpayer had to pay Aboriginal groups in the area over $10,000 per tree to remove a number of trees.

      That was compensation money to remove trees from what was claimed to be ground special to Aboriginies in the area.

      So if someone born and raised in an area doesn’t like trees being cut down in their area to benefit someone in Sydney or Melbourne, then they could seriously ask for compensation money.

      I can’t see why not.

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    14. Albert Rogers

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      My wife and our neighbour wept when a new arrival to the street cut down the biggest conifer in the subdivision, to get off-street parking.

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    15. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Albert Rogers

      Should you ask for compensation?

      If people in Sydney or Melbourne want to clear a 200 meter wide swath through an area, destroy wildlife and create a massive eyesore, they can be prepared to pay $10,000 per tree to the local inhabitants.

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    16. Robert Tony Brklje
      Robert Tony Brklje is a Friend of The Conversation.

      retired

      In reply to Michael Block

      From that perspective looking at high speed rail only from the perspective of it's end points is dumb. The question is whether high speed rail can inject development and life into regional centres and reduce population pressures on capitals cities.
      Currently the focus on travel from capital city to capital city is dumb. The real focus should be on capital city to regional centres and then the linking of those regional centres. Whether the focus should be on passengers only or should cargo be of greater interest.
      So first focus reasonable maximum passenger commute outwards from the metropolitan area. Then cargo to and from regional centres into the metropolitan area. Then connecting those together to link metropolitan area to metropolitan area.
      The question in can any major capital infrastructure project which excludes the bulk of Australian from receiving any benefit and in fact will work against the development of four other Australian states can be considered appropriate.

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  3. Mike Jubow

    forestry nurseryman

    For a long time, I have been an advocate of high speed freight for Queensland but in saying this, I am not advocating 300 kmh + freight lines but something over 140 kph. I am pleased to see that at least someone has touched on this aspect in this article.

    "Alternatively, a major investment in freight rail to allow double-stacking of containers from Melbourne to Sydney and Brisbane, as works so well on the Melbourne-Adelaide-Perth route, would deliver undeniable long-term economic benefit to…

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    1. John Doyle
      John Doyle is a Friend of The Conversation.

      architect

      In reply to Mike Jubow

      I can't see why upgrading is not a far more sensible idea.
      It comes already with a corridor. It has stations in the middle of towns and cities already, which I assume the HSR would use, as they do in Japan. While the shinkansen trains can do 400kph, in reality they don't. It's around 240 kph. No way would one get 300 k from Sydney central in an hour, except by flying. And, going fast uses way more fuel - or electricity.
      So the 140 kph option for it seems reasonable. New works to straighten out…

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  4. Steve Phillips

    Nurse Practitioner

    Looks like, sounds like, smells like; another ill thought out, badly concieved promise by Labor.
    If Labor could just deliver one major scheme; on tim,e under budget and well managed; maybe they would earn some admiration. But all they can do is promise the earth and deliver f#$ k all.
    Labor looking and sounding (to use another American term) more and more like a bunch of 'carpetbaggers' and con artists who prey on the weak minded and gullible.

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    1. Phil Dolan

      Viticulturist

      In reply to Steve Phillips

      I've only been in the country since 1986 and I know about Medicare, superannuation, the NBN, the proposed NDIS and more access to higher education. What other big schemes have been introduced?

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    2. Mike Stasse

      retired energy consultant

      In reply to Steve Phillips

      Looks like, sounds like, smells like another distraction from the fact the whole economic system is on the verge of collapse to me........

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    3. Steve Phillips

      Nurse Practitioner

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      You are correct, it is a distraction; a distraction from the jobless figures released at the same time as the Albanese announcement.
      As for Medicare and Super, yes they are Labor initiatives and welcome too. But they are the product of past Labor Govts that had some small measure of competence. That cant be said of this Govt.
      The whole thing is like a departing CEO standing on the steps of his corporate jet addressing the workers; shouting, "and next year the company will give you all Lamborginis as bonuses", then turning and flying to Belize and a comfortable retirement. Leaving his hapless successors to sort out the mess.

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    4. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Steve Phillips

      I wouldn't get too worked up about yesterday's unemployment numbers Steve - far more likely that the previous numbers were over the top wrong as several pundits said at the time. Tends to happen in January when lots of survey respondents don't respond so the ABS extrapolates and gets it wrong. Rubbery figures.

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    5. Alvin Stone

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Steve Phillips

      What a load of tosh. This is just a political statement for no good reason. In the first place this is just an investigation. There is no commitment by the ALP.
      In the second place, early in Howard's reign he committed to a high speed rail link between Melbourne and Sydney (with Qantas as part of the consortium that won the bid).
      High speed rail has been hanging around as an idea for a number of decades.
      Having worked with one of the largest high speed rail companies in the world, I think the…

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    6. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to Alvin Stone

      Importantly we need to pay for this before we have the money...

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    7. Henry Verberne

      Former IT Professional

      In reply to Steve Phillips

      That sort of propaganda does nothing to advance the argument Steve! The "promise" that you refer to was a demand of the Greens as the price for their support of Labor in minority government. A feasibility study was agreed to and here we have the result.

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  5. Michael Block

    Idler

    Matthew, I'm surprised that you focused solely on the financial costs of this project without any examination of the benefits. Do you believe that there aren't any or did you just forget the rest of the article?

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    1. Matthew Burke

      Senior Research Fellow at Griffith University

      In reply to Michael Block

      Hi Michael,
      I was hamstrung by word limit in this format - that's all. Am very happy to acknowledge there are many benefits, particularly for regional cities. These are well documented in the AECOM report. I chose to prioritise analysis of feasibility and then argument about what else could be done, especially in the rail space, rather than just rehash existing material with the words available.
      Matt

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    2. Michael Block

      Idler

      In reply to Matthew Burke

      Matthew, thanks for the reply, surely any economic examination of the case for east coast HSR also needs to monetise the benefits rather than just the costs? Of course I accept that there is a word limit here, however surely your analysis is as incomplete as another that only examines the benefits and omits the costs?

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  6. Garry Baker

    researcher

    In your dreams, I say. It will never happen in the lifetime of anyone who could make a comment on these pages. Decades of political babbling and study reports have produced nothing so far, and another few hundred million thrown at advisers will only serve to line their pockets - As the past record shows.

    Notably though, last year the Chinese set up an office in Melbourne to sell us their high speed trains, along with advice on how they can build it better. Now that their own safety record is in shambles - what next. Whatever, very little local industry or technology would be sourced from Australia - So really, it just gets down to obtaining a firm quote, from those who can build rail networks.

    Sort of like falling on a dependence with the builders of the giant Desalination plant on the outskirts of Melbourne.

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    1. Mike Stasse

      retired energy consultant

      In reply to Garry Baker

      It won't need to be built! Within maybe 10 years, NOBODY will be driving from lak of oil and money, and cyclists will have free access to all the freeways and highways now in existence!

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    2. Henry Verberne

      Former IT Professional

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Cars running on either hydrogen or batteries may yet save the motor vehicle if some of the (encouraging) research into low energy & cost means of deriving hydrogen from water and much better/cheaper/longer range batteries are finally developed.

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    3. Mike Stasse

      retired energy consultant

      In reply to Henry Verberne

      Neither batteries not Hydrogen are energy SOURCES. They are energy CARRIERS that have to be charged up from an energy source........

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    4. Albert Rogers

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Yep, Mike, there are no hydrogen wells nor electricity mines.

      But the energy source I recommend is nation-wide nuclear fission breeder reactors, enough of them to shut down at the very least all the coal, petroleum and other hydrocarbon electric generation. No need for those horrible huge puny wind turbines, and since the fuel cost is trifling (the ARC-100 design gets 20 years at 100 MW and needs 1.7 tons of un-enriched, or even depleted uranium, to refuel it. If you've enough to deal with peak load, perhaps with a little help from hydro, the of-peak spare capacity can go into hydrogen or electric battery charging.

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  7. James Gordon

    Teacher

    I have an alternative - a bicycle super highway. One singe, connected bicycle path from Brisbane to Melbourne. Wide and safe so bicycles can hit high speeds, this project would be cheap, it would benefit small towns and hamlets, would increase health and fitness levels of Aussies and increase tourism. Why not ride a bicycle from Brisbane to Melbourne? That is how this great nation got going.

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    1. Steve Phillips

      Nurse Practitioner

      In reply to James Gordon

      Great idea! Combined with a law that makes cycling compulsory for everyone under the age of 70.

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  8. Peter Kardashinsky

    Retired Engineer

    Matthew,

    A well written article, and it is good that you point out alternatives that could be more centralised and also implemented earlier. I hope that you will make a submission in the public comment phase of this project.

    Scanning the report, I see that its first phase will not be operational until at least 20 years from now, and it will not be complete for another 20 years after that. The economic benefits are derived from forecasts about what will happen 20-50 years from now, and mostly…

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  9. craig sambell

    environment journalist (ret)

    Your second last parra is right on the money.

    Invest the money in FREIGHT RAIL...etc & integrate the road freight into
    freight rail and achieve the double wammy of eliminating trucks and their associated carnage on the roads whilst still providing work for the trucks delivering rail head freight to final local destinations.

    But then again I doubt that this will happen soon.....after all it took 150 years for us to agree on a standard rail gauge throughout Australia.

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  10. Peter Ormonde

    Farmer

    I'll admit it straight up front - I'm most unlikely to wade through this report - not without anasthetic in industrial quantities.

    But I'm hoping that someone who has might explain something to me: was magnetic levitation considered and rejected - if so why?

    It's just that from what I've read, mag lev seems ideally suited to the sparse stops long distance route. It's cheaper. It's faster and most interesting of all it involves a lot less tunneling, since a mag lev train can climb a 10 degree slope while a conventional high speed rail system is limited to a three percent grade.

    I've had a lingering suspicion about these tunneling ventures - that we have some folks looking for things to do with these gadgets now that we've got some. So we end up with moling away on white elephant "traffic solutions" anywhere we can.

    So if anyone has actually read this tome, I'd be most interested in why the mag-lev option was not recommended.

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  11. Mike Stasse

    retired energy consultant

    There are two impediments to this idea: Peak Oil, and Peak Money (debt).

    On the one hand, I don't see such a project as being unviable because it can't compete with flying, when flying may well cease completely within 5 to 15 years. The airlines are not saying it publically, but they know the writing's on the wall.....:

    "The World Bank director (most recently responsible for the global airline industry) has explained to me, the problem of peak oil is not discussed in his institution, it is…

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  12. Meg McMahon

    logged in via email @bigpond.com

    Aside from politics, how are these speedy critters powered? Are nukes required anywhere along the line?

    I'd like to hear more about energy sources and costs...

    This is a comprehensive wiki:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-speed_rail

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  13. Peter Fraser

    Director

    "Australian cities are small by international standards ". There are only 4 cities in Europe larger than either Sydney or Melbourne, and eight in the US. Barcelona to Madrid HSR is 650 kms long and connects two cities with a total population less than 6 million. There is a HSR being built between Cassablanca and Marakech (same distance as Sydney to Canberra) in Morocco! Indonesia, Uzbekistan, Algeria, Taiwan. The list goes on. There is only one other continent in the world now without HSR either in place or being built - Antarctica. It's expensive but can be done a bit at a time and revenue generated by the bits (Sydney to Canberra being the first). It's like the Snowy Scheme or the NBN - it can happen if there is a will to do it and it will completely change the face of regional Australia, the one country in the world where more people are cluttered into just two cities than any other country.

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  14. John Browne
    John Browne is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Surveyor

    Can't help but think that what we need are slightly faster and more reliable trains.

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  15. Steve Phillips

    Nurse Practitioner

    Last night the ABC interveiwed a Japanese engineer who was instramental in getting Japan's Shinkansen up and running. He was dumbfounded by the timeline Albanese projected. They had theirs in 10 years from a standing stat, Albanese said it wouldnt even be started for 15 years!?
    Another strange coincidence is that the jobless figers were released at exactly the same time and instead of talking about the 35000 jobs lost Albanese came out with this load of tripe.

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  16. Matthew Thredgold

    Software Engineer/Secondary Teacher

    I can't believe the thinking behind this report where $114 billion would be spent in one go to build the whole system at once.

    An example of where a high speed system has been built is in South Korea. There the high speed rail starts on the outskirts of Seoul and were built first only to Daejeon. Then the trains ran on conventional tracks to Busan or other lines to the south west and for instance Mokpo. They've since completed the line to Busan, but a new line to Mokpo is still under construction…

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  17. Ronald Ostrowski

    logged in via Facebook

    Successive reports have been commissioned, at cost to the taxpayer, since 1974 (almost four decades ago). Reports, and, talk, talk, talk, and then more reports. The last report was 1993, and there was debate about a rail or monorail (maglev) version. Then much useless crap from the MSM about being stranded on some monorail in the middle of whoop, whoop. Then more talk, and talk, and then silence. Now again, a report and more talk, talk and talk. The cycle of reports and talk seems endless…

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    1. Peter Kardashinsky

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Ronald Ostrowski

      Ronald,

      As you say, the government has paying our tax money to consultants to write reports on this subject since 1974 (and the report says this project will take another 40 years to build). To put it in context, in 1974 China was still in the Cultural revolution period...and look what they have done simce then.

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  18. Peter Davies

    Bio-refinery technology developer

    Last Wednesday my wife and I spent 9 hours traveling to Sydney and back from Canberra on a rattling, rough excuse of a train. So anything that can improve this is welcome.

    However I was quite heavily involved in early studies in the 1990's on the VFT and the technology proposed is the same as then. Corridors required needed a "clear" space of several hundred meters (up to 3kms on a flat clear plain) and under a 200 meters would break windows in nearby housing. In fact it was preferred to follow…

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  19. Michael Block

    Idler

    I hear that the Coalition have prepared their HSR plan and are about to release it, it involves building a narrow gauge steam train line between Wagga and Albury and then connecting Melbourne to Sydney with privatised buses. It'll be cheaper and almost as fast.

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    1. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      You mean it was sarcasm? Sorry, I'd thought Michael must have got his hands on a leaked Coaltion policy paper...

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  20. John Schaub

    Designer and Social Innovator at Thinkframe Pty Ltd

    When working at ABB (rail builder) in Zurich 15 years ago, I recall that the main criteria for clients considering the viability of any HSR project were the average density of population along the entire length of track. The least viable projects are point-to-point over long distances, as in Australia.
    Australia was given as an example of one country neither geographically, nor demographically suited to HSR. Our major cities are too small and sprawling to feed one HSR terminal effectively. In many parts of Europe, HSR often acts as a standard-rail collector before undertaking only parts of the journey at high speed.
    In Melbourne the equivalent of this would be to start the journey beyond Dandenong, stop at least 9 key-stations within the suburbs and then become high speed beyond the airport. I can never see this happening here. Let us instead concentrate on optimising what we already have.

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  21. Albert Rogers

    logged in via Facebook

    Anything that depends upon "strong population and economic growth" in this overcrowded, over-exploited world is a bad idea. Other than that, rail beats roads and motorcars, and when folk wise up to the fact that nuclear energy, from breeder reactors, is the only alternative to the fossil fuels that WERE the alternative to immediate solar sources 200 years ago, electric rail will be the best way to go.
    Again "strong population and economic growth" is not a sustainable opiton.

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    1. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Albert Rogers

      There is the question of whether or not it is economic to continuously grow the population.

      Manufacturing is shrinking and shedding jobs, agriculture employs few people, mining has peaked and employs few people, tourism often has minimal job security and pays backpacker wages, and all that left is service industries.

      I don’t know why there needs to be a high speed rail line along the east coast of Australia to support service industries such as banking or the public service.

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    2. Michael Block

      Idler

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      We don't need to grow the population but we do need to redistribute it. Decreasing access times to regional areas makes them more attractive places for business that aren't just service based, but real industries that have access to high speed communications and high speed freight and travel. The problem is that if we don't improve the infrastrucure for all in this country then we'll all be living on backpacker wages

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    3. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Michael Block

      There appears to be a belief that inland Australia is some type of El Dorado.

      It is not.

      Inland Australia has minimal water, and best left to wildlife that uses minimal water.

      Humans are not that wildlife.

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    4. Michael Block

      Idler

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Dale there's a difference between the Simpson desert or even outback NSW and the areas around the proposed transport corridor. Are you suggesting that towns like Wagga, Albury and Shepparton are at the environmental limits and cannot sustain any population growth no matter how it is planned? Surely if people move to these towns from Sydney and Melbourne it reduces the existing stress on the environment already caused by these over-large cities?

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  22. James Hill

    Industrial Designer

    If Europe or China had the same population density as Australia they would not have high speed rail either.

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    1. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to James Hill

      And this expensive report has only been commissioned to shut up the endless urging of environmentalists on the subject.

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    2. Peter Kardashinsky

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to James Hill

      James,

      Indeed. I just had another look through the report and had a think about WHAT IT REALLY SAYS.

      No consultant wants to produce a "lemon", because if they do then they won't be asked to write another report. The economic justifiction presented in this report is marginal, and is based on some heroic asumptions about economic and population growth (84 million passengers per year). I get the impression that the project timing is an adjusted variable that gives the "correct" result. So, the real message is that Australia cannot justify this project for another 20 years at least, until population, and population density in State capitals regional centres is much higher than now. End of story

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    3. Michael Block

      Idler

      In reply to Peter Kardashinsky

      So if we can't justify it for 20 years and it'll take that long to build, then we'd better start on it right away surely?

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    4. Peter Kardashinsky

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Michael Block

      Michael, I suppose we should at least start questioning the numbers and the assumptions to start with and, like the author of this article, looking at alternatives...I'm not so sure about "start on it right away." It shouldn't take 20 years to build (and there is a lack of detail about what elements actually determine the critical path for this project timing) The "20 years to build" is just there to make the report look good and the project look feasible by counting in "savings" from other projects during the 20 year period that were "alternatives" that were not progressed, and for population density/growth assumptions to generate the desired passenger numbers .

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    5. Michael Block

      Idler

      In reply to Peter Kardashinsky

      Peter I agree that the time line does seem rather arbitrary and conservative. We do need to question the numbers but any visionary idea like this needs to be integrated into a range of policies to make it succeed: what sort of vision do we want for our country? Do we want 2 or 3 large mega-cities (Melbourne is aiming for 8 million!!!) with poor infrastructure and a relatively deserted continent or we want a more widely distributed but well connected community with good opportunity for all? Do we leave this decision to 'the market' to decide on nominally economic grounds (really economic self-interest grounds), or we we plan and spend money to actively create the vision that we want. I suppose it depends on your political persuasion and that's the problem.

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    6. Peter Kardashinsky

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Michael Block

      Michael, dare I say "What is to be done? " Yes, these days "we" are both "the market" and 'the problem' and our political persuasions are just the shadows we cast, depending on how strong the light is shone on us. I wonder if Albanese would have said that this is progressing immediatey, and every working Australian would be taxed $12,000 over the next 3 years to realise this "monumental" nation-building vision, what would the reaction have been? What would your reaction have been? The last "vision" of such magnitude which begot a strong consensus rather than division, that I can recall, was the Apollo program to put a man on the moon, which cost $25billion (1970 dollars, or $150 billion 2010 dollars) and which was completed within a decade, and resulted in a world-first result, not a catch-up.

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    7. Michael Block

      Idler

      In reply to Peter Kardashinsky

      Peter I don't think that I'm necessarily typical but what I'd say is 'where do I sign up'. Most people seem to be unaware of the link between taxation and public infrastructure, I'm much happier to pay for something that provides a tangible benefit for the community now and in the future rather than watching infrastructure and public services slashed to provide the holy surplus.

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    8. Albert Rogers

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Peter Kardashinsky

      I would rather pay the government taxes enough for a National Health Service, than pay banks and the like "health Insurance".

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  23. Arthur James Egleton Robey

    Industrial Electrician

    I see that the thread has already collapsed into egos and personalities. Hint: It is not all about you.
    Why do we have to go faster? Because of the exponential nature of growth. The metaphor is that of an accelerating car. The driver sees the brick wall coming up and steps on the accelerator.
    We need a lot of comfortable, lower speed trains with decent sleepers in them so that we can all get a good nights sleep. The bean counters will have to get used to a sloower pace as the world runs short of transportation fuel. Airlines are falling out of the sky because their business model converts kerosine into cash. Why do you think that servos are not allowed to sell kero anymore?

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  24. Garry Baker

    researcher

    Don't know what it is with the Canberra set, but every time their fortunes flag, another big ticket item is trotted out. As usual though, when the news headlines dim, so will their grand ideas. In this case, more than forty years of using the same play

    I'm of the view that consumer targeted space travel will probably arrive long before we ever see a high speed rail operating in Australia. Unless of course, our growing band of Colonial masters choose to make it so - It's just that Canberra won't…

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  25. Muvaffak GOZAYDIN

    President of ONLINE Learning Co non-profit

    I made a feasibility 10 years ago.
    Magnet train, without wheels, at 550 km/hour speed.
    from Peking to Paris .
    The investment is $ 350 billion .
    Trains leave in every 15 minutes for passenger and cargo
    Duration is 24 hours from peking to Paris .
    It was feasible . Airlines and shipping companies objected for sure .
    Australia is very unpopulated without any calculation I can say it is unfeasible . Do not force it .

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