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Could high-speed rail between Sydney and Canberra be a reality?

The announcement by prime minister Kevin Rudd and minister for transport Anthony Albanese on high-speed rail suggests both men at least want to maintain the momentum of the debate on the project. Firstly…

High speed rail is back on the agenda, at least for the election. AAP

The announcement by prime minister Kevin Rudd and minister for transport Anthony Albanese on high-speed rail suggests both men at least want to maintain the momentum of the debate on the project.

Firstly, Mr Albanese released and praised an advisory report suggesting the viability of such a project.

Mr Rudd then committed to set up a high-speed rail authority as well as $52 million worth of spending on a business case and market testing of station locations and cost estimates (and possibly some land acquisitions) for the proposed Brisbane-Sydney-Canberra-Melbourne line.

In my last piece for The Conversation in May, I concluded that “high-speed rail in Australia would be very exciting indeed to have, but unless the government is prepared to make a strategic rather than a cost benefit decision on this project I don’t see any high-speed rail coming to Australia in the near future”.

Since then the fundamentals have not changed, other than Australia being very close to an election. The timing of the both announcements is not typical of the approach usually given to such strategic long-term decisions, particularly since the potential incoming government has not declared its support for such a project.

In terms of the fundamentals, let’s start with the positives. It would certainly make a lot of sense to break the proposed Brisbane-Melbourne link (worth $114 billion) into smaller pieces and Canberra to Sydney appears to be the most feasible first option.

Rail versus flight

According to the advisory report, this first leg could be up and running within 17 years and would cost some $23 billion. The report also suggests fares (single) on such a high speed rail service of around $42 to $69 in order to be competitive to air services.

While airlines (particularly low cost carriers such as Jetstar and Tigerair) will most probably be able to offer such a trip for less money, a key benefit of the high speed train option would be convenience. The high speed trains would connect city centre with city centre, with less hassle (security, luggage) compared to airports. Passengers would be able to work on the trains, which is particularly important to high-yielding business travellers.

The 300 kilometre distance would be ideal as the international experience shows that for trips of up to 400km, the total trip time (door-to-door) of high-speed rail is similar to that of aviation, assuming that both ends of the route are in the city centres of the cities in question.

Again from international experience we know that integrating high speed rail with airports drives demand and it is likely that there is large potential for travellers originating from Canberra’s CBD who would take a high-speed train to Sydney airport to connect with a long haul international flight.

The management of Canberra airport argues the same, just with opposite traffic flows (Sydney CBD to Canberra airport), which shows the importance of the terminal location in terms of CBD and airport connectivity and the need to conduct further research (at the Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies (ITLS) we are currently looking into such topics for the European context).

Again, breaking the project into smaller pieces helps to understand the details and complexities involved and is further useful to build momentum and public support. Whether the route will ever go beyond Sydney-Canberra is another matter.

Cautious analysis

This brings us to the points that require cautious analysis. The advisory report claims the project can be delivered for much less than what was indicated in the Phase 2 HSR Report released in April. Yet it still talks about exactly the same amount - $23 billion - for the Canberra-Sydney leg.

While I agree that this figure might be reduced a little by international tendering of the rail construction project, evidence from past projects shows that in almost all high-speed rail cases, the initial cost estimates had to be revised once the actual construction had started. Large cost increases could result primarily as a result of the problem of accessing Sydney’s CBD, apparently involving a 67km tunnel (and about 144km of tunnelling required for the entire 1748km route).

A really, really fast train

Such tunnelling is not only complex but also expensive. On top of those costs it will then also be interesting to see if the passenger forecasts will indeed materialise. Again, to make the high speed train competitive to aviation, it will have to be a very fast train.

The predicted speed of 350 km/h would be nice to achieve (in order to make the trip in 64 minutes) and may be possible in the future. Today however, most high speed trains have a top speed of 320 km/h and to achieve short travel times they hardly stop along the route.

For example, the Frecciarossa high speed trains in Italy connects the cities in the north (Turin – Milan – Bologna) with the south (Rome – Naples – Salerno) with a mostly non-stop service - and reaching hardly more than 300 km/h. (I tested these train services in July this year.)

The comfort in those trains is comparable to air services, with pricing depending on the cabin class. While some of the trains stop in smaller cities, the system works because of the “super frequency” of over 72 daily connections on that corridor.

As those frequencies are not likely in the Sydney CBD to Canberra CBD (with potential airport stops) context, the route would be an ideal candidate for a large number of non-stop services. It is questionable whether there would be sufficient demand to justify more than one stop, (The current proposal aims for one stop at Southern Highlands.) along the route for most trains, assuming the aim is to relieve the aviation system. If the aim is to connect regional centres (as in the extended proposal where there would be a lot of stops between Sydney and Melbourne and even more between Sydney and Brisbane), then the proposed number of stops along the route might be feasible but is unlikely to contribute much to relieving the aviation system.

Finding the balance between the two objectives by choosing how many non-stop trains to operate will be a key challenge (currently proposed are five non-stop and five regional trains per hour during peak hours).

Other legs doubtful

Despite the many open questions, today’s largely political events (the two announcements) may indeed lead to some more substantive investments on the Sydney-Canberra route, but it is to some degree doubtful whether such a rail link (should it ever materialise) will ever go beyond those two cities.

Again, by focusing on the Sydney-Canberra leg (shown by ITLS research as far back as 1996 and detailed in the 1997 SPEEDRAIL report for the Sydney-Canberra Corridor), the project becomes more manageable and should the economics of that route not work, one would still be able to stop its extensions to Melbourne and Brisbane.

Should the first leg become viable, there would then be a much stronger case for the minimum of $91 billion required to complete the Brisbane-Melbourne corridor.

It is in any case, with the future of a second Sydney airport uncertain, a worthwhile idea to preserve the necessary corridors. Whether this will help make the project economically viable is an entirely different question.

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61 Comments sorted by

  1. Mike Stasse

    retired energy consultant

    The whole high speed rail thing is utter nonsense, whether it comes from the Greens or now the ALP. It's far too late, we should have done this thirty years ago instead of building all those freeways and tunnels. But of course thirty years ago, we had so much oil production capacity, nobody believed it would run out........

    Fact of the matter is, going fast, in ANY vehicle, wastes energy. Double the speed, and you require four times the energy. Energy 101.

    We are about to enter the energy…

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    1. Mark Amey

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      I agree, Mike. There's plenty of support for a 'bullet train' from Newcastle to Sydney, leading up to the election. What most of it's supporters don't realise is that a well maintained, well organised cod-ordinary train could do the trip in about an hour if there was no stopping for track work, goods trains in the way, etc, etc. This could be achieved with an extra couple of tracks to divide goods from passenger trains.

      Frankly, I can't see the current crop of rail staff (at least in NSW) managing a high speed train!

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    2. Mike Jubow

      forestry nurseryman

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Mike, I agree with you wholeheartedly. It seems that when the politicians get excited about high speed rail, they think in the terms of passengers only. I would presume that this is due to the fact that they are mostly city-centric and have never had the experience of the minus factors of living in regional areas where inwards and outwards freight is so expensive and slow.

      Yes, we do need a 50/50 mix of modernized passenger/freight rail. The rural economies of Australia, in general, are suffering…

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    3. Mike Stasse

      retired energy consultant

      In reply to Mike Jubow

      What most people don't realise is that Australia will be out of oil by ~2020. Worse..... by 2020, most oil exporting nations will be in no position to export anything like as much oil as we currently take for granted.... nations that have stopped being nett exporters of oil started with the USA in 1971 when they hit their Peak Oil, Egypt, VietNam, Indonesia, the list is very long. As an aside, VietNam was until fairly recently our single biggest source of oil, but now exports none. They use every drop themselves.....

      There are signs on the Bruce which say "without trucks, Australia stops"

      I've often thought about adding "without oil, all the trucks stop"!

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    4. Ben Neill

      Mobile/Web Applications Developer

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      The need to travel will still be there, the difference is HSR can be powered by alternatives to fossil fuels - be that renewables or nuclear (especially LFTR reactors where the fuel is abundant and the risks are orders of magnitude smaller than conventional reactors)

      I understand what you are getting at around our energy usage, and you are right about needing to be smarter with our energy usage, but back to the dark ages isn't the way forward.

      The need is still there, we have to find a way to enable it realistically.

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    5. John McPherson

      public transport advocate

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      High Speed Rail could at least run on renewable electricity. Latest studies show new photovoltaic and wind power are as cheap or cheaper than new coal, without any subsidies.

      The ordinary Sydney-Melbourne rail line is now 2/3rds double track, with numerous long passing lanes where it's not. Signalling is modern, sleepers are concrete, rails heavy duty. However after vast expenditure the percentage of freight on rail Melbourne-Sydney is below 10%. Crazy. The user charges for rail are so high that freight forwarders stick with the tax-payer financed highway and screw owner-driver truckies. Stuff safety and the environment.

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    6. John McPherson

      public transport advocate

      In reply to Mark Amey

      A recent study in "Railway Digest", June 2013 assessed the possibilities for faster Newcastle-Sydney rail journeys on the present, mostly sinuous alignment. It found an express electric tilt train running up to 160km/hr would still take 1hour 40min at best. Any new alignment should be for high speed, with possibly 2 Central Coast stops. The buildup of concentrated population along the NSW coast from Sydney to the Gold Coast suggests to me the need for a Sydney-Brisbane HSR line might be the most urgent. The present North Coast rail alignment is beyond help, so sadly pathetic as to make Sydney-Melbourne look acceptable.

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    7. David Pearn

      Follower

      In reply to John McPherson

      The ridiculous fact is that the taxpayer effectively subsidises the trucking industry (the foundation structure of the 'freeway' is grossly over dimension to cope with vehicular loading) and to sustain the parallel rail system we are forced to subsidise it.

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    8. John McPherson

      public transport advocate

      In reply to Mike Jubow

      Having grown up in regional Queensland, I agree the Bruce Highway is a sad travesty. Dual carriageways only extend at most 150km north of Brisbane. Queensland Railways have had generous funding for some major upgrades to the main coastal route to Townsville and Cairns. A higher percentage of freight goes north from Brisbane by rail than further south. However with current laissez-faire transport policies, much more freight is on the inadequate road. Again forget the environment and road safety.

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    9. John McPherson

      public transport advocate

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      The Queensland North Coast railway is actually electrified for 600km north to Rockhampton. Possible renewable power for the future.

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    10. Mike Jubow

      forestry nurseryman

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      There are signs on the Bruce which say "without trucks, Australia stops"

      I've often thought about adding "without oil, all the trucks stop"!

      Mike the first opportunity I get, I will do it for you.

      Note to Self. " Keep bloody big felt pens in the car"!

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    11. John McPherson

      public transport advocate

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Sure the energy savings are always the best form of renewable energy. The latest European HSR trains are using less energy through more efficient electric motors, better streamlining and lower weight. French Alstom company claims their latest 300km/hr model uses no more energy than older 200km/hr trains. Yes there might be a debate about ALL high speed modes including air for the future. If all energy is constrained in the future then HSR routes could certainly operate at low speed......

      Checked…

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  2. Jonathan Adamson

    Brain Surgeon

    What does it matter if it is expensive? Every dollar spent stays in the country and when it is up and running it works off local fuel. Better than hand outs that go to American Car Company Shareholders. The only problem is that it is too far away. If US can make a plan and get to the moon in less than 10 years in the 60s we should be able to get from Sydney to Melbourne in the same time. This being said we need to get the corridors fixed first. I have been going Sydney to Gosford since the 60s by train and road. Then there was a winding road and a winding rail track. Now we have a straight highway but still a winding rail track. It is about time we started to put some effort into rail.

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    1. Mike Stasse

      retired energy consultant

      In reply to Jonathan Adamson

      In the 60's the USA hadn't even hit Peak Oil yet........ With loads of cheap and abundant oil, you can do anything, even go to the Moon.

      And I totally agree, "It is about time we started to put some effort into rail", because ANY train is better than no train, it's even better than a bullet train........

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  3. Rory Cunningham
    Rory Cunningham is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Test Analyst

    I too am skeptical of a HSR, mainly because of the competition from air. I live in canberra and the only use i would have for the HSR is for work. It's only a 3hour drive to sydney and it is far more flexible and cheaper to drive up to sydney, how long that will be viable for though is unknown.

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    1. Ben Neill

      Mobile/Web Applications Developer

      In reply to Rory Cunningham

      As oil gets exponentially more expensive, flying will not be so economical.

      HSR is somewhat less dependent, assuming it is electric motors - renewables and nuclear can power it.

      Also as stated, the time spent milling around in an airport negates the faster travel time usually.

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    2. John McPherson

      public transport advocate

      In reply to Rory Cunningham

      A one hour Canberra-Sydney High Speed Rail journey would make an evening in Sydney possible. Of course, High Speed Rail needs high frequency public transport as an urban adjunct.

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    3. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Ben Neill

      Not enough fresh water in Australia for wholesale substitution of coal-fired power generation with nuclear.

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  4. Fred Payne

    retired

    Did I see a comment that just by building the Sydney Canberra section running, the need to build a second airport in the Sydney basin would be negated?
    If my memory serves me correctly, the reasons the 2nd airport did not go ahead at last attempt were air quality concerns for the whole Sydney basin, concerns about noise pollution for the population of Sydney's greater west, and the lack of infrastructure services to the site. As far as I can see these problems still remian.
    Building a High speed rail will be an expensive exercise, but so is building an airport. It seems to me that the high speed rail would serve at least as many people with much reduced environmental impact

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    1. Mike Stasse

      retired energy consultant

      In reply to Fred Payne

      Never fear........ hardly anyone will be flying within ten years.

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    2. David Kemp

      Professor of Agricultural Systems at Charles Sturt University

      In reply to Fred Payne

      You have to really wonder if the costs are being inflated to kill of these proposals. China is building 40,000kms of high speed rail and much will be finished by 2016. That experience means they could build one here with greater efficiency than a novice. The teething problems in China mean they know more of the potential problems and can minimise them. Having travelled on HSR on China, Japan, France, I can't see why you want to choose an aircraft - its clearly second class. Have the savings in airports, roads etc been factored in to the current budgets?
      Trains would also run on electricity, which won't run out.

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    3. Mike Stasse

      retired energy consultant

      In reply to David Kemp

      Soooooo electricity comes out of thin air now..?

      How can you compare China, with 1.3 billion people to Australia with 0.023 billion........

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    4. Jeremy Culberg

      Electrical Asset Manager at Power Generation

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Mike, with a bit of commitment, Australia could go fossil fuel free in terms of electricity in 15 years. There is a technology that has been around for a while that could do it - nuclear. Australia's uranium and thorium reserves could keep us going for some significant time - centuries at least.
      If climate change is real (and I think it is) and we want to maintain a semblance of our current living standards (and most of us don't want to revert back), then some compromises will need to be made…

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    5. John McPherson

      public transport advocate

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Future electricity comes from renewables. High Speed Rail powered by electricity, not by fossil fuels. France has been building High Speed Rail successfully for 30 years now, with more to come. Their population density is not high; largish cities at fairly large distances apart. A bit like Brisbane-Sydney-Melbourne in Australia.

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    6. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Jeremy Culberg

      Not enough fresh water in Australia for wholesale substitution of coal-fired power generation with nuclear.

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    7. Jeremy Culberg

      Electrical Asset Manager at Power Generation

      In reply to David Arthur

      David, as far as I am aware, you don't need any fresh water to run a nuclear power plant - all cooling can be done via saltwater systems, and from the same salt water, demineralised water (which admittedly could be described as fresh), can be derived (exactly as they do on the nuclear powered ships). And the volumes of cooling water required for cooling towers can be reduced significantly using a full air cooled system (as Kogan, Qld, uses now), or the hybrid models (combined air cooling / evaporative…

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    8. Mike Stasse

      retired energy consultant

      In reply to Jeremy Culberg

      Tough new rules imposed by the State Water Board Tuesday would force 19 coastal power plants to begin phasing out their reliance on ocean-water cooling systems — raising the specter of giant towers erected along I-5 to cool the San Onofre nuclear plant.

      San Onofre and the other plants, including the AES plant in Huntington Beach, were given deadlines to make technological updates to their cooling system by the Water Board, which voted to approve the new rules late Tuesday. The deadlines are years…

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    9. Jeremy Culberg

      Electrical Asset Manager at Power Generation

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Mike, thanks for that. It doesn't negate my argument that it is technically feasible for Australia to utilise nuclear power, using a combination of saltwater systems, freshwater systems (lets face it, the current coal fired power stations consume a lot of water), and dry cooling technologies. Australia could acutally learn from the issues of the rest of the world, and put in world class technology, which ensures the minimum footprint.
      Whatever form of power we choose to use into the future, they all have a footprint. Be it acres of windfarms, or solar farms, hydro electric schemes (who would build a dam now?), coal and gas fired thermal generation, or nuclear. It is matter of choosing which footprint we want for the lifestyle we choose to live.

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    10. Mike Stasse

      retired energy consultant

      In reply to Jeremy Culberg

      Which is precisely why we should live more simply so we may simply live.......

      Forget nukes mate.......... they cost double what it costs to build them just to decommission them...... and the nations that have them now will never be able to afford to build new ones while thy are saddled with having to decommission old nukes.

      Centralised power generation is a dumb idea. Want electric trains everywhere? Line the side of the tracks with PVs...... like this:

      http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/jun/06/tunnel-solar-belgium-rail

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    11. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Jeremy Culberg

      Thanks for that detailed explanation, Jeremy. You've provided considerable more detail that EXACTLY supports statements I've made elsewhere on the Conversation about where nuclear power stations should be located in Australia - namely on the coast.

      The reference to Kogan Creek using air cooling is all very well, but it comes at cost of a few percentage points of efficiency. Fine in itself, if you've got oodles of spare energy production to waste, but that's not the situation here.

      Of course…

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  5. David Pearn

    Follower

    Sydney's 'cargo cult' mentality in full view.
    Newcastle to Sydney and on to Canberra and if it doesn't prove economic, don't continue on from there.....says it all and at Australian taxpayer expense.
    Forgive the cynicism, but the 'entitlement' mentality is regularly on display in the Sydney hot-house.

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    1. Jonathan Adamson

      Brain Surgeon

      In reply to David Pearn

      You are correct if the Sydney Opera House, Snowy Mountains Scheme, Sydney Harbour Bridge etc are part of the 'entitlement' mentality then they are far more on display than anything produced by the 'troglodite' mentality. Bring on Infrastructure Tony and hope he is more than just promise.

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    2. Mike Stasse

      retired energy consultant

      In reply to David Pearn

      Precisely...... what makes people think they're entitled to these long and unsustainable commutes?

      If you live that far from your work..... MOVE!

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  6. Michael Brown

    Professional, academic, company director

    John Howard's Adelaide to Darwin rail disaster shows this sort of populist proposal needs rigorous analysis. And the toll road messes in Brisbane and Sydney were just as bad. We urgently need Infrastructure Australia set up to carry out properly independent analyses of all major projects, with full cost-benefit analysis, and then all projects ranked. Otherwise we will continue to allow pork-barrelling populist politicians to waste billions.

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    1. John McPherson

      public transport advocate

      In reply to Michael Brown

      Dare I say it: a transcontinental rail line like Adelaide-Darwin is a nation building project for the next 100 years. John Howard finished the 1400km section north from Alice Springs. Whitlam built the southern section. 80% of general freight to Darwin now goes by rail. More and more mineral exploitation projects are making use of rail to ports north and south, including Roxby Downs and some iron ore.

      When tollways are refinanced, while continuing to operate do "The Australian" and friends claim a financial disaster? Not likely. Transcontinental railways are long term projects, but necessary.

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  7. David Pearn

    Follower

    Constantly referring to this project as the Brisbane - Melbourne high speed rail is just a way of underplaying to true intent ie give Sydney based mandarins the ability to 'commute' daily so they can give advice to politicians on how to carve up the infrastructure pie to their advantage.

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  8. John McPherson

    public transport advocate

    Rico Merkert's article damns High Speed Rail (HSR) for Australia with faint praise. After all his background is in aviation. Japan's Shinkansen show it's possible to operate regional HSR multi-stop trains on the same 2 tracks as non-stop Super Bullet trains. The regional centres between Melbourne-Sydney-Brisbane could have hourly services both ways or each of more frequent express service could make a limited number of the regional stops. In my opinion the HSR interior ambience is far superior (not…

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  9. peter mackenzie

    Transport Development and Road Safety Researcher

    Here's some thoughts on a start-up for HSR - just like buying the Hornby 'starter sets' when as a kid you couldn't afford the toy trains you really wanted.

    Preserve a corridor into Sydney (and northward for extension to Newcastle onward)

    Build new HSR from Liverpool to Canberra for 320 kph (later 350kph)

    Use reportedly preserved alignment along Majura Parkway (under construction)

    Continue HSR link to Yass and Harden

    Preserve HSR corridor out through Melbourne suburbs

    Build…

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  10. Phil S

    Physics PhD Student

    Maybe we should try building a hyperloop? (http://www.gizmag.com/hyperloop-musk-analysis/28672/)

    Sure it's not a fully developed plan, but surely we have engineering researchers in Australia to fill in the holes. We could manufacture everything locally, and then export the technology to the rest of the world! Might help to boost the economy.

    Well I can dream :)

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    1. Ben Neill

      Mobile/Web Applications Developer

      In reply to Phil S

      That hyperloop is awesome, but I am not sure it could be done over such long distances - certainly not for a first attempt!

      Something like that would be great for sydney -> newcastle as a testbed though!

      The other issue is Elon Musk has pretty much said he can't devote time to it, and being a lot if it is inside his head, it would be difficult to pull off without him!

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  11. Kym Lennox

    logged in via LinkedIn

    European experience shows that the convenience in service and on-time performance provides the keys to market dominance by HSR even when its slower door-to-door. Eurostar captured 65% of the market London-Paris when its average speed inside the M25 was only just under 50mph (80kph) - it actually took longer to pass through Seven Oaks Station from Waterloo via the Eurostar than it took the regional train to take you there!

    Sydney-Canberra is 3+ hours by car and 2h25m by plane (tested). HSR even…

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    1. John McPherson

      public transport advocate

      In reply to Kym Lennox

      Good stuff Kym. Could you point us to some references. With HS1 completed direct to St Pancras, rail has 80% of combined air/rail London-Paris market.

      Much of the existing Melbourne-Sydney rail route, particularly south of Junee has a reasonable alignment and could be up-graded for 200-220km/hr electric tilt trains. A new alignment east from Junee to near Goulburn would be needed for a worthwhile cut to distance and journey time. North from Goulburn to Campbeltown, the current alignment would…

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    2. Kym Lennox

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to John McPherson

      Thanks. Many of our references are not in the public domain. However, the references on pp44-45 in our report as commissioned by the NSW Business Chamber are a good start (http://bit.ly/10h3wV2).

      The tilt-train mid-step has shown to be useful where the service model includes regional-to-region services, but the lack of sizable population centers for the distances involved in Australia would tend to suggest that all track and alignment improvements should target a 300km/h or higher capacity…

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    3. Mark Amey

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Kym Lennox

      Kym and John, this has been a fascinating debate. All of the information outlined above makes a lot of sense. I agree, sub three hours CBD to CBD is probably achievable but at great cost. I do suggest that, if someone does successfully create a HSR between two large population centres, that there will be a flow-on effect, and everybody will want one. My question is, where do we start?

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    4. Kym Lennox

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Mark Amey

      Simple question, no simple answer. SYD-MEL is the busiest air-route per capita in the world by quite a margin (it is usually in the top 5 routes overall but the others in the top 10 link far larger populations). It would seem "obvious" to start here and this is in fact the outcome of the HSR study. However, it is too large a project to consider a 'start'.

      SYD-CBR is then a very good option - and is the outcome of the HSR Advisory Group report just released. In theory the service should all but…

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    5. Kym Lennox

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Mark Amey

      Thanks for the endorsement. I'm not one to follow the policy line when I can't find the evidence to support it (or worse the evidence points in a different direction). I also don't do well with departmental demarcation - that is, "this is my turf and that it yours, stay out" situations. In the end, we don't really make decisions in Australia based on a robust analysis - if we did, GST wouldn't have been left out of the terms of reference of the Henry Report, the CBD Metro wouldn't have made it past…

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    6. John McPherson

      public transport advocate

      In reply to Kym Lennox

      Your concept for high speed outer urban rail service is fascinating. The utility of any new HSR urban trackage would be much enhanced. Because of low densities and sprawl, current outer suburban/regional train service for Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane tend to be slow because of the need to share long lengths of track with ordinary suburban services. Less of a problem in compact European cities. Commuter trains from Luton and Bedford can continue at 140km/hr until only 5 km north of St Pancras terminal.

      Regarding Sydney's second harbour rail crossing - would not the obvious, least expensive option be to utilise the 2 extra rail tracks allowed for in Bradfield's original Harbour Bridge plan? If the loss of 2 traffic lanes was unacceptable, an upper bridge deck could carry up to 6 extra traffic lanes and would hardly affect the bridge outline owing to the massiveness of the structure. Apparently some of the tunnel for new rail tracks under the Sydney CBD already exists.

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    7. Kym Lennox

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to John McPherson

      I was involved in a workshop with people actually looking to find a solution where the Harbour Bridge could be a 2nd crossing for heavy rail - we failed. The detail is a bit much for this forum, but suffice to say that ameliorating the impacts of lane removal or facilitating linkages to a new deck level were more expensive than simply doing a tunnel.

      There are protected corridors within the CBD to ensure that planning approval is not provided to a building with a basement that would cut off running…

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    8. John McPherson

      public transport advocate

      In reply to Kym Lennox

      Thanks for the Bridge clarification, Kym. Sydney's regional topography certainly complicates transport solutions. Any HSR heading north would need a huge, dramatic viaduct across the Hawkesbury Valley. Certainly the Central Coast and Newcastle have to be served but the Illawarra tends to be forgotten. Heading south out of Sydney should not a HSR service go via Woolongong before heading inland to the Southern Highlands and Canberra? I know the geology is problematic.

      The whole North Coast of NSW…

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    9. Kym Lennox

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to John McPherson

      I originally saw Woolongong as a preferred option, however the escarpment is a really terrible geological structure following the mining activity and the alignment back inland to Canberra has issues and significant costs implications. The better option is to interline the through Sydney HSR operation with a through Sydney VFT (i.e 200km/h) that serves the Illawarra. It would still require something very innovative and unfortunately expensive at the escarpment but far cheaper than attempting to meet…

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  12. David Arthur

    resistance gnome

    I haven't yet seen a comment from Gerard Dean on this page about how advocates for high speed rail shuttle around the country requiring vast quantities of petroleum-derived fuel.

    Why not?

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  13. Greg Minter

    Manufacturer

    A Bris-Melb $150 bil high speed rail by 2050 is ludicrous! How small minded and confused.
    Airfares will be even cheaper by then. That means maximized transport access to airports.

    Electricity costs will cripple industry and production in Aust by 2050. We need that money for 5 nuclear power plants minimum. We need a board of visionary consultants set up to steer Aust into the future. We don't need public referendums on best case decisions, because this country has brainwashed us to believe nuclear power is unsafe.

    We need bold, visionary, positive and decisive actions implemented, similar to how the controversial new biker laws and ridiculous carbon tax were boldly put in place. There is NO carbon in nuclear energy, and no future in high speed rail that does not stop or connect dwindling communities of regional centers.

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    1. Mike Stasse

      Retired Energy Consultant

      In reply to Greg Minter

      By 2050, NOBODY will be flying! There won't be any oil left. In fact, it's highly likely that NOBODY will be flying by 2025....

      By 2050, the collapse of industrial civilisation will be in full swing, world population may already have reduced to 6 billion, the least of your problems will be how much a ticket between Brisbane and Melbourne will cost you..

      Oh and BTW......... there IS Carbon in nuclear.
      http://damnthematrix.wordpress.com/2013/10/08/does-nuclear-energy-produce-no-co2/

      By 2050, there won't be any operating nukes either, except maybe in China....... and ALL western nuke sites will have been abandoned as no one will be able to afford decommissioning them, let alone build more of them.

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    2. John McPherson

      public transport advocate

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Mike, I'd be interested in your 'take' on biofuels (bio-diesel, bio-jet fuel). Are they likely to keep aviation and diesel powered transport functioning in a low carbon future? Bio-diesel produced on the farm from plant oils might power agriculture.

      Agree with you regarding nuclear for electric power. Seems highly problematic and expensive compared with PV and wind; while wave power is coming along. Renewables are now as cheap on an annualised basis as new coal fired electric power.

      East Coast HS Rail could be both high speed and low carbon - reformulated low carbon concrete is now available. Of course, some services would stop at intermediate regional cities making the NSW North Coast, for instance, extremely attractive, as capital city access would take no longer than 2 hours. At an hourly frequency all day. Japanese bullet trains operate with express and semi-express services, all on one double track route. Faster trains overtake slower ones stopped at stations.

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    3. Mike Stasse

      Retired Energy Consultant

      In reply to John McPherson

      I don't see a future for biofuel, because right now most of the crops used are farmed using fossil fuels to till the earth, fertilise, irrigate, harvest and transport.....

      As fossil fuels become scarcer and more expensive, there will not be enough to do all that AND feed us at the same time....... and in any case I don't believe there is enough biomass around to waste on fuels. I've seen figures that showed that if Australia converted its entire wheat crop to ethanol (an inferior fuel to petrol…

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    4. David Pearn

      Follower

      In reply to John McPherson

      Who is going to financially underwrite this, the private sector keeps burning its fingers with toll roads and tunnels.
      I certainly wouldn't want my super invested in such a project and the governments are all risk averse nowadays.
      It's surely a fantasy for a continent this large and a population short of a hundred million.

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