Aug 4, 2011

Australia’s transport future: first stage of high speed rail study released

The Gillard Labor Government has taken the first step towards progressing the vision of a modern, high speed rail network connecting two-thirds of Australians and providing a new foundation for a low carbon, high productivity economy.

Today I’ve released the first stage of the implementation study, a key commitment given by Federal Labor prior to the 2010 Election. Based on this preliminary work, an eastern seaboard network connecting Brisbane to Melbourne via Sydney and a range of regional centres is expected to:

  • Cost between $61 billion and $108 billion to build and involve laying more than 1,600 kilometres of new standard-gauge, double-track.
  • Achieve speeds of up 350 kilometres per hour and offer journey times as low as 3 hours from Sydney to Brisbane, and just 40 minutes from Sydney to Newcastle.
  • Carry around 54 million passengers a year by 2036 including, for example, about half those who would have flown between Sydney and Melbourne – currently the world’s fifth busiest air corridor.
  • Offer competitive ticket prices, with one way fares from Brisbane to Sydney costing $75–$177; Sydney to Melbourne $99–$197; and $16.50 for daily commuters between Newcastle and Sydney.
  • Cut carbon pollution, with emissions per passenger a third of what a car emits and each full train – 450 passengers – equivalent to taking 128 cars off the road.

For many Australians, high speed rail would be an attractive alternative. Imagine boarding a train in the centre of Sydney – no racing to the airport, no delays, no lost luggage, no taking your shoes off – and then being whisked at 350 kilometres per hour, arriving three hours later in the heart of either Brisbane or Melbourne.

Indeed, for individuals as well as the wider community the potential benefits of this technology are hard to ignore. It could better integrate our regional and metropolitan communities, ease congestion on our roads and at our airports, and substantially reduce carbon pollution.

High speed rail could be a game changer. That’s why the Gillard Labor Government has put it back on the national agenda.

There are of course critics of high speed rail – but its success elsewhere in the world says otherwise.

In Spain, the line between Madrid and Seville is so popular that it carries more people between those cities than car and airplane combined. China – where service began just four years ago – is already close to having more kilometres of high speed rail than any other country. In the birthplace of this technology, the Japanese are building a line from Tokyo to Osaka which will deliver speeds of 500 km/hr.

So it’s being done; it’s just not being done here, yet.

However, this kind of monumental endeavour must take place in a deliberate, thoughtful manner. That’s why over the next 12 months these preliminary findings will be further refined including via the commissioning of geotechnical work.

The Study’s first stage was conducted by an AECOM led consortium comprising KPMG, Sinclair Knight Merz and Grimshaw Architects. The contract for the second and final stage is currently out to tender.

The community is also encouraged to provide their feedback of the work so far by making submissions to the dedicated High Speed Rail Unit within my Department by going to: www.infrastructure.gov.au/rail/trains/high_speed/index.aspx.

A full copy of the Stage One report can be downloaded from: www.infrastructure.gov.au/rail/trains/high_speed/index.aspx.