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

The Conversation

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.

Dr Rico Merkert is Senior Lecturer in Aviation Management at the Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies at The University of Sydney.

Originally published by the The Conversation. Republished with permission.

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The only way to make the Brisbane to Melbourne project stack up is to take a 50 year or longer view and frame the economics in terms of new city and related industry establishment along the route, together with the immigration programme to make it happen. I don't think a 3 year election cycle supports this.

A high speed rail network could run on the existing tracks from Sydney to Goulburn, with very little upgrade required. Only the Goulburn to Canberra leg needs a substantial upgrade.

High speed trains have adaptive suspension systems, and do not need the elaborate tracks that very high speed trains do.

A 180km/hr train service starting at the airport - Central - Strathfield - Liverpool - Canberra Airport, Canberra should take about 2 hours, 15 minutes (2 hours Central to Canberra Airport),

This is on par with the time it takes to get from Gatwick to Heathrow by bus or trains.

Why does everyone insist on jumping this middle step?

If such a service proves profitable, then, maybe, we could consider a VFT.

Similarly Sydney-Melbourne. If we could improve the current 12 hours for that journey down to significantly less than the 9 it takes by car, maybe people would put their car on the train like many do for the trip to/from Perth? The Sydney to Melbourne route would need very little upgrade.

A 180km/hr train would do that journey, with stops, in less than 5 hours. Petrol, alone, for a typical sedan already would cost $100, each way, for that journey.

A modern, laden, semi-trailer does around 40-50l/100km, so a one way trip costs about $550 - $600, in diesel fuel alone. Given mandatory stops that drivers are required, the journey from Sydney to Melbourne would take around 11 hours, which with overheads is around $350 in labour. So a target price of less than $900 per average sized container would seem achievable and offer value for money.

Surely, a 180km/train could be made profitable if it set charges comparable with these charges.

Surely some point could be picked near Liverpool or Campbelltown where cars could drive up, be loaded into car carriers, and semi-trailers would arrive too, and have their containers loaded onto the train.

I know that I would take my car to Melbourne for a football match rather than fly, if only I didn't have to spend 9 hours on the road each way.

The fuel savings that an upgrade of the Sydney - Melbourne rail corridor could make would be substantial. It would save far more fuel than trying to get people off the air corridor.

Why are people chasing the fruit at the top of the tree? Let us first start with the ones at the bottom.

Australia presently spends around $10 billion on roads. It is obvious that heavy vehicles contribute to the damage of these roads and therefore the cost of their upkeep (though quantifying this is highly complex and impossible to do justice to within this short comment). Reducing the need for heavy vehicles on roads would thus reduce the cost of developing and maintaining the road network and it would also reduce, to some extent, deaths and maiming injuries resulting from accidents involving trucks and fatigued drivers.

The width of the Standard Gauge railway is four feet eight and a half inches. Famously, it is said this was based on the distance between two tracks made by two horses, walking side by side, pulling a Roman Chariot. In other words, our modern day rail gauge is based on a Roman Chariot. Cynics would say that our railway systems have not progressed all that far from those times. The high speed rail, by the way, would be based on the same gauge.

It is true that railways tend to attract enthusiasts who are more wedded to tradition than technology and I sense some part of the enthusiasm for a high speed train is the glamour of the project.

The father of the British railways was Islamabad Brunel. He was one of the most brilliant civil and mechanical engineers the world has ever seen and interestingly, back in the 1800's he suggested that the Standard Gauge was too small. He wanted to build a railway that had a gauge of 8 feet. Australia is a country with vast distances between its capital cities. If Australia is to progress as a nation it must have a railway suited to those distances.

Imagine what it would be like to travel in a train with carriages twice as wide as those of our present trains. Think of the comfort, the speed and the convenience. The wider a train is, the more stable it is on the tracks and the easier it is to make the train travel at speed without having to worry about it swaying badly. Maintenance of wide gauge is actually cheaper using modern machinery than narrow gauge because you have to maintain it less frequently. Wider trains are also be shorter for any given capacity allowing your transportation arrangements to be modular and therefore more flexible.

Imagine for a moment that heavy trucks would drive out to Liverpool in Sydney to a rail terminus. Within 20 minutes they would be on a flat bed, held down by hydraulic ties to neutralise their suspension systems, and on their way to Melbourne at 120 kph (not a speed that requires extraordinary engineering and one that can be easily engineered to be acceptably quiet) with or without their drivers. And speaking of drivers, the train would be computer controlled. There is no need in this modern age to have train drivers or guards.

On arrival in Melbourne less than 8 hours later, the trucks would be driven off the flatbed, go and deliver their load, load up again and repeat the journey back to Sydney. The same would be true for the trip from Sydney to Brisbane - normally a road trip of over 16 hours by road, it would, by this means, be less than 9 hours. On the way between these capitals, carriages could “drop” of the rear to service provincial towns. Similarly they can join up with a train as it passes through. There is no need for trains to stop at every major station along the way as is presently the case.

Not only would this substantially save fuel (and carbon emissions) but it would reduce the cost and the time expended in road transportation. It would save billions of dollars in reducing the damage done by trucks to our national highways and the hapless victims of accidents.

Maybe we should be talking about building of a 3 metre gauge railway to circumnavigate and transect Australia as a National goal to making this country as great as it should be.

Providing cheap long distance travel and goods movement with far less damage to the environment would do a great deal of good for our economy and our International competitiveness. It would make decentralisation feasible which would also have a number of beneficial social as well as economic consequences.

What our politicians seem to lack is vision and professional engineering knowledge. Regurgitating the High Speed Rail project for passenger transportation shows more desperation than any level of imagination. I am dismayed to hear it surface again in the context of a "vote for me, I'm a visionary!". It actually demonstrates just the opposite.

Ah...Islamabad Brunel - the famous Pakistani railway engineer.

Wider gauge does not mean wider carriages.
The gauge measures the distance from inside rail to inside rail.
If a max of around 2.5m is wanted for the carriage (and to increase this requires an increase in right of way space for the tracks, widening tunnels etc) then the max gauge is around 2m.
The Vic standard (taken from the Scottish standard) of 5'3"" was a pretty good compromise.
What Kevin Loughrey sensibly proposes is improvement of our existing system, improving the standard of our tracks to allow regular 180Km/hr speed.
If this is combined with better organized handling of freight it could make a big difference to freight costs between cities and in the country.
The nice thing about this is it would be nation building without a great amount of cost.
Rail has always been better suited to freight than passenger transport, yet whenever talk comes of improving rail people always seem to want to have high speed passenger transport.
Air is far better at this. Leave it there and concentrate on what rail does best - freight.
High speed rail has been examined repeatedly over the years. It has never yet shown itself remotely viable for the Australian context.
This proposal of Rudds is just another ill-considered thought bubble.

This is such a terrible idea. Wouldn't it be much smarter to build a better (better being the operative word) tube/train system in all cities? Thus making the cities more liveable? I imagine this would get more people using public transport. I can’t see the sense in spending all this money so only the Eastern seaboard gets any sort of benefit. Plus the volume of people that will use this fast rail would be minimal, so that would make it an even worse investment to take up.

You got it mate - our 400K politicians can't. Australian governments are very poor at servicing the needs of mainstream Australia. This idea should be exposed as the lemon that it is.

This shouldnt be about economic return, it should be about doing something that will be good for Australia. The social benefits that will accrue from living in Wagga and working in the ACT cant be measured.
I dont think there should be a VFT, I think there needs to be serious investment in a FT that links Sydney and Melbourne via Canberra and also links major regional centres

In a perfect world where all projects are funded you may be right, however, there is limited resources and those projects with better return should be favoured. Sydney-Canberra sounds like San Francisco-Los Angeles and they have not got this off the ground. America does not have high speed rail and their costs have got to be lower than here and they got more people to make the economics. If it cost twice as much to make cars here than Europe and four times that of Asia this may hold true for high speed rail as well.

Unfortunately, it is that 'do it and forget the cost' or 'no business case required' mentality over the last six years which has brought our economy into the mess it currently is.
At the end of the day, someone has got to pay for it!

A high speed train would not be viable if it stopped in places like Wagga.
It must run its route virtually non stop.

I think we all have to remember that there is an election in just over a week's time and the party proposing this project is unlikely to exist after Sept 7.

Putting this aside however, Australia has no expertise in high speed rail and would have to contract it all from overseas.

The fastest section of railway line in the Sydney system is currently the East Hills line at 130km/h.
When I lived in the UK, the London to Brighton main line had a standard line speed of 90MPH - that's 144kmh on a regular commuter line using (at the time) standard BR MKI EMU's. Even that is a speed Australian railways dream of, but it was regular for commuter, non-high speed rail across the UK.

Australians really have no idea what is involved in high speed rail.

For a start, such speeds can only be done using electric power and it cannot run on the 1500VDC 'battery power' of Sydney's and Melbourne's railway systems (principals of electricity transmission).
This requires 25Kv. Once you start using 25Kv (as per Brisbane and Perth), all existing bridge clearances and tunnels must be modified. You need substations every 25 miles. And with trains running at 300kmh, the line must be fenced in its entirety because you cannot have anything straying onto the line.

Then you need to consider the terrain. The east coast of Australia has something called the Great Dividing Range. You cannot run high speed rail around every rock like the current system. The only alternative is an inland route.

And finally, you need a business case. Australia is like the US in this respect. Passenger railways do not make money, freight is what does. Even the US does not have a trans-continental high speed rail because the business case when considered in competition with airlines, simply does not stack up.
While it would certainly be nice to have high speed rail and I don't disagree with the possible benefits, Australia simply doesn't have the population to sustain it.

It won't happen in our life time!

Isambard Kingdom Brunel built to the gauge of 7foot 1/4 in (2140mm), not 8 feet. It was reportedly much more stable at high speed.
In the 'collonies', 3 foot six gauge (Commonwealth Gauge) was implemented, primarily for for cost and practicality reasons - it didn't need as much space or engineering work.

This is just another fantasy thrown up by politicians who want to promise the world and distract the stupid and the gullible. How many studies have been done on this project? How much money has been wasted on this futile pipe dream? How much did MYKIE cost and it is still not working properly.How about the desalination plant;that white, pink,idiotic artifact for stupidity.

Re: "stanley not ava..."

I am not impressed that you did not leave your name. Your comment regarding desalination is also unimpressive.

El Ninos come, and they go. Meanwhile Sydney continues to grow.

During El Ninos, we already divert most of the Shoalhaven to supply Sydney, and we have destroyed all of the rivers near Sydney.

We need to either desalinate, recycle sewage, or capture stormwater and "clean" it. All of this takes energy.

Thanks to Warragamba Dam we have an enormous "battery". Therefore the energy required to filter and pump water for desalination, or treatment of sewage and/or stormwater can be intermittent. In other words we can wait for the sun to shine, or the wind to blow.

This means, for example if we if we only turn the desalination plant and/or the water treatment plants and pumps on when the turbines at Lake George are turning, the incremental energy costs are effectively free.

This has to be better than what we do now.

Yes, the VFT is nonsense, but it is a popular fantasy.

The VFT is brought out now and again, like the North-West rail link, and hopefully after the election, sanity prevails, and the idea is dismissed.

Whether or not the North-West rail link is abandoned is yet to be seen, but as it was presented by the LNP, it was an equally dumb idea. The last thing the StLeonards to City rail corridor needs is another branch line feeding into it. This overloaded section has only two tracks and several stations without bypass lines.

The reality is that if the Nth-West rail line is to be built, the only sensible route is via Parramatta. Politically this is hard to sell. An even harder sell is the idea that the whole Sydney rail network would be improved by a rail tunnel from StLeonards to the City to duplicate the two tracks that run via Wolstonecraft and Waverton.

But we elect politicians, usually, when they say things we like to hear.

Hopefully though, talk of a VFT may end up in the compromise of recommending a proper high speed rail line that gets trucks off the Hume Highway.

David . I don" care if you are impressed or not.You don't even want to understand that every government project is never finished on time, and that they usually end up with huge cost overruns.The politicians and the people that sell these fantasies are spending the taxpayers money.It is not their money.
The sensible way to have brought water to melbourne and victoria would have been to built a series of smaller dams on the seaward side of the otway ranges,and divert the water to the forrest dam.

As for a VFT ,Everything including the workers to build it would have to be imported.We do need a good rail system, but in a far more conventional way to ease the overloading on our roads.
As for your comment re the El Nino weather effect on our climate , i invite you to look at the geoengineering that is happening over australia. If you are corageous enough to do so. Type in on google operation cloverleaf. Chemtrails& HAARP. It is a weather changing program,but it needs serious research. If you want to and answer this post i will give you more genuine scientific facts from a research movie how the scientists heat the atmosphere. We get chemtrails & haarp affected clouds over melbourne and geelong every day.

Most, if not all, the comments above seem to ignore the issues of fossil fuel, carbon emissions, and availability of suitable affordable fuels.
Surely one of the main drivers for a VFT or FT is that it can electrify the major traffic routes down the east coast. And that electricity can be produced by renewables.
Sure, we will have electric cars, etc, but aircraft are difficult to electrify and other alternatives seem a long way off. Even Bransons (part) bio fuel trip to the US doesn't seem to have gone anywhere fast - especially if such bio fuel competes with food production.
So electricity seems to be the future - and a FT is much more efficient than a truck or bus.
I've ridden on the VFTs in Japan - I admit they have an advantage in terms of passenger numbers and distances, but I far preferred the trip than travelling cattle class in a plane after queuing sheep like at the terminal. The japanese trains are wonderful - and they run on time - to the second!

The 2nd Sydney Airport is going to be mega expensive and a long way out of Sydney anyway.

Why not just divert the money from that project into an upgraded Canberra Airport with a high speed rail link?

Great future, high speed rail connecting the eastern seaboard capitals, delivered just after the NBN completes, removing much of the need for transporting people. The time frame even allows for upgrade to airports or construction of Badgery's creek so it all comes together with introduction to next generation aircraft that move more people with less sound so curfews relax and airports prove they can double people movements.
Seems like policital discussion is centred on single issue buzz themes and there is no integrated, national, technology wide thinking of the full potential scenarios.

How can we expect long term planning from any government?

Even a stimulus program, administered badly, by one State government was made to seem like a Federal government disaster.

In fact, it was a great idea, because unlike most Western stimulus packages it was one which had a great multiplier effect (funding services always does).

And then the three year election cycle - if a government doesn't do too much that is radical, then it can assume that it will last two terms, after that, there is little certainty.

So, if it wants to introduce plans that take 6 years, then they cannot be particularly radical.

Kennet and Keating were amazing in that they did introduce radical agendas of reform, but what did it get them? - Kennet was kicked out after one term, and Keating remains probably the most hated political leader we have ever had.

And yet, I applaud them both for trying to do, and partially achieving, what they both believed was best for their electorates.

We get the idiots we, collectively, prefer, and then we whinge when they do things we, later, decide we do not like.

Tony Abbot will be elected, and he will probably remain unpopular, but he will get at least 6 years if he does not pursue too radical an agenda.

I knew Tony Abbott at University, when he was a radical lunatic. Daresay, he would probably have described me the same way.

My political views today, are nothing like what they were as a 20-something student. For all our sakes, let us hope that Tony's views have drifted close to something sane as well.

David, I like your idea of the intermediate train at 180K, that is as fast as most people want to travel on rails.

When we talk about 10 year projections, the argument starts to become a little absurd. In 10 years areoplanes will be built by 3D technology. If in doubt look up 3D technology and understand, that the USA is doing that now (although only in testing format).

As a mode of transporting goods, then trains have clearly the greatest advantage via cost reductions, therefor this mode of transport should be high on the agenda, for infrastructure cost reductions. However Australians are not train travelers, I have traveled several time from Coffs Harbor and Port Macquarie to Sydney and it is fairly boring.

David le Comte.
I give you credit for a reasoned comment
If you investigate chemtrails & HAARP seriously then i draw to your attention the tact that Tony ABBOTT and the liberal shadow cabinet all have been sent documentation about this geoengineering that is going on. The victorian government under NAPHTINE have also been sent documentation about it. There is a deafening silence from all governments about it,yet the effects of this spraying can be clearly seen in the sky every day.

Tim,who would buy a ticket to SYD via CANBERRA,it would be as popular as MEL via AVALON?

Until railways cease to be an expensive featherbed employing far more union/labor protected staff than are actually needed to run them efficiently it is a folly to sink federal taxpayer funded dollars into them.However if the various state governments could join together and privatise the East WEst and North South rail freight arteries then a vast amount of heavy loads would be shifted betweenBrisbane, Sydney,Melbourne,Adelaide and Perth by rail with a massive freight hub at or near Parkes in central west of New South Wales.Subject to getting rid of the union dominated feather bed that makes vastly more economic sense than Rudd's thought bubble VFT scheme which will never stand up to economic analsys.

Rudd sorry DUDD is at it again. He has run out of ideas and has to grandstand old ones to try and get some excitement going with the less well informed - selling his vision again hoping it will work. BUT his record stands - labour is ABSOILUTLY hopeless at everything it touches and that will not change tomorrow or next year or at any other time.

you are so right. The trouble is that all of the stimulus efforts only helped prop up chinas economy.These politicians of all persuasions throw millions & billions of dollars away as though it was confetti. But the truth is that the liberals just stand there and make noises. They don't have to repay anything. They increase taxes, new levies,excises and any fancy scheme to fill their own pockets and build fantasy schemes which are devestating the australian economy. They just want to get in to power at any price and cost, all at the expense of the helpless people. Meanwhile the corruption,lies trickery goes on from all sides

Very good article and the sooner Australia gets a VFT system the better. Spending more billions on roads and bypasses and super highways is NOT the answer. Then charging people each time they use one of these makes it even worse. Anyone who has been overseas where these trains exist would not want to travel any other way unless they really have to do so. They also leave on time and arrive on time! It is a crying shame that Australia could be held back by politicians in the Coalition who think 20th century infrastructure is sufficient to meet the demands of the 21st century. And, imagine - tourists would have an efficient and fast way of travelling around. I am sure, Colm lastName, they would love to go to Sydney via Canberra.

What australia needs is a good solid railway system, which an be expanded and one that is reliable and can compete financially with Road transport. Australia does not have the population to pay for the pie in the sky stuff that the crazies are peddling at present. Of course the crazies are making lots of money out of selling these pink elephantine ideas

Can anybody make sense of these numbers? They work out at more than $70M/km! My understanding is that 350km/h trains need continuous concrete slab construction but what a price. For sure 144km of tunnels looks pricey but hard to imagine so many are needed.

Meanwhile, why is maglev not considered seriously? Last offer in Victoria was $24M/km. Installation is a 14m prefab pillar every 25m, out of the way of all crossings, whether freeways or sheep tracks, with prefab box section between, all electrics contained, no other poles and wires. Because lift is distributed along length, hese things are light, just a metal box, with no heavy wheels and bogies and no big heavy chassis in between. They climb steep gradients. Accel and decel is rapid. No contact, no wear and tear, very little noise and speeds up to 400km/hr. Even energy is low at 3kWh/per 100 passenger km. Of course maglev doesn't suit freight which should stay on existing style track, relocated in sections where it continues to fail.

Alternatively, visiting Hannover trade fair a few years ago, Austrian company Plasser and Theurer, who have subsidiary here, biggest machine need preparation of just a dozer scrape, after which it would automatically lay ballast, place sleepers, feed rails, cleat, laser align and grind to 0.1mm alignment - and all at rate of 40km per day. How can it possibly take 17 years?

Considering Sydney airport will be at or beyond its capacity well before this railway line is built and that a second airport, having been under consideration for 40+ years and no indication that governments of either persuasion has the stomach for upsetting the voters of Western Sydney, we may be left with no alternative but to build this HST track.
My last observation is, if we are to keep within the carbon budget required to avoid cataclysmic climate change, air travel is going to be one of the first casualties at which point $50 or $80 billion to build a HST will seem like chicken feed.

What is far more practical is fast enough trains.
If we improve, upgrade our tracks to UK standards we could operate the existing XPT fleet
at the same speed as the UKs 125s, ie 125 MPH. The XPTs are in fact 125s !
However the need to update the trackworks and straighten the track is very expensive.
But nowhere near as expensive as the VFT.

None of the comment takes into account that air travel will decrease because of increasing
fuel costs and air fare increases. Business travel will also decrease because of video conferencing.

So come down to earth, and walk before you run and have fast enough trains.

What goes around goes round and round. Is life a spin I'm in? If this ever happens I will die laughing, by that time I'll surely be old enough. Over the last 30 years I've observed Singapore (population 5 million or so) churn out year on year like manufactures on a conveyor belt a sophisticated metro network with new stations by the dozen and its still going on with ever more lines. Build them and they do come. Nothing expensively stop-start, just a continuous process with all the efficiencies that entails.

Meanwhile, in 3rd world Australia, where near enough is still good enough and good enough is often next to nothing at all, we stand apathetically by and watch as the rest of the world eclipses with reality the idle dreams of southern ostriches who can find no end of reasons why we can't, shouldn't or won't actually do anything.

Eddy Ward
In australia the politicians are spending our tax dollars on buying votes. The welfare sector,which produces nothing is out of control,and because the dictators in parliaments all over australia can and do anything they want to It is meaningless to expect good outcomes from the self centered dangerous unstoppable lunatics in power. Australia has no future and is a country where the poor trash of australia lives.What does one expect. People that don't work are very well paid and looked after,while those that do are taxed ferociously to pay for it. This is a failed society Figure it out for yourself.

i should have written the poor MULTICULTURAL TRASH OF ASIA. One does not speak the truth openly,as the screaming hyenas of the thought police find ways to destroy any one who does.Racism,discrimination etc etc etc.

A car trip from Sydney to Canberra is, what?, 2 1/2 hours? It is a long time since I last did it. Last week I caught a train from Sydney to Canberra and back again in the same day (to see the Turner exhibition). One way from my local suburban station to Kingston was 5 hours.

I am with David LeComte. Surely we could get trains running just a bit faster, on the existing route, to the point where they are comparable to a car?

I like trains. You can read, or sleep or gaze out the window, and get up and walk around, buy food and coffee (or alcohol, if you must) and arrive without the stress that driving engenders. Cost was less than half that of the airfare (I compared against Virgin before booking).

But 5 plus hours each way does not encourage me to do it often. Cut that in half and I might well visit the National Gallery more often. Doing it in an hour might be nice, but is the cost and the wait worth it?

I suppose, in the long run, we need a world where we stop burning jet fuel (and petrol) at such a prodigious rate and a fast, electrified train service might be the order of the day. But I won't live to see it.

Why shoul I subsidise your travel by traun to Canberra?

Richard, the vast majority of costs is covered by freight.
Get the interstate trucks off the road and there will be better passenger service as well as better freight service.

What!........ destroy Lindsay Fox & Co's freight empires!
The cacophony of lobbying and political favour-pulling and worse that would ensue would be shrill and intense.
Pile on the environmental/business planning; the funding nightmare; the NIMBY complaints; decision making of any degree in this entire concept in this country and it all would doubtess make even Lee Kwan Yew baulk!

So now you want those who pay for freight to subsidise you?

Lindsay Fox & Co do use rail freight.

They would use it more if there were more services, and they weren't so slow.

13 - 15 hours is the journey time to Melbourne.

Worse, at the Sydney end, the rail freight has to give priority to suburban rail services, so there are delays, and inconvenient schedules. Goods end up lying around for days.

It is a shameful mess.

Rich people are powerful, and they are manipulative. All sorts of allegations can be made about them, but other than some of those who just happened to be born into wealth, most are clever.

And they would use rail freight more if it was profitable to do so.

Our population is set to double by mid-century. Yet in our major cities, arterial roads are already clogged. An urban sprawl of endless suburbia has a huge cost to society.

Public transport and long term planning are key to meeting future demand and development objectives. A HSR should be part of the solution to decentralise populations outside of Sydney/Melbourne.

The recent $20M HSR analysis is the most comprehensive assessment of high speed rail in Australia to date and represents a significant update to earlier research.

The detailed economic assessment of high speed rail in Australia is positive:
• The economic internal rate of return (EIRR) of Sydney-Melbourne is estimated at 7.8 per cent, compared to 7.6 per cent for an investment in the staged HSR program as a whole.
• The economic benefit cost ratio (EBCR) calculates the ratio of the present value of benefits to the present value of costs. When calculated using a discount rate of four per cent, the ECBR is 2.5 for Sydney-Melbourne and 2.3 for the whole network.
• The economic net present value (ENPV) of costs and benefits associated with a program of investment in the preferred HSR system would be $70 billion for Sydney-Melbourne and $101 billion for the network as a whole, calculated using a discount rate of four per cent a year until the start of construction in 2027 (financial year 2028), and expressed in $2012.
• The economic results remain positive under a range of changed assumptions. When calculated using a seven per cent discount rate, which represents a higher hurdle rate for judging economic performance, the EBCR would be 1.1 and the ENPV would be $5 billion.


Perspective again... This past decade, the unprecedented, unconventional monetary practice (AKA Quantitative Easing on a trillion dollar scale) being undertaken by our major trading partners across the globe has helped to push the $AUD up to 50% higher than historic TWI value - and this is particularly true given the collapse of commodity prices and reversal of the balance of trade surplus. Inaction is itself a form of unproductive debt accumulation.

National choices have consequences too. Our leaders have the choice of enabling productive societal investment (supporting PPI infrastructure debt) or facilitating unproductive expenditure (e.g. the personal tax rebate/baby bonus) or forgone corporate/individual tax revenues (uncapped subsidies / negative gearing on multiple investment properties). We've had plenty of the latter activity in the 20th century and yes, personal wealth has grown in abundance for the 40 - to 80 year olds... but critical services are choked and dying. Lost opportunties become an accumulated future unproductive debt in the form of rent, inefficiency and unproductive capital and labor. With a population set to double by 2050 does the nation really expect to sustain the same quality of life for it's children and be able to compete with our advanced economies which are heavily investing in their future?

Our actions now are critical to our future. Australian manufacturing has been decimated by the choice of other nations and their ''allocation of scare resources'' printing money now, propping up historically 'poor' market speculators (AKA high net worth individuals) and enacting a global escape clause for failed market ''theory''. The global currency war is real and has been an undeniable reality for some time now.

Australia can use this currency war as an opportunity to undertake infrastructure investment programmes which provide massive long-term productivity/efficiency enhancement for our coastal/urban communities. Our population is likely to double by 2050, yet without structured, long term planning and investment- our existing major cities will groan to an expensive halt, and our regional cities will remain a lost opportunity. Our leaders must act to better connect our ever-growing society. Endless urban sprawl and constrained arterial road traffic jams must end- political inaction and relying solely on market behaviour has proven to be folly. Together with other rail projects, high speed rail can be the artery that helps to better connect this very isolated nation and prepare us for the 21st, 22nd century and beyond.

Vacuum tube transport and maglev rail technologies will far exceed the speed and mass-transport times of 20th century fuel-dependent aviation. Our competitors are forging ahead with HSR investment. It is time the leaders of this nation acted. We have the engineering capability. We need the political will.

Economic theory models the backwardised rationing of exponential technological innovation and societal development. The dawn of intelligent computation has begun to radically transform human society. Conservative economists have yet to grasp the impact technological advancement is having ... and will have to the government of nations, cities and peoples. The long term consequence of continued under investment in our competitive future will be that our nation will be a quarry pit in which Australian interests and indeed the quality of our lives are slaved to the achievements of other advanced societies.

Long term vision and action are required. The HSR is just a start.