High Speed Rail Study
Phase 2 Report
24 June 2013
The Australian Government is to be commended on the commissioning of the High Speed Rail Study, both Phase 1 and Phase 2. The publication of the Study’s findings has brought to the fore, once again, the need for a High Speed Rail (HSR) network linking the Capitals and regional centres along the East Coast of Australia.
Phase 2 establishes the case for the construction of HSR connecting Brisbane with Newcastle, Sydney, Canberra, Albury and Melbourne. The methodology used has determined and recommended a preferred route. This alignment is not unreasonable considering the methodology adopted in determining the preferred route. However, the methodology may not have delivered the result best suited for potential customers and the maximum benefit that HSR could deliver to regional development.
The High Speed Rail Study has obviously been constrained by its Terms of Reference and the methodology adopted. It has drawn a “box” around HSR, limiting the Study to a route between Brisbane and Melbourne with little connectivity to the existing rail network. This has delivered obvious deficiencies in customer convenience and limits the potential to spread the benefits of HSR beyond a narrow corridor through which it is proposed to run.
One example of these deficiencies is the preferred placement of the station in southern Sydney. Unlike in the north, where the proposed station is adjacent to Hornsby Station, the southern Sydney station is at Holsworthy, east of Glenfield Station. This will restrict people from the south east of Sydney to using motor vehicles to access the station. The other deficiencies will be discussed later in this document.
THINKING OUTSIDE OF THE “BOX”
The Study was predicated on Brisbane and Melbourne being the terminuses of the HSR route. These two cities are the obvious start and finish points of the line, but are they the best places for HSR to run between?
The Sunshine Coast is 105 kilometres north of Brisbane. The region is a large population centre, with a population of 316,858 (2011 Census), which is projected to grow to 439,100 (low estimate) by 3031. The Sunshine Coast is poorly served by public transport at present. There are plans to improve the rail service but this will only benefit people commuting to the Brisbane CBD.
Seventy-five kilometres km south of Melbourne, is the City of Geelong. Greater Geelong has a population of 215,151 (2011 Census), which is projected to grow to 302,363 by 2031. The Barwon Region, which includes Geelong, has a current population of 284,193 (2011 Census), which is projected to grow to 400,446 by 2031.
Considering that these two substantial population centres could be included in the HSR catchment, without increasing the cost of the project significantly ($5 billion based on costs of HSR lines in Europe), it would seem obvious to make the northern terminus somewhere in the vicinity of Nambour and the southern terminus in Geelong.
The Geelong to Melbourne corridor currently has over 12 million commuter journeys per annum, many of whom would use an HSR service that would get them between the Geelong and Melbourne CBDs in 30 minutes, at an affordable price. The potential commuter traffic between Geelong and Melbourne could prove to be significant revenue source to the HSR operator.
Similarly, an HSR service in the Nambour to Brisbane corridor has the potential to attract commuters by providing a travel time of 40 minutes. This section of a future East Coast HSR could also prove to be a significant revenue source for the HSR operator.
Revenue is not the only justification for extending the HSR network beyond Brisbane and Melbourne. Servicing and stabling facilities for the train sets could also be located out of the major centres, in Geelong and Nambour where the land is cheaper, off-setting part of the cost of constructing the additional 180 kilometres.
The social impact on these regional centres would also be significant, with increased job opportunities in the maintenance and servicing of the trains and business opportunities for providores provisioning the trains.
Relatively short commute times would also assist in decentralising both Brisbane and Melbourne, by attracting people who work in the relative CBDs, to live on the Sunshine Coast and in Geelong where the cost of housing is lower.
BEYOND THE HIGH SPEED RAIL PROJECT
In countries where HSR is already a reality, it is common practice to integrate the HSR network with the existing railway system. This has was not a feature of the Shinkansen in Japan as the old trunk lines are 1068mm gauge and not compatible with the 1435mm gauge of most HSR lines.
The advantages of integration are considerable, as it enables the HSR train sets to commence or complete their journeys beyond the HSR networks. The situation in Australia is different to that of France and Germany where the existing main lines are of a high standard, electrified, and capable or speeds in excess of 160 kilometres per hour. However, with some rebuilding, gauge conversion and electrification of existing lines, some integration would be conceivable.
Three examples of possible integration of existing lines with the HSR network are:
1. Casino to Murwillumbah (with an extension to Coolangatta)
2. Canberra to Cooma (with an extension to Jindabyne and the SkiTube)
3. Geelong to Warrnambool (which would require gauge conversion).
The first two lines mentioned are currently mothballed and would require significant investment to rebuild to the required standard (capable of 160 kilometre per hour running), extending them to destinations that would attract more patronage and for electrification. The third line would also require investment to standardise the gauge, improve the track for higher running speeds and for electrification.
Casino to Murwillumbah
The HSR Study Phase 2 indicates a preferred route to the Gold Coast via a branch from near Beaudesert to Robina. The length of this branch would be 70 kilometres and cost in the vicinity of $6 billion based on the Study’s estimates. The Casino to Murwillumbah line, with an extension to Coolangatta Airport would be in the vicinity of $800 million, including rebuilding the line for 160 kilometres per hour running and electrification.
There are many advantages in linking the HSR network to the Gold Coast via the Casino to Murwillumbah line:
It would provide a fast rail service from the Gold Coast, Murwillumbah, Byron Bay and Lismore to the New South Wales North Coast, Sydney and destinations on the HSR network, south of Sydney.
It would permit a local passenger service to be operated, serving smaller communities (not possible on a dedicated HSR line).
If the link to the existing north coast line were to be retained, freight could be railed in and out of the Gold Coast with the provision of an intermodal terminal at Tweed heads.
The terminus (at Coolangatta Airport) will become a major transport hub when the Queensland Rail line is extended from Robina, the Gold Coast Light Rail is extended to the Airport and the Murwillumbah line is also extended to the Airport.
The major disadvantage would the increased travelling time from the Gold Coast to Sydney, over the travelling times possible with the branch from Beaudesert to Robina.
The estimated travelling times, based on 160 kilometres per hour running from Coolangatta to Casino and then full HSR speeds to Sydney are:
Coolangatta to Sydney – 4 hours
Murwillumbah to Sydney – 3 hours 40 minutes
Byron Bay to Sydney – 3 hours 20 minutes
Lismore to Sydney – 3 hours
Casino to Sydney – 2 hours 30 minutes (full HSR)
The one extra hour that it would take from the Gold Coast to Sydney would be a disincentive to prospective passengers. However, there would be a greatly improved service from Murwillumbah, Byron Bay and Lismore. The population of the Richmond/Tweed region is 227,619 (2011 Census), the bulk of whom live within the catchment of the line. It can be anticipated that the disincentive of the extra travel time would be negated by the rapidly increasing cost of automotive fuels.
The HSR Study Phase 2 connects Canberra to the HSR network via branch from the main line, as the preferred option. Whether this is the optimum route to service Canberra will be discussed later, but Canberra will be connected. This provides the opportunity to further extend the reach of the HSR trains beyond the HSR network.
The now-mothballed line to Cooma connects to the existing rail network and once offered express passenger services to Cooma and the Snowy Mountains. It was also used for the transport of freight in and out of Cooma-Monaro region.
Canberra to Cooma
The population in the Cooma-Monaro region is not significant (approx. 10,000) and would not in its self justify the re-opening of the line for passenger services. Cooma is also not the ideal destination as most visitors to the region go there to visit the snowfields and the Snowy Mountains National Park.
Each year there are more than three million visitors to the region, spread over all seasons. Popular belief is that it is the snow that attracts tourists to the Snowy Mountains, but equal numbers of tourists visit the area in spring and summer.
If a substantial number of the three million visitors could be attracted to a fast rail service, the re-opening of the line with an extension to the SkiTube could be viable. To add to the viability of a re-opened line, freight would need to be attracted by maintaining the connection with the existing rail network at Queanbeyan and building intermodal terminals at Cooma and Jindabyne.
The cost to rebuild the Cooma line would be significant, as the line would need to be capable of 160 kilometres per hour running. To provide a rough indication the current cost of heavy haul railways can be used as a guide. This cost is $4 million per kilometre and to this the cost of electrification needs to be added along with some property acquisition (in Cooma and beyond) and the elimination of tunnels on the existing corridor.
The figure of $10 million per kilometre could be considered a reasonable estimate and this multiplied by the distance from Canberra to the SkiTube, which is 200 kilometres, gives a total cost of $2 billion. Whether this expenditure could be justified, by the potential passenger numbers and freight volumes that would use this line is open to debate.
The estimated travelling times from Sydney, based on full HSR running from Sydney to Canberra and then 160 kilometre per hour running from there to the SkiTube, would be:
Sydney to Cooma – 2 hours 30 minutes
Sydney to Jindabyne – 3 hours
Sydney to the SkiTube – 3 hours 20 minutes
When compared to road travel, both bus and car, these times are significantly faster. The journey would also be significantly safer than travelling by car. The train sets on this service could be designed to enable passengers to carry their skiing equipment, with assisted transfer onto the SkiTube or waiting buses.
These services would, of course also convey passengers from Sydney to Canberra, Canberra to Cooma, Canberra to Jindabyne and Canberra to the SkiTube.
There would also be one major advantage to the environment if this line were re-opened and extended. The amount of motor vehicle traffic to the Snowy Mountains National Park would be reduced or maintained at existing levels.
Geelong to Warrnambool
The existing line from Geelong to Warrnambool is 5ft 3in gauge and not currently compatible with any future HSR line. If the HSR network were to terminate in Geelong (see Thinking Outside the Box), the line to Warrnambool would need to be gauge converted, electrified and be capable of 160 kilometre per hour running.
The national standard gauge network passes through Geelong on the route between Melbourne and Adelaide. The standardisation of the Warrnambool line would link Warrnambool and the Barwon region to the standard gauge network, providing direct links to all mainland capitals and ports, without the need for transhipping. There is already a significant volume of freight shipped by rail out of Warrnambool. Access to the standard gauge network would attract more freight from road on to rail.
Currently there are three train services per day between Warrnambool and Melbourne. HSR trains, running at 160 kilometres per hour from Warrnambool to Geelong and then full HSR speed to Melbourne, could provide these services. The faster services would attract more passengers and lead to a modal shift from car to rail and may, in the medium to long-term result in more services being required.
The estimated travelling times from Melbourne, based on full HSR running from Melbourne to Geelong and then 160 kilometre per hour running from there to Warrnambool, would be:
Melbourne to Colac – 1 hour
Melbourne to Camperdown – 1 hour 20 minutes
Melbourne to Terang – 1 hours 35 minutes
Melbourne to Warrnambool – 2 hours
The cost of gauge conversion, raising the line speeds and electrification would be in the order of $1.2 billion. This cost and the cost of the Casino to Coolangatta and Canberra to the SkiTube lines should not be considered as part of the cost of the HSR network. The lines would all be single track with long passing loops, to enable the passing of trains at speed and also carry freight for additional revenue.
It would seem obvious that there should be as much connectivity between the future HSR network and the existing rail networks in each state. The Phase 2 Study’s preferred route and station locations does not provide for enough connectivity, with existing networks. In the oil-poor future, when petrol costs rise above the means of the average person, it is essential that sufficient stations be located to allow HRS passengers to connect with rail services on the existing networks.
The Phase 2 Study does provide some connectivity, but relies on HSR passengers accessing the stations by motor vehicle over much of the preferred route’s length. In fact, it would seem that the HSR has been treated as if it were equivalent to an airline, with many of the stations adjacent to airports.
There is justification in adopting some of these station locations, where it is very costly and impractical to locate the stations within a town’s environs. However, there are many locations where it is essential to locate stations adjacent to existing rail lines and within the cities the HSR line is intended to serve.
This document will deal with the Phase 2 Study station locations only and not the stations that would be required for the proposed extensions to the Sunshine Coast and Geelong (see “Thinking Outside the Box”).
Brisbane: The preferred location at the Brisbane Transit Centre, alongside Roma Street Station, proves good connectivity to Brisbane’s suburban rail network and should be adopted.
Robina: Robina is already served by a fast rail connection to Brisbane and although it does provide some connectivity with that line, Coolangatta Airport would be a better location for the HSR station, after the line from Brisbane and the Gold Coast light rail are both extended to terminate at the Airport.
This location would be better accessed by a rebuilt and extended line from Casino (see BEYOND THE HSR) and would not only be a much cheaper option than a dedicated HSR branch from Beaudesert to Robina, but would serve more people. If this option were chosen, Coolangatta Airport would become a major transport hub for people arriving and departing on domestic and international flights.
Oxley Creek: This may be the best location for a station in the south of Brisbane. There are no existing rail services to connect with, however, before a decision on the final location is made, consideration should be given to the future route of a new line from Toowoomba to Brisbane. When a new line is built down the Toowoomba Range, it would be logical to provide an interchange between it and the HSR.
Casino: The preferred location to the west of Casino provides no interconnectivity with a re-opened line to Lismore, Murwillumbah and with an extension to Coolangatta Airport (see BEYOND THE HSR). If the Murwillumbah line is re-opened in any form, the best location for the HSR station is adjacent to the existing Casino Station. This would permit passengers arriving on local services from Murwillumbah line, to easily connect with HSR services.
Grafton: The preferred location here, near the Grafton Airport, is not located conveniently for anyone arriving at Grafton by train to connect with the HSR. This may not be an issue currently, but in the future when people are more reliant on public transport due to the high cost of petrol, interconnectivity with the North Coast rail line could prove to be essential.
The ideal location would be South Grafton Station, but a new interchange station between the HSR and the current heavy rail line could be located close to the City, if South Grafton Station were not suitable for HSR access.
Port Macquarie: The preferred location for the Port Macquarie Station, close to the intersection of the Oxley and Pacific Highways seems to be the most convenient location to Port Macquarie.
Taree: The preferred location here is very inconvenient for the residents of Taree and provides no interconnectivity with the existing line. The “blue” alignment would offer better interconnectivity with a station located near Kundle Kundle to allow for interchange between the HSR and the existing heavy rail line. This location is also closer to the township of Taree.
Newcastle: The preferred location of Cameron Park, adjacent to the F3 and Hunter Freeways, once again does not take into account passengers who want to access the HSR by rail. Locking-in the HSR to road access only does nothing to plan for a future where people will increasingly rely on public transport.
The ideal location for the Newcastle HSR station is near Hexham, where the HSR line will cross the existing heavy rail line. This location would facilitate passengers coming by train from the Newcastle Area and from Armidale, Tamworth, Moree and the Upper Hunter, in being able to connect with HSR services.
Hornsby: The preferred location for the HSR station in the north of Sydney, adjacent to Hornsby Station, provides excellent connectivity with the CityRail network. This is the ideal location.
Central: The preferred location for the Sydney HSR Station at Central, is the best location of all options considered in the Phase 2 Study. This location provides good access to the CBD and excellent interconnectivity with the CityRail network and all country rail services.
The option of a Sydney station at Parramatta was also canvassed in the Phase 2 Study, but was excluded on the basis of disruption to the community and lack of connectivity with the CityRail network. Parramatta is more central to Sydney’s population and therefore closer for many people to access.
Parramatta: Parramatta would be an ideal location for a second Sydney HSR station and could be incorporated into the network, without the problems outline in the Phase 2 Study. This could be achieved by building a cut-off line, branching from the HSR line to Central at a suitable location south of Hornsby, running in a tunnel to Carlingford, sharing the Carlingford line corridor to Rosehill and then in a tunnel to Parramatta Station.
The Parramatta HSR station could be situated underground, immediately below the CityRail station. Two platforms would be adequate as it would be a through station only, with no terminating trains.
The line would continue south from Parramatta in a tunnel until Merrylands, where it would surface to share the existing rail corridor to north of Cabramatta. From here the line would again run through a tunnel to near Casula where it would join the HRS line from Central to Melbourne.
The benefits of including this “cut-off” line are obvious. Trains could be scheduled to run directly from Brisbane to Melbourne, removing the need for passengers having to change trains at Central and, if they are transiting through Sydney saving them approximately an hour. The other benefit is that passengers from the sprawling suburbs of western Sydney would be able to join HSR services without having to travel to the CBD.
Holsworthy: This is the preferred location of a station in southern Sydney. Once again, the location does not have any connectivity with the CityRail network and relies on passengers getting to the station by motor vehicle.
The possible additional cost of locating a station in southern Sydney, adjacent to either Glenfield or Campbelltown Stations would ensure that the station would not become obsolescent after the price of petrol rises to the point where people will use public transport in preference to driving.
Glenfield has the advantage as it has more suburban services than Campbelltown and the number of services will increase after the South West Rail Link is completed.
Mittagong: The choice of Mittagong as the station for the Southern Highlands is ideal for the people living in Mittagong, Bowral and Moss Vale however; it does not serve the City of Goulburn (population 27,481-2011 Census).
Two of the benefits of HSR are to change land use and enable opportunities for the decentralisation of the large, sprawling capital cities. The Southern Highlands are already, to a limited extent, dormitory suburbs of Sydney. The HSR has the potential dramatically increase the population of the Southern highlands, if there are conveniently located stations.
Goulburn: The absence of a station servicing Goulburn is a major omission in the Phase 2 Study. Goulburn has the potential to become a major dormitory centre for commuters who work in Sydney and Canberra, if there is easy access to an HSR station. The journey time from Goulburn to the Sydney CBD would be between 30 and 40 minutes, less time than it takes from Penrith to the CBD and the time from Goulburn to Canberra would be only 20 to 30 minutes, making the HSR very attractive for people who currently commute by car. The relatively short commute time coupled with the lower cost of housing would make Goulburn a very attractive place in which to live.
Goulburn also has a skilled workforce, working in the rail maintenance industry. This would make Goulburn the ideal centre for maintenance and stabling of the HSR train sets. To facilitate this, the HSR line would need to run through Goulburn, where the station could be situated adjacent to the existing station, for easy interchange between it and the heavy rail line. It would then continue south to where the maintenance facility and stabling yard could be located, close to the existing maintenance facility.
Canberra: The Phase 2 Study’s preferred option for a station in Canberra, accessed via a branch from the main HSR line, is logical given that the Melbourne to Sydney transit times would be 13 minutes less than on a through line. There are operational disadvantages to this arrangement, with Canberra having to be served by dedicated Sydney to Canberra and Melbourne to Canberra services. The other disadvantage of the preferred route is that Melbourne to Canberra services would take longer than if there was a through line from Yass to Goulburn via Canberra.
Accepting that the Canberra HSR station will be the terminus of a branch, the location of the station needs to be examined. The preferred location at Civic is a good choice for easy access to the City and to Parliament however, it would be difficult to extend the line from there, if the need arose. In the future, an extension to Yass may become necessary to reduce the travelling time between Melbourne and Canberra.
The Canberra Airport-Pialligo Avenue site would permit the line to be extended or linked to a heavy rail line to Cooma (see BEYOND THE HSR). In addition, the existing heavy rail line from Queanbeyan could be deviated from its current alignment, to terminate at an HSR station located at this site. This would enable passengers arriving by rail to connect with the HSR. The existing Fyshwick station site could be partly redeveloped for industry or housing and part of it developed as an intermodal terminal for freight.
To connect an HSR station at the Airport to Civic and the Parliamentary Triangle, the future Canberra light rail network could be extended, to provide passengers with easy access to Canberra and its attractions.
Cootamundra: The absence of a station in Cootamundra is also a major omission from the Phase 2 Study. Although the population is small (6,695-2011 Census), it is a major junction and transit point for passengers travelling from regional New South Wales, to both Sydney and Melbourne. The HSR should run through Cootamundra and have a station adjacent to the existing heavy rail station. This would enable passengers to who arrive by coach or heavy rail services to connect with the HSR.
Cootamundra is only 40 minutes by HSR to Canberra and could be developed as a satellite city of the Nation’s Capital. This would benefit the economy of Cootamundra and help to reduce the sprawl of Canberra. It would be an attractive place to live for people working in the Capital, with lower house prices and a relatively short commute time.
Wagga Wagga: The preferred location for the HSR station at the Airport, 10 kilometres to the east of the city is an acceptable location. There are generally fewer passengers travelling from regional New South Wales, for connection to Sydney and Melbourne, than there are to Cootamundra and there are now no other heavy rail lines joining the main line at Wagga Wagga.
The airport is not the most convenient location for the residents of Wagga Wagga however; it is only a short taxi ride from the city centre. In addition, there would be little requirement for connectivity with the existing rail network, if a station were to be built in Cootamundra.
Albury: The preferred location for the HSR station serving Albury-Wodonga, at Barnawartha North, is not the most convenient location for the residents of these two cities. However, the choice of this location is understandable considering the topography of the area and the difficulty of identifying a corridor through Albury and across the Murray River flood plain.
Accepting that Barnawartha North is the most suitable location for the HSR station, it should be situated adjacent to the existing heavy rail line and include platforms for the existing line, to allow passengers to interchange between regional services and the HSR.
Shepparton: The preferred route of the HSR, detouring via Shepparton does not seem justified based on population alone. Shepparton does have approximately 20,000 more inhabitants than Wangaratta and Benalla combined, but the additional cost of construction and extra travel time incurred on the preferred alignment would surely not justify routing the HSR via Shepparton.
The combined population of Wangaratta and Benalla is 40,781 (official population in 2012) and it would benefit both towns if the HSR were to have a station to serve both cities. Further investigation needs to be done to identify a possible third route for the HSR, though this area with a station that would serve both Wangaratta and Benalla. The station should be adjacent to the existing heavy rail line with platforms for regional trains to allow passengers to interchange with the HSR.
Melbourne: Southern Cross Station is the preferred location for the HSR station. This is the ideal location; being adjacent to Melbourne’s CBD and has excellent connectivity with suburban rail and tram services.
There is only one disadvantage to this location and that is if the line were to be extended to Geelong (see BEYOND THE HSR), it would be difficult to find a route running south from Southern Cross Station towards Geelong. If it were to continue south of Melbourne, the line would need to run in a tunnel to Williamstown and then share the heavy rail corridor until beyond the Melbourne suburban network.
The preferred location for a peripheral HSR station in Melbourne’s northern suburbs is at Campbellfield. This is an excellent location, adjacent to the northern ring road and adjacent to the suburban Upfield line. If an HSR station were to be built at this location, it should also have platforms for suburban trains to allow interchange between the HSR and suburban services. Suburban services should be extended through to Craigieburn from Upfield, along the existing line to Somerton, to provide greater connectivity with the Melbourne suburban network.
COST AND CORRIDOR WIDTH
The estimated cost for the HSR network is $114 billion and is a P50 cost estimate. Applying P50 has inflated the actual cost by approximately 40% and will only serve to ensure that the final cost will be in the vicinity of $114 billion.
Using P50 as way of managing risk is politically convenient for government, but it results in higher costs to passengers and taxpayers and excessive profits for consultants and major contractors. It would not be necessary to use P50 cost estimates if the Government were brave enough to establish a dedicated government authority to fully cost the project, manage risk and manage the project, with the aim of delivering the HSR at the lowest cost, on budget and with the time frame.
The comparative costs for construction in Sydney, given in the Phase 2 Study between HSR between tracks on the surface, on viaducts and in tunnels is the reverse of what would normally expected. In tunnels is given as the cheapest method of construction, followed by on the surface and then on viaducts as the most expensive.
The only obvious reason for this anomaly is the width of the corridor, which is given as 200 metres. Land acquisition for this width would require the purchase of 20 hectares for every route kilometre. The tunnel option would require virtually no land acquisition, where as the viaduct option would have the cost of the viaduct plus the cost of land acquisition in the total cost.
In Europe, HSR corridors are usually 40 metres wide or less. It is difficult to understand why a width of 200 metres has been selected, when 40 metres would be more than adequate. If the 200 metre width was for future development for “value capture”, the excessive width may be justified. However, the prospect for value capture along the entire length of the route does not seem to be a practical proposition.
It would seem that the cost of the project has been artificially elevated by adopting the 200 metre corridor width, which is evident when the projected cost of construction in tunnels is lower than construction on the surface.
The average cost of HSR construction in Europe is currently $20 million per kilometre. Assuming that the terrain is more difficult on the east coast of Australia, it could be assumed that average costs here could be 50% more per kilometre than the cost in Europe, i.e. $30 million per kilometre.
Accepting the Study’s figure of $150 (without the P50 provision) million per kilometre for construction in tunnels and using $30 million per kilometre average for surface construction, the following cost for the project can be estimated:
Total route kilometres: 1,748
Route kilometres in tunnels: 140 X $150 million = $21 billion
Route kilometres on surface: 1,608 X $30 million = $48.24 billion
Contingencies: $10 billion
Total: $79.24 billion
The above rough estimate interestingly is very close to the cost estimate commissioned by Beyond Zero Emissions, who in their response to the Phase 2 Study said:
“Beyond Zero Emissions have done their own study on the HSR route in partnership with the German Aerospace Centre (DLR). Their research, which will be published in full in May, indicates that the chosen HSR route could be built for under $70 billion, a lot less than the $114 billion quoted in the latest government study.”
If the corridor width of the HSR were to be reduced to a maximum of 40 metres wide, the overall cost would be significantly reduced. In addition, use could be made of existing transport corridors, lessening the cost of land acquisition. This is particularly the case in the major urban areas.
For example, the line to the south from Sydney could be in a tunnel from Central to Kingsgrove where it could surface and share the M5 corridor to Moorebank, where it would join the Study’s preferred route. The M5 would need to be reduced from six to four lanes or a viaduct, occupying the centre divide, built to carry the HSR. This would face some engineering problems where road over-bridges cross the M5.
This would significantly reduce the amount of tunnelling required by 18 kilometres and assuming that the use of the M5 median strip would be minimal, the cost reduction to the project could be up to $1.5 billion.
The suggested staging of construction and commissioning of the HSR network in the Phase 2 Study is logical. However, the major problem with the Study is the time taken to fully construct and implement the project. The final section of the network is not due to be commissioned until 2058. This gives 40 year time frame from commencement to completion.
The first 300 kilometres of the TGV l’est line from Paris to Strasbourg was constructed and commissioned in the three years from 2004 to 2007. Base on the this construction time, the 1,748 kilometres of the east coast HSR should take 18 years and allowing for the length of tunnelling required, it should take no more than 25 years.
In comparison, the Beijing to Shanghai HSR line, which is 1,318 kilometres in length, was constructed and commissioned within 3 years and 2 months. It was commenced in April, 2008 and was commissioned in July, 2011. Based on this pace of construction, the east coast HSR network could be constructed and commissioned within 4 years and 6 months and allowing for the length of tunnelling required it should take no more than 9 years.
Taking the second example, if construction of the HSR network commenced in 2018, the system would be commissioned and operating by 2027, or 31 years earlier than Phase 2 Study has given as the time frame.
Consideration should be given to the calling of tenders to construct and commission the HSR network, by the builders and operators of HSR in Europe and Asia, specifying a time frame of 10 years to complete network. The tenders should include the financing of the project. In taking this approach, HSR could be a reality with in years and not decades.
The HSR Phase 2 Study does prove the case for a future network of High Speed Rail on the east coast of Australia. However, it has been done using methodology associated with the current paradigm of relatively low oil prices. This has led the authors of the Study (who are products of this paradigm) to assume that people will access the HSR by motor vehicle in many cases.
There will be a new paradigm after the affects of peak oil reduce supply to ever-increasing market demand. The result of higher petrol prices (as has been seen since 2004 with increasing usage of public transport when petrol hit 90 cents per litre) will be that HSR passengers will want to use public transport to get them to their nearest HSR station. There does not seem to be an awareness by the Study’s authors to the future reality of much higher petrol prices.
HSR should not be contained in a “box” and opportunities should be sought to extend the benefits of HSR to regions beyond the HSR network. This is the case in France and Germany where the TGVs and the ICEs run beyond the dedicated high-speed lines, on existing conventional lines. In the Australia context, this would require the upgrading, re-commissioning (in some cases), and electrification of lines that could be connected to the HSR.
However, the cost of upgrading these lines would be significantly lower than building new, dedicated HSR lines and would extend the benefits of HSR to many more people. In addition, these conventional rail lines could gain revenue from freight haulage, if intermodal terminals were built at strategic locations.
The time frame for the project is overly long and delays the full benefits of the HSR until 2058. Seeking the involvement of experienced HSR operators from Europe and Asia, to finance and construct the network, could reduce the time frame for the project.
The cost estimates in the Phase 2 Study are exaggerated by the application of the P50 risk factor. It is clear that if the risk management and project management were to be carried-out by an HSR Construction Authority, the actual construction cost would be under $80 billion. This would result in the excessive profits that are usually made by consultants and construction companies not becoming a cost burden on the project.
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