|Proposed high-speed rail line|
Possible alignments of an East Coast Very Fast Train
|Track gauge||1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in)|
|Operating speed||up to 380 km/h (240 mph)|
The Australian rail speed record of 210 km/h was set by Queensland Rail's Tilt Train during a trial run in 1998. This speed is just above the internationally accepted definition of high-speed rail of 200 km/h (120 mph)).
High-speed rail projects have been under investigation since the early 1980s, but none have yet progressed beyond the planning stage.
Various routes between Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney, and Brisbane have been the subject of detailed investigation by prospective operators, government departments and advocacy groups. Some have advocated extending the network to Adelaide or Perth. Others advocate concentrating on shorter routes serving dormitory towns of the major capitals (such as Wollongong, Geelong or Bunbury), possibly as a precursor to a full interstate link.
In 2010, the Australian government announced a A$20 million detailed feasibility and corridor study to determine the economic viability of, and identify potential routes for, a high speed rail network on the east coast. The first phase of the study was completed in 2011, with a projected cost of between $61 and $108 billion ($2011), depending on which route and station combination was selected. The second phase of the study was released on 11 April 2013, finding that the project would cost $114 billion, and be fully operational by 2065.
Because the development of railways pre-dated Federation, each state developed its own system with a different gauge. The great distances between the colonies meant that planners gave little thought to connecting to other systems. The result of this was a national network of several different gauges; changes at the break-of-gauge prevented economies of scale, and in some cases eventually resulted in very expensive standardisation. Despite these disadvantages, for a time rail was the preferred method of interstate travel. However, the advent of air travel and the private automobile gradually replaced rail as the major passenger providers. Rail has been only a marginal player in recent decades.
The construction of a high-speed rail link along the east coast has been the target of several investigations since the early 1980s. Air travel dominates the inter-capital travel market, and intra-rural travel is almost exclusively car-based. Rail has a significant presence in the rural / city fringe commuter market, but inter-capital rail currently has very low market share due to low speeds and infrequent service. However, travel times between the capitals by high-speed rail could be as quick or faster than air travel – a 500 km/h (310 mph) Maglev train could reduce travel time from Melbourne to Sydney to about three hours, while the more conventional 350 km/h (220 mph) technology (such as TGV and Shinkansen) would take about four hours.:s.7 p.4 Various studies and recommendations have asserted that a high speed rail service between the major eastern capital cities could be viable as an alternative to air. Although such studies have generated much interest from the private sector and captured the imagination of the general public upon their release, to date no private-sector proposal has been able to demonstrate financial viability without the need for significant government assistance.:Section 1 Page 1
A mature high-speed rail system would be economically competitive with air and automobile travel, provide mass transit without dependence on imported oil, have a duration of travel that would compare with air travel or be quicker, and would reduce national carbon dioxide emissions.
NOTE: Air travel time includes travel from CBD to airport, waiting at terminal, gate-to-gate transit, and travel to destination CBD.
The major issues preventing the adoption of high-speed rail include, according to Philip Laird:
Proposals and studies prior to 2007 
The rail network has long been a target of proposals for improvement. The 1979 Premiers' Meeting proposed the electrification of the Sydney–Melbourne line to improve transit time from over 12 hours to under 10, but a senate committee found this was not justified on economic grounds. In 1981, the Institution of Engineers proposed the Bicentennial High-Speed Railway Project, which proposed to link the five capitals of south-eastern Australia (Adelaide, Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane) in time for the Australian Bicentenary. However, it proposed only the strengthening and partial electrification of the existing tracks, and the purchase of new diesel-electric trains. It would offer only mild improvements on the existing travel times, and therefore could not be considered a true high-speed rail proposal.
1984 CSIRO proposal 
The first true high-speed rail proposal was presented to the Hawke Government in June 1984 by the CSIRO, spearheaded by its Chairman, Dr Paul Wild. The proposal was to link Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney via a coastal corridor, based on French TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) technology. The proposal estimated construction costs at A$2.5 billion, with initial revenue of A$150 million per annum exceeding operating costs of $50 million per annum. The proposal attracted much public and media attention, as well as some private sector capital for feasibility studies.
In September 1984, the Bureau of Transport Economics found that the probable construction costs had been underestimated by $1.5 billion, and the proposal would therefore be uneconomic. The Minister for Transport, Peter Morris, rejected the proposal.
Very Fast Train (VFT) joint venture 
Two years later in September 1986, the Very Fast Train Joint Venture was established, comprising Elders IXL, Kumagai Gumi, TNT and later BHP, with Dr Wild as chairman. They proposed a 350 km/h rail link from Sydney to Canberra via Goulburn, and then on to Melbourne via the coastal route (or alternatively the inland route). A $19 million feasibility study was initiated by the group in 1988. In 1989, after talks with the Queensland Government, the joint venture group expanded the VFT proposal to include Brisbane.
The VFT was opposed by numerous groups, notably the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Australian Democrats. Concerns centered around the environmental impact a coastal corridor would have on fragile ecosystems, noise pollution and the amount of public money that might be required.
Over the next few years, negotiations continued between the Joint Venture and state and federal governments. A favourable tax regime was sought, without which it was claimed that the project would not be economically viable. South Australian Premier John Bannon was among the vocal proponents of tax breaks for major infrastructure projects such as the VFT. In August 1991, the Hawke Cabinet rejected the proposed tax breaks after it was claimed they would have cost A$1.4 billion. Subsequently the VFT Joint Venture folded.
Speedrail proposal 
In 1993, the Speedrail Consortium (a joint venture between Alstom and Leighton Holdings) made a proposal for a high-speed rail link between Sydney and Canberra. It was initially costed at A$2.4 billion. After years of delays and more claims that massive government subsidies would be required, in March 1997 the Commonwealth, New South Wales and ACT governments formally invited expressions of interest. Six proponents were in the running. In December 1997, the government received four proposals, all accompanied by the required A$100,000 deposit. The proposals were:
On 4 August 1998, Prime Minister John Howard announced that Speedrail was the preferred party, and gave the go ahead for the project to move into the 'proving up' stage, on the understanding that if the project proceeded, it would be at "no net cost to the taxpayer". It was predicted that construction would cost $3.5 billion, with 15,000 new jobs created during the construction period. It was planned that the line would use the East Hills Line to depart Sydney, and then follow the Hume and Federal highways into Canberra. There would be terminals at Central, Campbelltown, Southern Highlands, Goulburn and Canberra Airport. Nine eight-car trainsets would be used, departing from each city at 45 minute intervals, and running at a maximum speed of 320 km/h (199 mph) to complete the journey in 81 minutes. The line was to operate under a build–own–operate model, that would allow a private company to manage the network, but would then be transferred to government after 30 years.
In November 1999, Speedrail submitted a feasibility study to the government, claiming that the project satisfied all the government's requirements. However, the media still speculated that A$1 billion in government assistance or tax concessions would be required. In December 2000, the federal government terminated the proposal due to fears it would require excessive subsidies.
2000 East Coast Very High Speed Train Scoping Study Stage 1 
In December 2000, the Howard Government commissioned TMG International Pty Ltd, leading a team of specialist subconsultants, including Arup, to investigate all aspects of the design and implementation of a high-speed rail system linking Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane. The East Coast Very High Speed Train Scoping Study was released in November 2001 and cost A$2.3 million to prepare. It dealt with high-speed rail technologies, corridor selection and analysis, operating performance and transit times, project costs, projected demand, financing, and national development impacts. The report concluded that although a high-speed rail system could have a place in Australia's transport future, it would require years of bipartisan political vision to realise, and would most likely require significant financial investment from the government.:Preamble,p.5 The report estimated that a full network between Melbourne and Brisbane would cost between A$33 billion to A$59 billion to construct, and that 80 per cent of construction costs would need to be provided through public funds.
In March 2002, the Government concluded the scoping study early due to the potentially enormous costs of such a massive infrastructure project.
Canberra Business Council study 
In April 2008, Infrastructure Australia received a submission, "High Speed Rail for Australia: An opportunity for the 21st century", from The Canberra Business Council. The submission detailed:
Canberra Airport plan 
In 2009, Canberra Airport proposed that it would be the most appropriate location for a second Sydney airport, providing a high-speed rail link was built that could reduce travel times between the cities to 50 minutes. Given the existing development within the Sydney basin, a HSR link will probably be required whatever site is chosen, yet the Canberra option save up to $22 billion which would be needed to develop a greenfields airport site at Badgerys Creek or Wilton. In June 2012, Canberra Airport unveiled plans to build a $140 million rail terminal at the airport if the high-speed link goes ahead.
Current political positions 
In December 2008, the Rudd-Labor government announced that a Very Fast Train along the Sydney–Melbourne corridor, estimated to cost A$25 billion, was the government's highest infrastructure priority.
The Australian Government is currently preparing a A$20 million study into the construction of the difficult Sydney–Newcastle leg of an east coast high speed rail link. It will focus on detailed corridor and station selection, high-level costings, and look at options for extending the line to Brisbane, Canberra and Melbourne. The implementation study commenced in late 2010 and the first stage was released in August 2011. The final report will come out at the end of 2012. The Labor Party initiative won the support of both the Liberal opposition and the Australian Greens, the latter of which called for the study's scope to be extended to encompass Adelaide and Perth.
In the lead-up to the 2010 Victorian state election, Liberal leader Ted Baillieu promised to spend $4 million to set up a "High Speed Rail Advocacy Unit", with the goal of ensuring the first true high-speed rail services are hosted in Melbourne. He expressed support for an east coast link, and extensions west of Melbourne to Geelong and Adelaide.[dead link]
Soon after winning the 2011 NSW state election, the incoming Liberal premier Barry O'Farrell advocated high-speed rail lines to Melbourne and Brisbane instead of a second Sydney airport, saying of a new airport site in NSW: "Whether the central coast, the south-west or the western suburbs [of Sydney], find me an area that is not going to end up causing enormous grief to people who currently live around it".
In June 2011, a volcanic ash cloud from the Puyehue-Cordón Caulle eruption in Chile reached Australia. The subsequent cancellation of hundreds of flights affected 50,000 passengers. There were then renewed calls for a high speed rail link between Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney.
2011 high-speed rail study 
Phase 1 of the A$20m HSR implementation study was released by Transport Minister Anthony Albanese on 4 August 2011. The report shortlisted corridor and station locations for further analysis in a Phase 2 study. City centre station locations short-listed for further analysis in the phase 2 study were at Southern Cross Station and North Melbourne in Melbourne; Civic and Canberra Airport in Canberra; Central Station, Eveleigh, Hombebush and Parramatta in Sydney; and Roma Street and South Bank in Brisbane. The cost of implementing a Melbourne to Brisbane network was estimated at between A$61 billion and A$108 billion, depending upon the corridors selected. The report estimated the land cost component at approximately A$6 billion. :p.ii
The report advised that acquiring, or otherwise preserving the corridor in the short term could reduce future costs by reducing the likelihood of additional tunnels as urban areas grown and preferred corridors become unavailable.
Operations and infrastructure 
Corridor selection 
There are a range of HSR routes being discussed. These include long intercity routes (mainly along the east coast corridor) and shorter inner city routes, such as Sydney to Newcastle, Sydney to Penrith and Sydney to Macarthur.
2011 High Speed Rail Study (Phase 1) routes 
The most frequently studied route for high-speed rail is between Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane. There are two broad corridor alignment options, a coastal and an inland corridor. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages from engineering, environmental, population and national development points of view.
Greater Melbourne 
In late 2008, Transrapid re-entered the high-speed rail debate with a proposal to the Government of Victoria to build a privately funded and operated Maglev line to serve the Greater Melbourne metropolitan area. It was presented as an alternative to the Cross-City Tunnel proposed in the Eddington Transport Report, which neglected to investigate above-ground transport options.
The Maglev would connect Geelong to metropolitan Melbourne's outer suburban growth corridors, Tullamarine and Avalon domestic and international terminals in under 20 minutes, continuing to Frankston, Victoria, in under 30 minutes. It would serve a population of over 4 million people, and Transrapid claimed a price of A$4 billion. However, the Victorian government dismissed the proposal in favour of the underground metropolitan network suggested by the Eddington Report.
Noosa-Gold Coast 
The 2010 IPA report identified Noosa-Brisbane-Gold Coast as a potentially viable high-speed rail link, and a possible precursor to a full east-coast system. The report predicted that a 350 km/h (220 mph) system would reduce travel times between Cooroy (22 km west of Noosa) and Brisbane to 31 minutes (currently 2:08 hours), capturing as much as 84% of the total commuter market. Travel time between Brisbane and the Gold Coast would be reduced to 21 minutes, capturing up to 27% of commuters.
In January 2010, Western Australia's Public Transport Authority completed a feasibility study into a high-speed rail link between Perth and Bunbury. The route would follow the existing narrow gauge Mandurah line to Anketell, then the Kwinana Freeway and Forrest Highway to Lake Clifton, including 140 km (87 mi) of new track. It would replace the existing Transwa Australind passenger service, the route of which is under increasing use for freight traffic.
The proposed service would have a maximum speed of 160 km/h (99 mph), at which the travel time from Perth Underground to a new station in central Bunbury would be 91 minutes. The corridor allows for future upgrade to 200 km/h (120 mph).
Geographic issues 
Though Australia has no large mountain ranges such as in Japan or Europe, the engineering challenges involved in constructing east coast high-speed rail are formidable. The most direct route is the most mountainous, and no route can avoid the Great Dividing Range altogether. High-speed railways require very long radius curves (generally greater than 5 km) and low gradients (generally no greater than 1.5%). Viaducts and tunnels will be required on any section passing through undulating countryside. Key challenges include the western approach to Canberra through the Brindabella Ranges,:s.6 p.4 the northern exit from Sydney through Kuring-gai Chase National Park:s.6 p.8 and across Broken Bay, the Great Dividing Range near Armidale,:s.6 p.11 and the Border Ranges on approach to Brisbane.:s.6 p.11
Though some existing track is sufficiently straight, the quality and flatness of track required by HSR necessitates major upgrades. The speed of such trains precludes the use of level crossings and necessitates measures to exclude trespassers and animals from the track.
The size and density of the major cities' suburban areas creates challenges, as the line reaches the central business districts. The HSR will have to either share existing corridors with other transport services, possibly augmented by additional land acquisitions, or build an entirely new underground corridor.:s.14 p.30
Environmental concerns 
A high-speed rail link has also been advocated on the grounds that it will cut greenhouse gas emissions, primarily by reducing air travel. In Australia, air travel accounts for the highest greenhouse gas emission per passenger-kilometre—240 g—followed by automobiles at 225 g and buses at 75 g. If powered by existing coal power infrastructure, high-speed rail is predicted to emit 150 g per passenger-kilometre, but this could be reduced to 40 g by powering the system with either renewable or nuclear energy.:s.3p.8 
The impact of the railway on sensitive environmental areas such as national parks and wetlands has also been an issue. Any high-speed rail network along the east coast will necessarily have to traverse national parks and other areas of high environmental and cultural value; How severely is affected by engineering and corridor selection decisions. Previous high-speed rail proposals have failed, in part because of green groups' opposition to corridor alignments.
It is unlikely that a high-speed rail system would be viable on a privately funded basis alone. Although ridership on a full Melbourne to Brisbane link is forecast to be similar to Taiwan's privately funded HSR system (around 100,000 per day), the Australian system would be about six times longer than the Taiwanese system with correspondingly higher capital costs. The most likely funding arrangement is therefore either government-as-developer or a public-private partnership. :s.10 p.2
Project costs 
The first phase of the report into an east coast high-speed rail link, the Australian Government's 2011 study High Speed Rail Study: Phase 1, predicted that a Melbourne-Brisbane line via Canberra and Sydney would cost between $61.1 billion and $108.6 billion, depending on the route selected and whether low or high cost estimates were used. Melbourne to Canberra via Albury was estimated at $19.5b-$25.6b; Canberra to Sydney via the Southern Highlands $10.9b-$19.2b, via Wollongong $15b-$24.5b; Sydney–Newcastle $10.7-$17.9b; Newcastle–Brisbane via Beaudesert $20b-$27.8b, via Gold Coast $22.2b-$40.6b.
The second phase predicts that the total cost of a Melbourne-Brisbane line via Canberra and Sydney would be $114b. Additionally, it is predicted that the line would generate sufficient revenue to cover operating and asset recovery costs, with estimates of a return of $2.30 to the economy for every dollar spent.
Previous studies have made similar projections. In 1990, projections for the Melbourne-Canberra-Sydney leg were around $7.5 billion (1990 dollars).
The 2001 Arup-TMG study concluded that a Melbourne-Canberra-Sydney–Brisbane HSR system would cost between A$32 billion to A$59 billion for systems in the range 250 km/h (160 mph) to 500 km/h (310 mph), which would rank in the lower half of the cost of systems built overseas. The study concluded that operating costs would be around 6–7 cents per passenger-kilometer. This study expected project costs to average approximately A$25 million/kilometer, but noted that similar high speed train lines constructed internationally have had widely varying costs depending on the level of viaducts and tunnels. While the Paris-Lyon TGV was constructed for under A$10 million/km, most TGV lines in Europe average around A$20 million/km, and the Taiwan High Speed Rail link cost over A$80 million/km.
A 2010 study by Infrastructure Partnerships Australia concluded that the cost of a Melbourne to Sunshine Coast HSR system would be $80 billion. Within this, it predicted that land acquisition would cost $13.7 billion in 2010, but that this would rise to $57 billion if the government waited until 2030. The report therefore advocated a near-term policy of corridor reservation.
The Australian Government is currently investigating potential public and private funding sources for implementing an east coast high-speed rail network.
Benefits from the implementation of high-speed rail would include:
Various projections of the demand and ridership have been made. A 2010 Infrastructure Partnerships Australia study predicted that a mature high-speed rail system would capture significant market share from air, with the following table assuming a 350 km/h (220 mph) top speed with 2051 population projections.
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