back to all news

Australian bullet train: Govt study backs $114bn 45-year project

By David Flynn     Filed under: high speed rail

Sydney to Melbourne, or Brisbane, in under three hours: that’s the promise of Australia’s high-speed rail line, according to a Government study to be released today.

Carrying a stunning price tag of A$114b, the line wouldn’t be complete until around 2060, although the primary Sydney-Melbourne leg would be running as early as 2040, following the opening of the Sydney-Canberra line in 2035.

The 1,750km of dedicated high-speed track would would run down the east cost from Brisbane to Sydney, then turn inland to reach Melbourne, with a short spur line for Canberra.

Express train, or all stations...

Apart from the capital city stops, other stations along the route would include the Gold Coast, Casino, Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Taree, Newcastle, the NSW central coast, the NSW southern highlands, Wagga Wagga, Albury-Wodonga and Shepparton.

Express services would reach speeds up to 350km/h with estimated travel times of 2h44m between Sydney and Melbourne, with five express services every hour – yes, not every day, but every hour.

Three to four express services per hour would zoom between Sydney to Brisbane in 2h37m, with one Sydney-Canberra fast train every 60 minutes taking just over an hour, while Sydney to Newcastle would be a 39 minute sprint.

The express runs would be supplemented by 'regional services' stopping at all stations along the route, travelling at between 200-250km/h.

Assuming fares similar to current airfares, it’s predicted the line would grow to carry 84 million passengers per year by 2065, with two-thirds of users being business travellers.

Almost 18.8 million passengers per year would use the line between Sydney and Melbourne and a further 10.9 million between Sydney and Brisbane.

The high-speed line would steal as much as 40% of air travel on the Brisbane-Sydney-Canberra-Melbourne corridor and 60% of regional air travel.

Despite the enormous cost, the study – initiated by the Federal Labour Government and backed by the Greens – claims the line would eventually pay its own way and also deliver “a net national economic benefit of $2.30 for every dollar spent”.

If you're keen to take a deeper dive into the proposed Australian bullet train, click here to download the full report [41MB PDF].

The long road to high-speed rail

Construction of the Australian HSR line would begin after a 15 year lead-in of planning, pre-construction and procurement of necessary lands.

The line includes some 144km of tunnels, almost half of that being in the Sydney basin in order to skirt the city’s development sprawl, which would cost $33bn or almost one-third of the overall price tag.

First cab off the rank would be Sydney-Canberra, recommended to begin building in 2027 with first trains running in 2035.

The extension to Melbourne would open five years later, with other links added in five-year intervals.

As airlines around the world face increasing competition from superfast train services for short-range travel, an Australian firm has thrown its thinking-cap into the ring with a bullet-train capable of hurtling between cities at up to 400 kilometres per hour – that's almost 250 mph in the old currency.

Inside the Aussie bullet train

Australian design firm Hassell has already revealed its futuristic concept for the Aussie bullet train.

Hassell calls it the Australian High Speed Vehicle or A-HSV, in a nod to Australia's iconic Holden Monaro HSV high-performance car.

Hassell sees the double-decker carriages adopting a modern and spacious open-plan design for passengers, along with private berths for business meetings or those who just want to work without interruption.

That said, it reminds us of the spacious lounge areas, bars and even in-flight gyms originally planned for the Boeing 747 and Airbus A380 before the commercial reality of fitting a maximum number of bums on seats took hold.

But as far as pictures go, they're very pretty indeed... as is this two-minute video clip produced by Hassell to showcase their concept train.

Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter: we're @AusBT

Profile

About David Flynn

David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

 

Have something to say? Post a comment now!

1 on 11/4/13 by tonywills

45 Year plan??? Wont we have flying cars by then?

1 on 11/4/13 by RobL

Interestingly a journalist asked Albanese this exact question at the press release. He replied by saying the study report deserved more than for him to respond to such a question. 

2 on 12/4/13 by Al

Yes, "because where we're going, we don't need roads!" (Doc Emmett Brown, Back to the Future).

2 on 11/4/13 by undertheradar

i reckon we'll see pigs fly before this ever happens....govts have been doing 'feasability studies' for decades..and no-one has the 'b***s' to commit!!   yawwwwwwn

1 on 11/4/13 by DGP

Exactly!  Look how many feasability studies and millions of dollars they have spent/wasted on a 2nd Sydney Airport.

3 on 11/4/13 by russell

We could be living on Mars by then....

4 on 11/4/13 by Phil

Amazing 1/3 of the cost is just to get trains in/out of Sydney! (or is that half of 1/3?) still a lot of money. 

1 on 11/4/13 by watson374

Getting out of the Sydney basin is the hard part.

I don't see this happening. It's not cost-effective against air travel.

5 on 11/4/13 by spinoza

Honestly hard to get excited about a story about a project with a small chance of being built, in 30-50 years time :)

6 on 11/4/13 by Agfox

Let's save time & money by adopting the US definition of HSR which, from memory, is around 170kmh. Promote Lower High Speed Rail now, otherwise I'll likely be dead before even the proposed Melbourne-Sydney leg gets going.

1 on 11/4/13 by Agfox

*I've Googled it; 175kmh or higher

1 on 11/4/13 by RobL

Acela Express runs at speeds up to 150 mph which is 240 kph.

1 on 11/4/13 by Agfox

Yes, but according to Wikipedia, the average speed is less than half that speed.

2 on 11/4/13 by 444desiro

There is little point building a line to a lower specification with slower trains, which will then need to be upgraded later at massive cost & disruption to travellers.

Far better to construct the line in stages, to high speed specification, and accept lower speeds on certain 'classic' sections for a few years. Eurostar did pretty much that for 10 years waiting for  the UK to construct their part of the High Speed rail network.

1 on 11/4/13 by Agfox

I knew someone would miss the tongue-in-cheek aspect of my post, which I thought was fairly obvious from the last sentence.

1 on 11/4/13 by 444desiro

Doesn't necessarily read as a 'fairly obvious' tongue-in-cheek post though, does it? 

Same as it wasn't 'fairly obvious' hat you were talking about 'average' Acela speeds, not maximum....

Nonetheless, thank you for your derisory put-down of my considered opinion of your comment....

1 on 11/4/13 by Agfox

Well, if you re-read my initial post, you'll see that I didn't mention Acela or it's speed; I was talking about the definition of HSR in the US in terms of speed. Also, I dispute your claim of a 'derisory put-down' & suggest, again, that you're reading something that's not in my post.

1 on 11/4/13 by 444desiro

I agree with you that I'm reading something that wasn't in your post - and that's the 'tounge-in-cheeck' irony you were trying to achieve!

Hence my view about staging construction, etc.

1 on 11/4/13 by Agfox

Sorry, I can't suggest anything for your comprehension problem. Also, no mention of Acela again, so you managed to sort that one out ok then?

1 on 11/4/13 by 444desiro

Yeah, worked that part out fine thanks.

7 on 11/4/13 by RobL

Should probably come clean and say I work in Rail and I qualified for Virgin FF Platinum and Qantas FF Gold working on the HSR study as there is no viable alternative to flying.

I live in Melbourne CBD and worked in Sydney CBD and in the year or so that I commuted to Sydney I can honestly say that only on a handful of occasions, literally, did I make the door to door trip in less than 3 hours, and that was doing on line check in and aiming to arrive at the airport as the aircraft commenced boarding. Just imagine how Australian aviation would work in a scenario where the security screening process takes as long as it does in the US or UK.

Would a second Sydney airport have made a difference? Probably not as weather delays and short turnaround times, which are commensurate with aircraft usage and ultimately airline profitability compound problems. And a second airport will be further away from Sydney CBD and therefore any saving on ATC or weather delays would be lost by additional travel time from the airport to the CBD.

Just my thoughts. And by the way I do really enjoy flying.

1 on 11/4/13 by Agfox

Geeze, Rob, I hope it was a well-paid job to compensate for that commuting.

2 on 12/4/13 by Al

I agree, HSR really changes the whole dynamics of travel, even comparing the time it takes vs air travel there is no real difference and the benefits that HSR would bring are immense in terms of the consttruction of the line (employment, injection of money into the economy), longer-term economic and environmental benefits, economic development of towns along the route, even lifestyle benefits because you could live in a place like Newcastle with its beaches and fresh air and affordable housing and still work in Sydney, right in the CBD, and commute between the two every day by HSR in almost as much time as it takes today to commute to Penrith by train. That has got to be good for reducing congestion on roads too. A shame that I agree with everybody else here that it probably won't ever be built.

8 on 11/4/13 by Wezza

$114bn? I find that hard to believe when you look at how much the NBN is costing. Won't happen anyway.

9 on 11/4/13 by Lindsay

I think I know the answer to the time this will take...red tape & consultation. I just travelled from the new Luhai station (just over the border from Macau) to Guangzhou on a new Chinese fast rail service (travelling around 200kmh). Planned in 2008 and up and running already. I think the secret (apart from the Chinese dictatorship) is the fact that it all runs well above ground ...giant pylons holding up a concrete rail structure. Doesn't greatly affect farmland of motorways. How can they achieve this in 4 years yet we will take 40 years. As I say, I know the answer to my question but seriously if we want to move ahead here in Australia, we need to cut out a lot of the red tape bull.... and 'just do it'. I also guarantee that the Chinese will cover most of China with high speed rail for a fraction of what it will cost for this Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne service.

10 on 11/4/13 by Ben84

The airlines shouldn't worry to much. HSR has been discussed for decades and still we debate the possibility. Australia isnt exactly known for being proactive when it comes to transport infrastructure. 

The federal government has run out of money and borrows every day. $114bn simply can't be found even in the medium term, without adding debt on top of debt. 

As another poster has pointed out, it took China less than a decade to build a HSR line of 1,300km. 

Yet we are looking at 40 years? Try not even in 400 years!

We should be getting top HSR experts from Asia and Europe to help plan and build the line. The Victorian, NSW, Queensland, ACT and Federal governments should all Contribute to the cost of construction. Sure, they'd have to borrow, but it would spread the burden. Partially float a HSR company and let local and foreign investors buy into the line. Then, give the major airlines a chance to invest in the line. Qantas, Virgin, Jetstar and Tiger all have a lot to lose with HSR. If some deal could be reached, billions in airline investment funds could be unlocked. 

But we need to be looking at a 15-20 year completion date at the most for the airlines to even consider being part of the project. 

1 on 11/4/13 by Ben84

I think it is worth noting that with 40-50% of east coast air travel diverted to HSR (potentially more if the government legislated on the number of domestic airline slots for east coast travel) would free up considerable slots at major airports like Sydney and Melbourne (eventually Brisbane too). 

The shift would free up a lot more slots (already growing due to larger aircraft replacing smaller planes), thereby preventing the need for a second Sydney airport, which is estimated to cost nearly $50bn.

1 on 12/4/13 by watson374

A second airport probably won't cost that much, and even if it does, the (mostly-recoverable) cost would be borne by the private sector.

This HSR is an exercise in the federal government wasting 114 billion dollars.

1 on 12/4/13 by Ben84

As many HSR studies have shown, in the long term the money spent is an investment. For every $1 put in the return would eventually be $2.30. That's not a bad return on a major infrastructure project. 

Instead of having to crawl out to Badgery's Creek in nigmarish Sydney traffic, the HSR would link CBD to CBD. No more hour Mascot to CBD taxi trips in peak hour. 

Not to mention the savings made by not building that second Sydney airport (or even more airports for Melbourne and Brisbane, or expanding Canberra airport). Combined, these projects will cost just as much as the HSR. 

1 on 12/4/13 by watson374

...and deliver less benefit.

You can't use HSR slots to run services to anywhere besides MEL and BNE. Albanese has already admitted that the HSR won't negate the need for a second airport.

1 on 13/4/13 by Ben84

By reducing air traffic between Syd-Bris, Syd-Canb and Syd-Melb (5th busiest air passenger route in the world) you do free up airport slots - quite a few in fact. 

By building HSR and abolishing the curfew at Sydney (which currently is only at 60% slot capacity) the need for a new airport is negated. 

1 on 13/4/13 by watson374

It doesn't change the inconvenient fact that the 114 billion will never be seen again, and no government would like that. This is the killer.

People seem to be labouring under the impression that the airlines will cooperate and meekly shut down all these air routes, and let the government lose money shuttling them. This won't happen.

Aviation functions fine in Australia. Why do we insist on wasting government money to create an uncompetitive "competitor"?

1 on 13/4/13 by Ben84

It's as easy as legislating to reduce the number of available slots to east coast domestic air travel once the line opens. 

As I said before, you could easily bring the major airlines in on the investment and give them a chunk of the revenue that would eventuate. 

That $114bn would be seen again and then some. As determined, for every $1 invested, some $2.30 would eventually result from passenger revenue, freight and the flow on effect of the line. 

Its a long term investment. Europe long ago saw the benefits, as did Japan. Now China is beginning to incorporate HSR. The UK is investing as well. 

Sadly, we continue to follow the path of America, where car and air is king because there is no vision or will from a short term thinking political class. 

1 on 14/4/13 by watson374

Clearly I cannot shake you from your delusions, but it needs to be stressed again and again that both Europe and Japan have the population density to support such a network; China has the sheer size of cities to make it work.

We have neither. The study has already concluded that the return on investment will be around 1%; almost all the benefit will consist of everyone else profiting from the Commonwealth squandering money. It's up to the feds to decide if they want to burn this kind of cash, and I don't think they will, and I don't think they should.

To top it off, legislating out Golden Triangle flights is anti-competitive and bordering on a police state.

There are more effective ways to convey passngers between Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Brisbane.

1 on 14/4/13 by Ben84

It's all elementary, dear Watson. Sydney to Melbourne is the 5th busiest air passenger route by numbers in the world. And with the east coast population set to grow by millions in the coming 30 years, there will be even more demand for interstate travel. In 2050 the lowest prediction for Sydney is 7 million people. Melbourne will be close to it (maybe even more). Brisbane will have 4.5 million. 

HSR isn't just about passengers. It is about opening new parts of the interior to development. The benefits can be enormous if this is done right. This goes beyond getting people from A to B. 

As I said, the report has suggested that for eve $1 spent on the line, a national benefit of $2.50 could result. 

Sydney to Melbourne CBDs in 3 hours puts HSR on par with air travel (when you take airport to CBD travel into consideration), plus is not reliant on oil prices (which will become increasingly expensive in the coming half a century). 

As for your claim that capping the number of slots available to domestic airlines is anti- competitive, then we are already engaging in your definition of a "police state" (which is a touch hyperbolic).

Besides, as I stated earlier, we can always offer the airlines shares in the line.  

2 on 15/4/13 by RobL

The study is based upon mid to long term population increase forecasts and hence the overall system, Line 1 and Line 2, is projected completed by 2065 thus maximising the potential take up. Additionally the report does not suggest spending $114bn tomorrow whereas it does suggest building incremental stages over a period of some 30 years.

You mention that there are more effective ways to convey passengers between Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Brisbane - some examples would be good or do you just mean more/bigger planes?

We all have opinions but because someone's opinion is different it doesn't make it delusional!

1 on 15/4/13 by watson374

It's all elementary, dear Watson. Sydney to Melbourne is the 5th busiest air passenger route by numbers in the world. And with the east coast population set to grow by millions in the coming 30 years, there will be even more demand for interstate travel. In 2050 the lowest prediction for Sydney is 7 million people. Melbourne will be close to it (maybe even more). Brisbane will have 4.5 million.

> ...so we've got a healthy air route, and we want to destroy it?

HSR isn't just about passengers. It is about opening new parts of the interior to development. The benefits can be enormous if this is done right. This goes beyond getting people from A to B.

> Regional areas are better served by upgrading existing railways to a standard allowing operations at 160km/h to 200km/h.

As I said, the report has suggested that for eve $1 spent on the line, a national benefit of $2.50 could result.

> That doesn't change the fact that the ROI is estimated at 1%. Sure there will be benefits, but you ignore the political risk in putting so much money in one basket. This is the problem - the political unwillingness to put this kind of money into one big project. I agree that opening up the interior is a good idea, but many such projects have failed to meet their targets; in this case, it would be a catastrophe if it failed.

Sydney to Melbourne CBDs in 3 hours puts HSR on par with air travel (when you take airport to CBD travel into consideration), plus is not reliant on oil prices (which will become increasingly expensive in the coming half a century). 

> So we're spending 114 billion to get from Sydney to Melbourne in exactly the same time it takes now. This is genius.

> HSR doesn't run off atmospheric nitrogen, though; I don't quite see how burning coal to not burn kerosene is a national eureka moment.

As for your claim that capping the number of slots available to domestic airlines is anti- competitive, then we are already engaging in your definition of a "police state" (which is a touch hyperbolic).

> That I agree with, but I don't see any political will to risk shortening the curfew; I can see an increase in the movement per hour cap, but not the shutdown curfew.

Besides, as I stated earlier, we can always offer the airlines shares in the line. 

> Somehow, I don't see the airlines as particularly keen on getting into such a big, risky project that eats into their business.

2 on 15/4/13 by watson374

The study is based upon mid to long term population increase forecasts and hence the overall system, Line 1 and Line 2, is projected completed by 2065 thus maximising the potential take up. Additionally the report does not suggest spending $114bn tomorrow whereas it does suggest building incremental stages over a period of some 30 years.

> I realise that this is supposed to be a long-term "investment", but I feel the need to point out that three decades would see ten NSW parliaments.

You mention that there are more effective ways to convey passengers between Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Brisbane - some examples would be good or do you just mean more/bigger planes?

> ...with additional airport capacity at each corner of the Golden Triangle, yes.

We all have opinions but because someone's opinion is different it doesn't make it delusional!

> I do apologise for that one, as I've had too many arguments with genuinely deluded people on other forums, who push a HSR agenda because they like the idea, and scratch around for reasons to support it. Too often, people take the route of, "I want this solution. How do we apply it?"

1 on 15/4/13 by Ben84

If the airlines didn't want a piece of it, then that would be their choice. 

You are right that HSR doesn't run on air. But The dominance of coal is declining in favour of gas and cleaner alternatives. Ultimately, we have lots of reasonably cheap coal, compared to oil - which will get more expensive in decades to come. 

The $114bn is for the Brisbane-Sydney-Melbourne line. The Sydney-Melbourne line, via Canberra is about half that.  This is based on virtually building an entire new route, which involves large property purchases. A much cheaper alternative would be to elevate a HSR track above existing infrastructure like the Hume Highway. 

As I've pointed out, HSR ultimately opens slots at east coast airports and negates the need for additional airports for Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. 

The one area I will agree with you, Watson, is the political side of this. Such a huge undertaking is very unlikely given the nature of Australia's predisposition to short term agendas. 

1 on 15/4/13 by watson374

If the airlines didn't want a piece of it, then that would be their choice.

> This does, however, introduce the problem of competition, which then introduces the problem of price wars, which in turn introduces the problem of the HSR not making enough money to covers its costs.

You are right that HSR doesn't run on air. But The dominance of coal is declining in favour of gas and cleaner alternatives. Ultimately, we have lots of reasonably cheap coal, compared to oil - which will get more expensive in decades to come.

> I'll concede the point about fuel supply, but I'm confident that alternative fuels will be found for aviation.

The $114bn is for the Brisbane-Sydney-Melbourne line. The Sydney-Melbourne line, via Canberra is about half that.  This is based on virtually building an entire new route, which involves large property purchases. A much cheaper alternative would be to elevate a HSR track above existing infrastructure like the Hume Highway.

> The cheaper option is much, much inferior, though; once it gets to that, why not simply upgrade the existing Main South line?

As I've pointed out, HSR ultimately opens slots at east coast airports and negates the need for additional airports for Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. 

> So? Additional airport capacity will relieve this, and offer more slots for international services, air freight, etc. HSR doesn't negate the need for more airport capacity - not in Sydney, at least - but the intercapital transport problem HSR is supposed to solve can be solved with more airport capacity.

The one area I will agree with you, Watson, is the political side of this. Such a huge undertaking is very unlikely given the nature of Australia's predisposition to short term agendas.

> Indeed. The paralysis is slowly but surely destroying us.

11 on 11/4/13 by airtraveladdict

I'd like to the company that gets paid the millions of $$$ to do the feasability study everytime the government needs an election fairy tale story.

1 on 12/4/13 by Al

Can't agree, I downloaded the report expecting to see a lot of PR fluff but this thing is chock full of detail. You get a feeling for how much expert work went into this, so I'm sure they were paid well but I also reckon they earned their money!

12 on 12/4/13 by David

We've just updated this article with a download link for the full HSR report - but to save you trawling back through the story, click here to download the report (it's a 41MB PDF).

1 on 12/4/13 by 444desiro

Might be worth sticking a link up to the maps as well, as people might find those quite intersting to flick through (a fair bit of detail visible)

http://www.infrastructure.gov.au/rail/trains/high_speed/corridor/

13 on 12/4/13 by Himeno

2nd SYD. East coast HSR... They've been talking about both for the past 30+ years... I don't see it happen with the way Australian governments act.

I am disappointed with the route plan they've released this time. It's just following the current standard gauge track down the coast. I'd much rather CBR be on the main line, not just some spur line to SYD. I want to go CBR-MEL and not have to connect in SYD.

Australian rail contractors don't seem able to build something like this. The last major rail project in Australia was swapping out the board gauge North-East line (Melbourne to Albury) to standard gauge. It was meant to take 12 months. That was 2010. They still haven't gotten it right.

If they are serious about this, they should contract China to build it. The entire line would be open inside of 5 years.

1 on 14/4/13 by watson374

Although I believe this entire thing is a non-starter, I can agree with the idea that CBR should be on the SYD-MEL main line.

So from north to south, something like BNE-OOL-CFS-PQQ-NTL-SYD-CBR-WGA-ABX-MEL?

2 on 15/4/13 by RobL

You must have misred the report as my understanding is that Canberra to Melbourne, and vice versa, is direct and does not involve Sydney.

14 on 12/4/13 by gippsflyer

This current mob in Government just seem to love decade long delivery times. By 2060 I'd expect this high speed train would be hideously out of date.

15 on 15/4/13 by CL9

It's my view that there is really no need for the Sydney to Melbourne, Brisbane or Newcastle high speed rail network.

However, I believe that Sydney's 'second airport' should just be a heavily upgraded Canberra Airport, with a high speed rail link between the two cities. Even though Canberra is almost 300km away from sydney, with the high speed rail link this won't be outrageous, and will reduce the amount of time and money wasted on building another airport from scratch for Sydney.

16 on 19/4/13 by rnw99

Need to swing across the line to include Wollongong in the South Coast of NSW. The city is in the top 3 most populated cities in the state. It doesn't make sense for them to have to go north to Sydney first then south to Melbourne if they're heading that way.

And yes, 45 years is way too long. I'm sure there are more efficient and effective ways to go about it. Don't be afraid to hire foreigners to do the job. Hint: the Japanese and/or Europeans.

1 on 15/5/13 by Dundas

Well to put the 45 years time frame in perspective, the shinkansen in Japan has been running now for 49 years, and has been evolving ever since it started. They're now on their 8th generation of train (now capable of 320 km/h), and during the day there are at least eight sixteen carriage trains per hour between Osaka and Tokyo, with a journey time of less than two and a half hours for the 525 km. It's a great service - fast, and safe (they've never had a fatality). The train is definitely the preferred alternative for most travellers between Osaka and Tokyo.

Who knows what the place would be like without it, but there definitely are all kinds of returns for the Japanese community. 

Look at the track, and it's standard gauge track - nothing special, except that the Japanese have been prepared to invest money in it. And what do we have? A run down system that most governments (including the likely incoming Abbot government) prefer to neglect. It's a very different attitude to investment in infrastructure.

17 on 1/12/13 by Greg

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

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

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

 

Related News Items

 

Australian business traveller newsletter

Get Updates as they happen, tailored to your preferences, right in your inbox

|

What topics interest you?