AUSTRALIA: The first of two studies into proposals for a high speed line running more than 1 600 km from Brisbane to Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne was released by Minister for Infrastructure & Transport Anthony Albanese on August 4.

The Phase I report was compiled by AECOM Australia in association with Grimshaw Architects, KPMG and SKM. It establishes indicative corridors for further analysis in Phase II, along with station location options, patronage forecasts and analysis of social and regional development impacts.

The study considered a double-track electrified line suitable for 200 km/h in urban areas and 350 km/h elsewhere. The corridors shortlisted for further analysis are:

  • Coastal between Brisbane and Newcastle (around 700 km depending on option selected).
  • Central Coast between Newcastle and Sydney (120 km).
  • Hume Highway (271 km) and Princes Highway (290 km) corridors between Sydney and Canberra via Southern Highlands.
  • Hume Highway corridor between Canberra and Melbourne (552 km).

These corridors would broadly follow the existing long-distance rail network, provide access to larger regional towns with stations every 70 to 100 km, have lower infrastructure and land acquisition costs than alternatives, offer the highest net benefits and minimise impact on sensitive land. Major urban areas would be approached in tunnel, as the costs are seen as comparable to land acquisition.

Journey times from Sydney would be around 3 h to Melbourne or Brisbane, 1 h to Canberra and 40 min to Newcastle. Stations in the central business districts are seen as the major traffic generators, and so Sydney and Melbourne airports have not been shortlisted for stations. However, the corridor could be used for a Melbourne airport rail link.

A more detailed analysis including financial viability will be carried out in Phase II, which is currently out to tender with a view to completion around mid-2012. Outline costs are put in the range A$61bn to A$108bn, and the Phase I report says 'international experience suggests it is unrealistic to expect the capital cost of a HSR network to be recovered'.