AUSTRALIAN Prime Minister John Howard announced on August 4 that the federal and New South Wales state governments had selected the Speedrail consortium as preferred bidder for a 30-year concession to build and operate a 270 km high-speed line between Sydney and Canberra. The project is costed at around A$3·5bn.

Before work can start, the project is to be reviewed by a seven-strong federal ’Rail Projects Taskforce’ headed by Jack Smorgon, which is also to look at Alice - Darwin, Melbourne - Darwin and a putative high-speed line to Brisbane.

Speedrail comprises Alstom Transport and Leighton Contractors Pty Ltd, together with Qantas and various Australian banks. Alstom would supply a fleet of nine 8-car TGV trainsets capable of 320 km/h operation. French National Railways would provide operations and maintenance expertise, whilst its consultancy subsidiary Systra would assist Leighton on the design and construction of the civil works.

Construction is expected to get under way in 2000. The first trains would be delivered in 2002, and commercial services would start in October 2003. Journey time between the two cities would be cut from 4h 7min to just 81min, with trains operating every 45min at peak times.

Trains would leave Sydney Central via the New Southern Railway and Sydney Airport, and then follow the East Hills line to Campbelltown, where a refurbished station would provide interchange with CityRail services to Paramatta and Blacktown. The new line would then follow the Federal and Hume highways to the Australian Capital Territory. Stations are envisaged at Goulburn and Canberra Airport. o