High-speed rail cost and timeline “laughable”

April 11, 2013

Researchers who have performed their own analysis of the high-speed rail link from Melbourne to Brisbane have today questioned the governments announced 45-year timeline and $114 billion costing.

“When John F. Kennedy saw a challenge worth taking he decided to get on with it as quickly as humanly possible, and in 8 years Neil Armstrong was walking on the moon. On the other hand, some would have us believe building a high-speed railway from Melbourne to Brisbane will take 45 years,” said Gerard Drew, high-speed rail researcher for climate solutions think-tank Beyond Zero Emissions.

“The economic windfall which high speed rail will deliver to Australia has finally been recognised by the Federal Government, and that's a good thing.

“But we fear that political delay and gold-plating could leave this as just a dream for another two generations of Australians.

“The rail network that was built all over the eastern states was built with picks and shovels over 100 years ago, much of it in less time than has been suggested for this project,” Mr Drew said.

“45 years is laughable.”

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.

“I suspect the stretched timeline adds considerably to the financial challenge, as well as the gold plating, which is evident in their cost estimates. The $114 billion price tag is questionable to say the least,” Drew said.

The BZE-DLR analysis makes significant savings by avoiding the most difficult terrain. A kilometre of track in a tunnel can cost more than 10 times that on level ground, so every little bit adds up to big savings for a 1700km alignment.

“We have mapped out our own route based on the limitations of high speed trains, and our analysis indicates that with this limited flexibility we could reduce the civil works cost of the rural sections by near 40% of the government's Phase 1 estimates, with negligible increases in journey time,” Drew said.

Another area for large cost reductions is the challenge of accessing the major city centres, which accounts for approximately one third of the total cost of the project in the government's Phase 1 study. The reason this is so high is due to the very expensive approach of tunnelling from the fringe to the centre of each city, and underground stations.

The BZE-DLR study shows this is largely avoidable, even in Sydney, by exploiting existing infrastructure corridors (existing rail, freeways, or transmission lines) and also adds markedly to the savings.