High speed ponzi rail pivots into the regions

By Leith van Onselen

For years MB has explained why it does not support the proposed $120 billion High Speed Rail (HSR) line linking the major eastern cities of Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne, due to:

  • The exorbitant cost associated with building and operating the rail line;
  • Lack of population density to support the project; and
  • Lack of competitiveness against air travel unless there are massive ongoing operational subsidies from taxpayers.

In order to encourage people to move to regional centres and then commute into the CBD for work would require fares to be kept affordable, which in turn would require heavy subsidies from the government. After all, there’s little point moving from, say, Melbourne to Shepparton, and saving $300,000 on a house, if it costs you $200-plus a week to travel into the Melbourne’s CBD via HSR.

Most importantly, the difficulty in getting HSR from the outskirts of Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane into the CBD would make the project prohibitive.

These trains are not compatible with suburban commuter trains unless they slow to the same slow speeds due to alignment and congestion, in which case they are no longer HSR. Further, the current commuter train systems in Sydney and Melbourne are already at capacity and cannot cope with existing demands, let alone imposing a HSR network.

This means HSR would need to be separated from the existing commuter network via new train lines and stations. As our major cities are already build-out, this would necessarily require acquiring some of the most expensive capital city real estate in the world and/ tunnelling under it, either of which would cost a small fortune.

Now discussion appears to be shifting away from the proposed East Coast HSR towards cheaper branch solutions that link nearby towns with the CBD:

Trains reaching Geelong within 35 minutes and Ballarat within 45 minutes would be built under a landmark proposal…

The proposal to overhaul the country rail network has been presented to Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan and federal Cities and Urban Infrastructure and Population Minister Alan Tudge…

At an estimated cost of $30 billion, the new proposal commissioned by Geelong Council would see 200km/h trains run on electric tracks to Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo, Shepparton, the Latrobe region and the Tullamarine and Avalon airports by the 2030s…

The plan is designed to stop Melbourne sprawling ever outwards, by creating better links to satellite regional towns. Slowing breakneck population growth in the city and on the fringe would ease Melbourne’s population, traffic and housing price pressures…

The project moves away from pricey “bullet” trains built on costly new rail corridors that require land acquisitions, and instead calls for upgrades along existing rail reservations…

Of the four routes explored, the favoured regional rail option would see trains run through the proposed airport rail tunnel and surface at West Footscray…

The project would involve minimal if any acquisitions, and cost $10.5 billion (including the airport rail tunnel’s price tag).

I very much doubt that the advertised travel times are realistic. If these trains are to run through existing train routes and the proposed airport rail tunnel, then they will experience congestion and will need to slow to the same speeds as the commuter train network once they hit the outskirts of Melbourne.

Nevertheless, this proposal beats that East Coast HSR proposal hands down. Not only would it be much cheaper, but it would service far more people.

That said, it would merely replace Melbourne’s urban sprawl with ‘leapfrog’ sprawl in the “satellite regional towns”,  thus turning these places into dormitory commuter towns.

If policy makers are so concerned about population growth and congestion, they should address the problem at the source by slashing immigration, since this is the primary driver of the problems.

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