Posts Tagged ‘High speed rail’

VIDEO: Shaun Micallef: Australia’s NBN proposals

A High Speed Rail (HSR) network connecting Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney, and Brisbane has been shown to create more benefits than costs while fares would pay the operating costs of trains on such a network. Yet there seems little appetite in the government to build one. Initially, this may appear to be due to the high initial costs of $114bn to build it; but on closer inspection it may be necessary to re-evaluate the way we look at HSR as something for regional Australia rather than just for travel between the capital cities.

Cost benefit analysis suggests that HSR is worth building. The Phase 2 Study found that HSR has a BCR (Benefit Cost Ratio) of 1.1 when a 7% discount rate is used. Thus, the benefits of building HSR are greater than the costs. However, the bulk of these benefits would accrue to the users of HSR in the form of time savings. In 2028 dollars, HSR users would receive $141bn of the total $180bn of benefits that HSR is expected to create. An additional $14bn of benefit go to operator benefits, which help to pay the operating costs and up to $16bn (14%) of infrastructure costs, but this still leaves the government paying for $98bn (86%) of infrastructure spending on HSR. (Sources: HSR Phase 2 Study Executive Summary, pages 42, 9).

This means the government would be subsidising the travel costs of HSR users to the tune of $98bn. This is unlike the NBN, where the initial infrastructure spending is expected to be eventually recouped. The majority of users (65%) would be leisure travellers; however the bulk of the benefits would be realised by business travellers (the remaining 35%), who would receive $93.6bn of the $141bn of benefits. That is because of the higher value attached to their time. This point was raised by Alan Davies in Crikey, who proposed that “if the [time] saving is so valuable to business travellers, they should pay the full cost of constructing the line”. The Phase 2 Study even recognises that these travellers would be willing to pay a higher fare:

“Increasing the cost of fares would increase the financial returns and reduce the funding gap, although doing so would reduce the number of people using the system. Even so, the economic benefits of the program would remain positive.”Source: HSR Phase 2 Study Executive Summary, page 9

Higher fares would have the benefit of reducing the government’s cost below $98bn. However, it would do so by impacting leisure travellers the most, with many choosing not to travel on HSR. Business travellers would mostly still continue to use HSR, but the loss of many leisure travellers would see the total benefit of the project reduced. Although the Phase 2 Study claims the economic benefits in such a situation would still remain positive (i.e. a BCR greater than 1), this may be based on the less conservative 4% discount rate, rather than the more conservative 7% discount rate that is normally applied to transport infrastructure projects. The 1.1 BCR that a 7% discount provides is dangerously close to falling below the 1.0 required for the project to be economically viable. Therefore, as it stands HSR does not appear viable without a $98bn government subsidy, most of which would flow to business travellers who least need government welfare.

An alternative perspective

The Phase 2 Study emphasises that HSR accrues more benefits as time progresses, given the growth in population. If governments work collaboratively and actively to preserve potential HSR corridors then HSR cost increases should be limited. Therefore, HSR becomes more viable as time progresses with benefits growing faster than costs.

Since HSR gains most of its benefits from additional users, one way to increase the viability of HSR is to add additional population to the corridor. This would be much easier to achieve around the regional stations where constraints are much more limited than in the major cities. HSR could act as an enabler, allowing a greater number of people to live and work in regional areas without becoming isolated from those services only available in major cities. The Phase 2 Study’s assumptions of modest population growth in regional towns situated on the HSR route show that this was not considered as part of the feasability for HSR.

In fact, the Phase 2 Study finds that HSR will produce $73.2bn in benefits from intercity travel, more than the $67.5bn in benefits from regional travel (Source: Department of Infrastructure, page 43). This finding that most of the benefits accrue from intercity travel rather than regional travel suggest that not enough is being done to massively develop regional Australia. HSR provides this opportunity which in turn makes HSR more viable.

Proposed East Coast High Speed Rail alignment. Click to enlarge. (Source: Department of Infrastructure, page 17.)

Proposed East Coast High Speed Rail alignment. Click to enlarge. (Source: Department of Infrastructure, page 17.)


This idea was floated by the ABC show Catalyst in its 4 December 2014 episode “Future Cities“, in which Dr Julian Bolleter says:

“So, what we think is really important, as the capital cities grow beyond mid-century, is that we begin to think not so much in terms of mega cities, but mega regions. Essentially, it means chains of smaller cities connected with very good public transport infrastructure. So we could conceive of a mega region running from Brisbane to Sydney through Canberra to Melbourne which is bound together by a high-speed rail link, and those cities will have access to affordable land, and they’ll also be able to be designed from the ground up around the principles of 21st-century sustainability. High-speed rail can travel at about 350km/h, so there’s no city along this mega region that is further than two hours commute on a high-speed train from a capital city.”Source: Dr Julian Bolleter, ABC

Achieving this would require us to rethink how HSR would work in AustraliaShadow Transport Minister Anthony Albanese recently wrote on HSR in which he concluded one well thought out and one not so well thought out point. His statement that “people could live in regional Australia and commute to work in the city” was not well thought out; this is true only to the extent that people can currently commute to work in Sydney by flying into Kingsford-Smith Airport, or any other major city airport. However his point that “companies could establish themselves in the regions, taking advantage of lower costs but comfortable in the knowledge the city was a short train ride away” hits the nail on the head.

In order for HSR to be a success in spurring regional development people need to live, work, and spend leisure time in the same place. Employment opportunities as well as services that are needed on a day to day basis such as health and education would be provided locally. But the existence of HSR provides convenient access to services which are not needed day to day, such as medical specialists or major cultural festivals.

If the 1,700km HSR corridor had a station every 100km or so along major regional cities, and these cities were allowed to grow to 800,000 residents each (as Dr Bolleter suggests in the Catalyst video), then it would be roughly equivalent to a doubling of the existing populations of Sydney and Melbourne combined. Once it becomes prohibitively expensive to retrofit the necessary infrastructure into our growing major cities, it will become cheaper to build it in regional cities even after the cost of HSR is factored in. Australian cities have not reached that point yet, but it remains a question of when rather than if they do reach that point.

Monday: High speed rail costs could be halved

The Australasian Railway Association has released a report showing that, based on international construction costs of $35m/km, a high speed rail line from Brisbane to Melbourne could be built for $63bn. This is significantly less than the $114bn in the Australian Government’s recent high speed rail study.

Tuesday: 4 routes shortlisted for Parramatta light rail

An initial list of 10 possible light rail lines from Parramatta has been cut down to 4, with a final decision to be made in the near future. The government is set to pick a line connecting Parramatta to either Castle Hill, Macquarie Park, Olympic Park, or Bankstown.

Artists impression of light rail in Parramatta. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Artists impression of light rail in Parramatta. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Tuesday: Fuel excise indexation introduced via regulation

The indexation of the fuel excise is to be introduced by the Australian Government despite the Senate having blocked legislation to enable it. Reintroducing indexation will cause the price of petrol to rise by about 1c per year and is expected to raise $2.2bn over 4 years. The move is expected to put pressure on Senators to pass the measure so that the additional revenue raised does not have to be refunded to petrol companies.

Tuesday: Mobile apps to help with accessibility

The Government is calling on app developers to help create a series of apps that will meet the needs of people with a disability using public transport. This is aimed at ensuring compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act to provide better services for people with a disability. “Planning a journey, knowing that our stop is coming up next or even knowing which side of the train to alight from are tasks that most of us take for granted,” a Transport for NSW spokesman said, adding that “for customers with disability or impairment it can be a huge cause of anxiety”. Selected app proposals will receive seed funding, ongoing access to real time transport data as well as promotion of their product by Transport for NSW.

Thursday: Gold Opal card to be released

A Gold Opal card for seniors and pensioners is to be released on Monday 3 November. The card will feature a $2.50 daily cap and also offer free travel after the first 8 journeys each week. Speaking about existing paper tickets for seniors and pensioners, the Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian said that “the paper Pensioner Excursion Ticket will continue to be available on Monday November 3, and well into the future”. Gold Opal cards can only be obtained online or over the phone.

Thursday: 50,000 new homes for Parramatta Road

An additional 50,000 homes will be built along Parramatta Road over the coming decades, with over two thirds of homes slated for the Western end of these Parramatta Road between Granville and Strathfield. The NSW Government is planning to widen the M4 alongside this portion of Parramatta Road while building the M4 East Tunnel underneath the Eastern portion of Parramatta Road as part of its WestConnex project.

Map of the WestConnex freeway. Click to enlarge. (Source: RMS)

Map of the WestConnex freeway. Click to enlarge. (Source: RMS)

Friday: Whitlam Station proposed for NWRL

The terminus station on the North West Rail Link (NWRL) could be named Whitlam, after Blacktown City Council proposed naming a new suburb after the former Prime Minister. The station is currently known as Cudgegong Road.

The second phase of the federal government’s High Speed Rail (HSR) study, released earlier today, finds that a 1,700km long East Coast HSR line could cost $114bn and will not be completed until the second half of this century. The line will not require any ongoing government subsidy to pay for operational costs or asset maintenance, with fares comparable to the equivalent air fare. The report finds a benefit to cost ratio of 2.3 (indicating that every $1 spent provides $2.30 of economic value), which is much higher than in the report commissioned by the Greens earlier this year that reported total benefits of $48bn, an amount less than the $114bn cost.

Cost and completion dates for HSR broken down by stage, based on the optimal timetable. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: High speed rail study phase 2 report - Executive Summary, Department of Infrastructure and Transport, page 20)

Cost and completion dates for HSR broken down by stage, based on the optimal timetable. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: High speed rail study phase 2 report – Executive Summary, Department of Infrastructure and Transport, page 20)

If built, the project will be broken up into stages, with the Sydney to Canberra leg being the first. Even then, the earliest that portion will be operational is 2030, with an optimal commencement date of 2035. Brisbane may not be connected to Melbourne until 2058. The 1,700km of track includes 144km of tunnels, with 67km of this in Sydney. All up, tunnelling accounts for about one third of the cost of this project. The line will require a 200m wide corridor.

Federal Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese was quick to dismiss the notion that this would eliminate the need for a second Sydney airport, pointing out that it was already congested and that overseas travellers will still require air travel. He also downplayed the possibility of medium speed rail, such as in Britain, arguing that journeys must be under 3 hours or else people will choose to fly instead and that this was why Britain was now upgrading its medium speed rail to HSR. He also accepted that the high construction cost was the most sensitive part of any potential HSR line and ruled out any funding for it in this year’s budget.

Cost benefit analysis shows that benefits would outweigh costs using both a 4% and 7% discount rate. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: High speed rail study phase 2 report - Executive Summary, Department of Infrastructure and Transport, page 21)

Cost benefit analysis shows that benefits would outweigh costs using both a 4% and 7% discount rate. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: High speed rail study phase 2 report – Executive Summary, Department of Infrastructure and Transport, page 31)

The cost, roughly 4 times the cost of the National Broadband Network, is the biggest hurdle to building HSR in Australia. The interest expense of such a capital outlay alone would pay for the Gonski education reforms into perpetuity, and probably deliver far greater social and economic benefits to the nation. The discount rate of 4% also seems low, given that even the federal government’s long term borrowing costs, but a much more conservative 7% still provides a benefit to cost ratio of 1.1. This is above 1.0, but only barely, and suggests that this money could be spent on other more worthy infrastructure projects – such as the backlog of urban commuter rail improvements which Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has ruled out funding.

Ultimately this was certainly a study worth undertaking, if only to confirm that Australia is not yet ready for HSR. However, it has done much of the preparation required for it, thus allows the federal government to revisit the idea again in 10 or 20 years time when some of the assumptions currently used may no longer be valid. But until then, the video below probably best describes HSR in Australia.

Three things came up in the news in the previous week which are worth touching on just quickly – a new Cityrail timetable, the report by Canberra Airport recommending the construction of high speed rail between Sydney and Canberra rather than building a second airport in the Sydney basin, and the NSW Budget Estimates hearings.

New Timetable

A few extra train services are being added to the timetable. (The associated Transport for NSW press release says it is 44 services per week, while the Telegraph reports 36 new services per week, but I count only 34.) It includes 4 new services each day (weekdays only) to the Illawarra/Eastern Suburbs Line as well as 2 new services each day (weekdays and weekends) to the Blue Mountains Line (all the way to Bathurst, which until recently was served by buses rather than trains). This is on top of the 63 new services per week introduced last year, bringing it up to about an extra 100 train services per week since the Coalition won the 2011 election.

However, word is that it is the next timetable change, coming at the end of 2013, that will deliver real changes to service levels on the Cityrail network and will also involve a complete re-write of the timetable from the ground up. This is when the Liverpool turnback platform and Kingsgrove to Revesby track quadruplication are set to be completed, allowing for a significant increase in the number of trains operated. This is particularly the case for trains that use the City Circle, which currently is not being used to its full capacity during either the morning or afternoon peak.

Canberra High Speed Rail

A report released by Canberra Airport suggests that High Speed Rail (HSR) could enable Canberra Airport to function as Sydney’s second airport, eliminating the need to build a second airport in the Sydney Basin. Given the $11bn price tag of HSR, compared to $9bn for a second airport, and a total travel time of 57 minutes into the Sydney CBD, the plan appears to be quite reasonable. However, Alan Davies points out that the $11bn figure comes from the federal government’s HSR feasibility study, which found that:

“the report says there’s only a 10% chance that estimate wouldn’t be exceeded. No one uses that figure – the preferred estimate is $19 billion because at least there’s a 90% chance it won’t be exceeded” – Alan Davies (10 Oct, 2012), The Urbanist

A HSR link was also quickly rejected by the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, who said it was “some time away” from being viable.

Hopefully one or both the state and federal government will bite the bullet and accept the conclusion of the both the Joint Study on Aviation Capacity and the Infrastructure NSW report, which recommend a second airport be built at Badgerys Creek. This location provides improved transport links and employment opportunities for the growing Western Sydney region. It’s an unpopular decision, but it’s the right one.

Budget Estimates

The Transport Minister, Gladys Berejiklian, fronted the state budget estimates hearing on transport on Tuesday. Major information arising from that hearing included points below.

Heavy rail:

The portion of the hearings that made the headline news was about non-air conditioned trains being kept on, despite these being scheduled to be phased out by the end of 2014 once all the Waratah trains are delivered. It comes from the following question and answer:

“Are you planning beyond 2014 for the C and K sets and other non air-conditioned sets to have to remain on the network to meet the timetable changes…Mr Wielinga are you confident that the C, K and S sets are not going to remain on the network beyond the rollout of the Waratahs?” – Penny Sharpe (9 Oct, 2012), Shadow Transport Minister

“No. We are being as flexible as we can be. The question that needs to be asked is: How many additional services do we want to put on? If our customers are seeking additional services and we want to increase that above what is programmed at the moment, we will use whatever rolling stock is available to us to provide those customer services.” – Les Wielinga (9 Oct, 2012), Director General of Transport for NSW

Some confusion remains as to what this means, primarily due to Ms Sharpe’s questions, and whether she was asking only about non-air conditioned trains, or about the old silver sets (each given a letter classification, with C and K being air conditioned, while L, R, and S are not air conditioned). This led to the following back and forth on Twitter:

What could potentially be happening is that all non-air conditioned trains are being withdrawn from service, but kept warehoused for use in case of emergency, should a situation arise in which Cityrail was short on trains. In these cases, a non-air conditioned train is better than a cancelled train. Mr Wielinga’s response would be consistent with such a scenario. Or alternatively, it could just mean that increased numbers of services each day means that some non-air conditioned trains will be kept on in regular service in order to meet timetabling requirements.

Ms Berejiklian was asked if a second harbour crossing that is not in the form of an under-harbour tunnel was being considered, but she did not directly address the question (page 30). She instead pointed out that 15 different options had been considered for Sydney’s rail network once the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL) is completed, but these were high level options (such as converting the existing harbour crossing to single deck metro, rather than building a new one, or maintaining double deck rolling stock on the entire network) that did not include specific alignments. She did, however, reaffirm that a second harbour crossing will be built (page 14).

A figure cited by the Sydney Morning Herald of $4bn of extra work which would be required to handle the NWRL once it is completed is not new money, and these costs are already budgeted for.

The narrower tunnels on the NWRL, large enough for single deck rolling stock but not double deck rolling stock, will result in cost savings. However, the cost savings are less than the cost of refitting the existing Epping to Chatswood section of the line to run the single deck trains (page 29). The real savings would occur when building new tunnels, most potentially an under-harbour tunnel, as single deck trains can handle steeper gradients than the heavier double deck trains.

Light rail:

The Greenway – a pedestrian and bicycle path, which was originally part of the Dulwich Hill light rail extension before being deferred, would have costed $37m to build (page 34), compared to the cost of the light rail extension of $176m. The $176m figure includes $24m for rolling stock (page 16), and was revised upwards from $120m under the previous Labor Government, which (along with the delay in its completion) Ms Berejiklian says is because the previous government had not done any geotechnical work, considered where the rolling stock would be acquired from, etc.

A final decision on George St light rail will be made in the final transport plan (page 33), to be released by the end of the year.


Opal is on track to be rolled out on ferries in December of this year.

The Director General of Transport for NSW, Les Wielinga, was never a full director of Infrastructure NSW, he was only ever a temporary “guest” (page 9). Mr Wielinga also argued that the differing conclusions made by his organisation (Transport for NSW) and Infrastructure NSW was due to each taking a different approach, and so different solutions were inevitable but that he also did “not think this is a problem”.

Infrastructure NSW released its 20 year infrastructure strategy, titled First Things First. Most of it was dedicated to transport, which I will be focusing on, though there were also sections on energy, education, water, etc. The recommendations of the report were summarised in this video below, which is a good 4 minute version of the 200+ page report.

The report agreed with some recommendations of the Transport Master Plan, but disagreed with others. And these weren’t just alternate views, it actually took the time to highlight its points of disagreement and explain why it disagreed with Transport for NSW. The Infrastructure NSW report feels very much like it comes from Treasury, and has what I would classify as a pro-road and anti-rail bias. Even when discussing public transport, the report almost universally discounts rail projects in favour of a bus one. But I’ll save those comments for a later post. For now, I’m just going to focus on some of the things that I thought were good about this report.

Prioritisation of projects

No one likes being the fun police, and when it comes to funding that means being the department that tells you that you can’t afford something. This report does that well, which you could argue that the Transport Master Plan did not. While the Master Plan was a bit of a wish list, this report did a good job of emphasising the limited nature of funding available and promoted projects which it believed give most bang for the government’s buck.

Maximising efficiency

Building entirely new projects – another road or a new rail line – is incredibly expensive. Maximising use of existing infrastructure, on the other hand, does not give the impression to the voters that you are doing much to improve the situation much, but is actually a very effective way of increasing overall capacity.

The Clearways project for Cityrail is a great example, which has helped to increase rail capacity via track amplifications, more turnback platforms and additional stabling yards, none of which make the headlines quite like a new rail line or freeway do, but have increased rail capacity by similar amounts for a fraction of the cost. Time of day tolling on the Harbour Bridge/Tunnel is another example, which used pricing to encourage some people to drive during off peak hours (as you only need a small change in traffic to provide a big improvement in congestion).

Infrastructure NSW is encouraging further use of time of day tolling on the remainder of the road network in order to improve efficient use of Sydney’s freeways. In regards to public transport, it looks at ways that portions of the rail network that are currently under utilised, such as the City Circle, can be better used. It also proposed that off peak travel on public transport be given deeper discounts once Opal is rolled out in order to encourage more off-peak travel where possible, rather than peak hour travel.

Funding new infrastructure at minimal or no cost to the government

Where possible, the report has attempted to minimise how much funding the government itself will have to contribute to projects, usually by emphasising private toll roads. The WestConnex (a combination of the M4 East, M5 East, and the Inner West Bypass), for example, has a price tag of $10bn, of which $7.5bn is expected to be paid by the private sector. A cheaper way of building the M4 East, by digging up Parramatta Road itself, rather than a very expensive tunnel, to bring down the cost was also welcomed. The M2-F3 link would be built if a current private sector proposal to build it entirely with private money were to go ahead. These are achieved through a user pays system, in some cases with some government funding where necessary. But if the government can get new infrastructure built for free, paid for by the user, rather than the taxpayer, then it should get as many of these projects built as possible.

Construction costs would be cut by building the M4 East as a “slotted road”, similarly to how the Eastern Distributor was built. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: First Things First, page 89.)

A second Sydney airport

The report recommends a new airport be built in Badgerys Creek. Right now this is at odds with the O’Farrell Government, which opposes any second airport in the Sydney basin, and also the federal Liberal and Labor Parties, which support a second airport at Wilton, which is a less optimal site than Badgerys Creek is.

XPT and High Speed Rail

Both regional rail links and high speed rail are played down by the report. Both are on the expensive ends of the scale, with limited benefits. Many XPT routes in regional NSW would probably be better served by buses, which would allow better connections with the limited budget, while high speed rail is just too expensive with its $60bn-$108bn price tag for the improved connectivity that it would provide.

Faster rail to Wollongong and Central Coast

The report calls for an improvement in rail lines to allow for an average 80km/hour link to both Gosford on the Central Coast and Wollongong, which would put them within 1 hour of the Sydney CBD. That trip currently takes 60km/hour on rail. Improvements like this are incremental and affordable, and are what would be required if high speed rail is eventually to be introduced to Australia’s East Coast.

Media Coverage

O’Farrell sets aside $1.8b for new motorway, Sydney Morning Herald

Transport report draws mixed reactions, Sydney Morning Herald

And finally there was movement in Sydney, Daily Telegraph

New roads a fast track to the future, Daily Telegraph

Roads a priority in $30bn plan for NSW, ABC News

NSW unveils 20-year infrastructure plan, ABC Radio

Many issues have been raised over plans for the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL), that it’s single deck, that it wil require more transfers, that it will require an expensive second harbour crossing. These are legitimate issues that are raised, which in my opinion when considered as part of the big picture of long term transport planning will still result in the conclusion that what the government is currently planning is the right approach to take. But the most recent complaint: that it will shut out high speed rail (HSR), raised by the NSW Business Chamber earlier this week, is just plain hard to swallow.

The full report is available from their website, and I’d encourage you to read it if you’d like a better idea of how transport planning works (even if, like me, you disagree with the conclusions).

Here are some key points from the report:

“International experience shows that in almost every highspeed rail case study, existing urban rail infrastructure has initially been used through major cities. Dedicated highspeed rail urban infrastructure has followed the growth of patronage and hence, the economic and financial case.” – How Would High-Speed Rail  Change Sydney and NSW, page 3

This is an excellent point. It would indeed be much cheaper to use existing rail infrastructure within the city limits, as doing so could bring the cost down from as high as $100bn to just a few billion dollars for a shorter Canberra-Sydney-Newcastle link. The problem occurs when the report then insists that the best connection between Sydney and Newcastle is via Chatswood and Macquarie Park. A quick look at the timetable shows that a train takes about 60 minutes to get from Central to Hornsby via Macquarie Park, compared to 51 minutes via Gordon, and only 36 minutes via Strathfield. The reason for this is that only the via Strathfield route has additional track pairs, which allow faster trains to overtake slower ones. Sending HSR trains via the slower route (as this report suggests), would cause them to be stuck behind slow trains that stop at every station.

This strategy is followed on the Southern approach to Sydney, where trains would come in via the East Hills Line, which also express tracks. See map below.

HSR routes

Long term HSR routes are shown in red, completely separated from the suburban rail network. Until then, the NSW Business Chamber is recommending using existing rail lines, shown in brown. These would make use of fast express tracks on the Southern approach (East Hills Line), but not on the Northern approach (Macquarie Park Line). Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: NSW Business Chamber)

“To integrate a high-speed rail service with the Sydney suburban rail network, a second harbour crossing will be needed.” – How Would High-Speed Rail  Change Sydney and NSW, page 5

Ideally a HSR network would not be integrated with suburban trains (and the report acknowledges that this is the long term aim), and only in the short term it would it use existing infrastructure (to keep initial costs down). However, no reason is given for why a second harbour crossing is needed, other than the existing capacity constraints. But if that’s the case, then why not just share the existing crossing on the Sydney Harbour Bridge for HSR and suburban trains, leaving the new crossing exclusively for single deck metro trains? Why does the new crossing have to be built to HSR specifications when the current one already is?

Not that this should matter anyway, as it would be faster to use the via Strathfield route. If HSR users want to reach Macquarie Park, Chatswood or North Sydney, then there will be frequent and fast suburban trains from a number of connecting stations that they could use.

However, the recently announced plan by the NSW Government, Sydney’s Rail Future, does not allow for the integration of high-speed rail with the suburban network. This is because it is generally unviable for high-speed rail services to share with the rapid transit trains proposed to travel the second harbour crossing. In effect, the NSW Government’s recent proposal has planned high-speed rail out of the current network” – How Would High-Speed Rail  Change Sydney and NSW, page 5

This statement just makes no sense. Only the NWRL past Epping (which would not be used by HSR anyway) and the second harbour crossing would be incompatible with HSR. And there’s nothing stopping HSR from using the existing harbour crossing, so it’s hard to see how HSR has been “planned…out of the current network”.

“The North West Rail Link is an important piece of infrastructure to Sydney, but it should be designed to permit both a link to North Western Sydney and the operation of high-speed rail through Sydney’s CBD.” – How Would High-Speed Rail  Change Sydney and NSW, page 6

As mentioned, the existing portion of the future NWRL already built (between Epping and Chatswood) is already capable of taking HSR. While the second harbour crossing may not be, HSR could easily shift to the existing harbour crossing once they reach Chatswood in order to reach the CBD. Yet building the second harbour crossing at HSR specifications would increase the cost of such a project, reducing (or perhaps eclipsing) the proposed cost savings of having HSR use that crossing.

“Recommendation: A single transport vision for Sydney out to 2061 should be developed by the NSW and Federal Governments.” – How Would High-Speed Rail  Change Sydney and NSW, page 9

With the Federal Government taking a more active involvement in funding infrastructure that was traditionally the responsibility of the states, this is an excellent suggestion. Both levels of government need to be on the same page and moving in the right direction in order to overcome the infrastructure deficit that Sydney suffers from.


Ultimately, the undelying argument that this report is trying to give: that using existing infrastructure initially and planning between state and federal governments to make sure that these options are maintained, is a very good one. Doing so would allow the sorts of cost savings that would make high speed rail (or even just medium speed rail) more likely to actually get off the ground. And if there’s one thing to take from this report, it’s definitely that. Unfortunately, the bit about the NWRL (a red herring, in my opinion) has garnered most of the media attention.

A quarter of a century ago, the federal Labor government decided to build a second airport in Sydney at Badgerys Creek. It spent the next few years acquiring land there. However, the Liberal Part was opposed to the Badgerys Creek location and when the Howard Liberal government was elected in 1996, this policy was scrapped. Later, Labor under Simon Crean also dropped its support for Badgerys Creek in the early 00s. The federal government still owns the land at Badgerys Creek, but both parties officially oppose a new airport there.

Last month, a joint NSW-Federal report was released recommending Badgeries Creek as the preferred site for a second airport in Sydney, with Wilton as the next best option. Instantly, the parties repeated their positions. Federal Transport and Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese of the Labor Party said his preferred location was Wilton. Meanwhile NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell of the Liberal Party said he wanted no new airports in the Sydney basin at all, preferring instead to build a high speed rail link to an upgraded Canberra Airport. Mr O’Farrell’s proposal to use Canberra Airport has been dismissed by Federal Liberal Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey who also wants an airport built at Wilton.

No one wants an airport in their backyard, it’s simple NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard). What is strange is that Mr O’Farrell has adopted a more extreme version of NIMBYism, something fellow Liberal, and Federal Opposition Leader, Tony Abbot called BANANA: Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone. Every year, more and more people move into areas that could hold a second airport, and the longer the wait before action is taken the larger the voter backlash will be.

The reality is that Sydney’s Kingsford-Smith Airport will reach capacity by 2027 according to the joint report, or 2045 according to the company that operates Kingsford-Smith Airport. The clock is ticking, and inaction is no longer an option.

“If action is not taken quickly, the chance to secure the future of aviation for the Sydney region may be lost altogether…the option of doing nothing is no longer available and the costs of deferring action are unacceptable”Joint report

Source: Daily Telegraph

Source: Daily Telegraph

Not only that, but it makes economic sense to build a second airport somewhere in Western Sydney to provide jobs both directly and indirectly to a region that will hold half of Sydney’s population in coming decades:

“[turning western Sydney into] one big housing estate with no economic drivers’ [is nonsense]”Chris Brown, co-author of the joint report

Lenore Taylor wrote the best piece I’ve read on this issue, for anyone looking for additional reading on it.

Following on from a previous piece on medium speed rail (MSR), Transport Textbook has followed up with a possible case study for Sydney to Canberra MSR. The argument goes that by using existing lines within Sydney rather than a long tunnel into the CBD (significantly reducing the cost) and building a new alignment between the outskirts of Sydney through to central Canberra that can be scaled up to high speed rail (HSR) in future, a MSR link could provide a high speed connection between the two cities at an affordable price tag (the article quotes $3 billion, compared to the $15 billion for HSR, albeit on very rough calculations).

It could also allow for transport between the CBD’s of Sydney and Canberra, but via each city’s airport, thus making the 2 to 2.5 hour point to point trip competitive with air or car travel. There would also be benefits for freight trains travelling between Sydney and Melbourne.

A feasibility study into high speed rail (HSR) by the federal government released earlier this year got a few people talking about the possibility of HSR in Australia. However, the high cost ($70 billion to $110 billion just to build the infrastructure) seems very excessive to me, especially considering all the benefits you could get from investing that money into the suburban rail networks.

What did catch my eye was a piece on medium speed rail on Transport Textbook, which suggested connecting Sydney and/or Melbourne to some of their satellite cities (Newcastle, Wollongong, Bendigo and Ballarat). Rather than aiming for the 250km/hr to 350km/hr required for HSR over long distances, increasing speeds to something around half of that over a much shorter distance and still obtain a significant benefit, but at a much lower cost. For example, increasing the average speed to 112km/hr would allow a Newcastle-Sydney trip to take just 90 minutes (compared to the current 170 minutes).

A very interesting take on the question of is fast enough good enough?