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$60bn high speed train gains on plane


It seems astonishing that at a time when the rest of the developed world is embracing high speed rail (HSR) networks to resolve air and road traffic congestion, Australia is yet to embrace it as a serious transport option.

The revolution towards HSR is happening around the world. The more that is built globally, the cheaper the technology will become, making the long term future for high speed rail even more financially attractive than it is today.

To meet the exponential passenger growth for short-haul travel routes such as Melbourne-Sydney-Brisbane, and to avert the disastrous carbon emissions of air travel when compared to rail, we need to start funding, designing and building it now.

The recent 2010 report re-assessing the case for high speed rail here, commissioned by the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Rail Innovation, estimates the rollout cost for HSR here to be between $A19-48 million ($US21.1-53.5 million) per a kilometre. Analysing costs for recent projects or committed HRS projects internationally, the financial window is likely to be slightly narrower, ranging from $US22 million to about $US35 million per a kilometre.

This would place the cost of Melbourne-Sydney-Brisbane train at $60 billion – a figure that will be hugely offset by the savings of releasing existing passenger lines to be dedicated rail freight lines and massive cost savings related to congestion, pollution and avoiding the costs of alternative infrastructure.

As HSR requires its own dedicated passenger lines, it frees up existing lines for freight, reducing the need to invest further in railways works to boost freight transit times and productivity. And Australia is crying out for an alterative to the carbon intense road and air travel systems we rely on today.

The CRC report is a powerful argument towards establishing a HSR service based on current technology. Its recommendations act as a platform for companies such as ODG Rail who have been advocating for HSR development for many years now. But it is when you start looking at what future HSR technology and future passengers needs will be, that the case for HSR starts to look inevitable.

Based on conservative population projections the airports of Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne will need to service populations predicted to reach a combined total of at least 13.2 million in 16 years or as high as 23.1 million in 40 years, when they are already straining at capacity to service the current demand.

If we start developing the HSR network now with government support then we could have some form of HSR network in place by 2020. In fact, if we started tomorrow we could have the first trains running by 2015.

Look overseas and you will find sophisticated HSR networks already in place in Europe (led by Spain, Italy, France and Germany), China and Japan, with commitments for HSR networks in the US, Brazil, Korea, Vietnam and Russia, with constantly unfolding developments, especially for distances which compete highly with short-haul flight routes.

Even now, HSR technology has trains running at averages of 250-300 kilometres an hour, making for example the trip between Milan and Naples just over four hours for the 720 km distance. When you take into account the time spent at airport check-ins, flight delays, vulnerability to weather, accidents and terrorism, and home-airport-home commuting congestion, HRS can already be time competitive with air for short haul travel.’

China has just committed to have the world’s biggest HRS network by 2012 with a dedicated 13,000 km of tracks (including new and upgraded tracks). This includes the 1,318 km route between Beijing and Shanghai by 2012 which will take five hours in Bombardier Zefiro 380 rolling stock which travels at up to 380 kmh. It predicts it will have a further 3,000 km by 2020.

Consider further the technologies will be in place for HSR in a decade. The fastest HSR speed recorded is 574 kmh - a goal that may well be obtainable for HRS routes in the next decade.

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