Australia can have high speed rail too
It costs too much, services only a small part of the country, would take too long to deliver, land acquisition would take years and we don’t have the population density to justify high speed rail in Australia – these are the central arguments against a high speed rail (HSR) linking Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne.
These arguments are not new but some of them are valid – yes the project would cost around $100 billion, and yes land acquisitions, regardless of the route of the train, could be drawn out through state land courts over years. However, there are other proposals for HSR in this country that could be delivered in a more cost effective and time effective manner. The recent disbanding of the ALP-dominated HSR Advisory Board is not necessarily a bad sign for HSR progress, especially given the infrastructure focus of the new Prime Minister.
Let’s look at the flipside of the above arguments.
For starters, government expenditure brings jobs – jobs in uncertain economic times – 55,000 during peak construction by our research with 32,000 of these jobs for a period of 16 to 18 years and 12,000 permanent direct jobs, not to mention the indirect economic benefits, particularly around regional stations. These jobs would not be susceptible to iron ore and coal prices, nor the demand from Asia’s booming economies, nor government subsidies for overseas manufacturers.
And what if an inland rail route could mitigate the number of properties that need to be acquired? An inland rail route is by no means a new idea, but it was barely considered by the recent government commissioned feasibility study.
A HSR line servicing this corner of the country would of course exclude large parts of Australia, but not necessarily a large proportion of the population (given the concentration of population between Brisbane and Melbourne). The financing of the project, which would likely be from both public and private sources, could take this into account. For instance, GST concessions for those states that might not see the direct benefits of the HSR line could partially relieve the perceived inequity, but the tyranny of distance means that large infrastructure projects have never and will never directly benefit all in Australia.
HSR is far more carbon friendly than planes or trucks. Crucially too, freight would be a key component in justifying this rail route and, notwithstanding the timetabling difficulties of running freight and passenger trains, it can be achieved and would significantly reduce economy wide costs.
Our research estimates that there would be a 20% to 30% reduction in air traffic to Sydney airport alone, so the taxpayer could save the $20 billion by not building a second airport there. Our estimates are that HSR, while expending $100 billion, could save between $44 billion and $56 billion as the taxpayer would no longer need airport upgrades in Sydney ($20 billion), Melbourne ($7 – 10 billion) or Brisbane ($7 - $10 billion), nor freight rail corridor construction between Goondiwindi and Brisbane ($5 - $8 billion). There would also be reduced road insurance claims and associated health expenses, open up freight ports, as well as reduce road maintenance as there would be fewer trucks on the road. HSR construction could even be streamlined with NBN construction.
The majority of the population would benefit either directly or indirectly from this project. That’s why China has built more than 10,000km of HSR since 2000, (the Guangzhou – Beijing line in particular which is longer than our proposal was built in just seven years), why Japan’s shinkansen is the envy of the world and why Eurail has brought a continent once divided by war, but now seamlessly integrated and mobile.
What of the high school graduate from rural New South Wales disillusioned with a lack of employment prospects near home who could gain a traineeship working for HSR contractors? What of other regional residents reliant on expensive flights to visit health care centres in the big smoke? What of the car worker from Adelaide or Geelong who loses his job when big international car manufactures jump ship? What of families wanting an easy and hassle free transport option to visit relatives interstate? What of businessmen or tourists transiting between Sydney and Melbourne, which despite our small population, is one of the most-travelled air routes in the world?
Why can’t we too be just as connected to our neighbouring cities and towns? “Because it costs too much and it’d take too long” isn’t good enough to counter the advantages that we, and generations of Australians to come, would always enjoy.
Like Snowy Hydro, HSR could be a nation-building project that, once all is said and done, we can all be proud of.
Paolo Giammarco and Giancarlo Vimercati are the directors of Futuro Concept HSR/VFT Australia that has a fully costed and mapped-out high speed rail route with construction timeline linking Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne.
Paolo Giammarco Giancarlo Vimercati