A profitable high-speed rail (HSR) service between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane could be built for $30 billion – less than third of previous cost estimates – according to a new book.
The rail would need little or no direct government funding and could be constructed in less than seven years, not the 30 to 35 years previously suggested.
High Speed Rail for Australia Now is by Peter Knight, a HSR expert and former senior BHP manager and Reserve Bank economist.
HSR has been mooted in Australia for more than 30 years but the concept has stalled because of political hurdles and high costs. The most recent Federal Government feasibility study in 2013 estimated the cost at $114 billion.
But Mr Knight said vast cost savings could be made by laying tracks in trenches rather than tunnels near the cities and building housing over new inner-city land created by the trenches.
Profitability of the system could be ensured by building a Fast Freight Rail (FFR) next to the HSR at the same time.
In a message on the cover of the book, the former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer says: “This is a comprehensive and yet clear-cut template for getting High Speed Rail jolted into action.”
Mr Knight’s book says the HSR/FFR project would best be accomplished by a private consortium rather than government. A VFT 2 Consortium project would require little or no direct government funding, he said.
The Federal Government should initiate formation of the consortium and a feasibility study. Government guarantee of private finance would ensure the project would proceed. This guarantee would be a contingent liability, not an increase in government debt.
Mr Knight said Australia now had a population large enough to support the project. The HSR/FFR project would aid budget recovery, spread non-mining investment along the east coast, create thousands of jobs and stimulate the economy.
HSR would mean fewer people living in major cities and more in regional cities within 30-60 minutes commuting time of the CBD at speeds of up to 350 kmh.
The project would build low-density housing over 30km of 100m wide trenches into and out of Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne This would create 21 square km of free inner-city land.
HSR would connect Sydney-Melbourne and Sydney-Brisbane in three hours comfortably, reliably and safely directly into the CBD. FFR would halve the cost and delivery time to connect a more competitive, single market along the coastal strip no longer isolated by high-cost road freight.
The book argues that freight in Australia is distorted. What should be carried cheaper by sea is carried by rail, what should be carried by rail is carried by road.
By amending freight distortions Australia would increase productivity substantially, become more internationally competitive and achieve greater GDP growth. HSR/FFR would create a cultural, innovation and trade route along the east coast. The aim is to grow liveability and prosperity while the population doubles.