Brisbane to Melbourne high-speed rail, but at what cost?

Phase two of the Federal Government’s study to construct high-speed rail (HSR) spanning from Brisbane to Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra was released this week to a lukewarm reception.

The ambitious infrastructure plan would be the largest investment of any national project, eclipsing the NBN many times over. The HSR network, comprising over 1,700 kms of track, could be completed between 2056 and 2065 at a cost of $114 billion, but it is more likely to be delivered in stages… assuming it is delivered at all. The report can be found here.

However, criticism towards the project has been leveled at the Federal Infrastructure and Transport Minister, Anthony Albanese. The Daily Telegraph says it’s too expensive and cheekily intimates the technology may be superseded ‘by flying cars’ midway through the century, while a transport reporter from The Sydney Morning Herald mocks the government suggesting they are more interested in paying for multi-million dollar reports than committing to hundred billion dollar projects.

The theory is great: Sydney to Canberra in just over an hour; Sydney to Melbourne and Brisbane in around three hours. Commuters would embark and disembark at the city centre without having to worry about airports, taxis, queues, etc. The Pacific, Hume and Federal Highways would experience a reduction in traffic. Road safety and the environment would be winners too. But is this just a pipedream that has no chance of being realised?

Whilst the federal government’s high-speed rail project caters specifically to passenger transport, it is worth noting that the conveyance of freight by road contributes significantly to congestion on our highways and greenhouse gas emissions. See this piece published by the ABC on the case for improved rail infrastructure for freight.

Should the commuter rail project proceed, it could change the way Australians think about interstate travel, where we live and where we work. 

This change in mindset may also impact how we use our cars and where we choose to park. The government will need to think more about planning for this eventuality, including improved park-and-ride facilities with access to railway stations. Perhaps another feasibility study is required?

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