The Phase 2 Report from the High Speed Rail study was released last week — predicting that although HSR would cover its recurrent (running/maintenance) costs, it’d first take some $114 billion and 45 years to build it.
As I’ve said before, I think a 3-ish hour trip from Melbourne to Sydney would be time-competitive with flying.
$114 billion is obviously an incredible cost, and taking decades to build it is a totally unambitious timeframe. I’m sure if you outsourced it to those who have built such lines elsewhere, they could get it running much more quickly and cheaply. Or if they got tough on the airlines and proclaimed a forced heavy future reduction in emissions, and particularly if oil prices skyrocket and a second Sydney airport is put on hold, they could coax Qantas and Virgin into the railways business.
(It’s interesting that much of the debate since the report was released has ignored emissions issues, and focussed on the benefits to existing rail passengers, not those currently travelling by air.)
But even if you assume it could be built quicker and cheaper, the question is: should one heed the calls of the optimists and start building it now? Or follow the cynics who say it’s all too expensive, that we don’t have the population, and we should forget it?
I’m not sure. Fact is, across the country, there are probably a lot more important infrastructure projects that need building first. That money (even if you assumed it could be built for half that cost) could solve a lot of other problems.
And realistically, the political and economic climate means there’s no hope of it being built right now.
But… as this piece in The Conversation says, they should definitely go ahead and identify and reserve the corridor — just like the roads people do all the time.
All that said, it seems prudent to plan and protect a corridor. It’s not overly expensive to work out a detailed alignment and preserve it from incompatible land development. This does little harm and ensures we can move forward if and when circumstances change and/or the time is right.
This is a must. Not doing so — even if actual construction work isn’t to start in the foreseeable future — could make it impossible for it to ever happen later.