Ours, for $114 billion and the rest, by 2058, maybe

The High Speed Rail study released today for a Melbourne-Canberra-Sydney-Brisbane project is so detailed it even shows where taxi ranks would be at the stations.

It is also in a race with Halley’s Comet’s next predicted (and this time bright and spectacular) return, in 2061, as to which wonder will become the first to appear in Australia this century.

At its fastest, the study says it could be completed by 2053, or if more cost efficiently paced, it could be all done by 2058, and that leaves precious little room for beating the comet given the history of even modest city railway projects in this country, such as Sydney’s benighted Eastern Suburbs Railway, which only made it less than half way to its destination anyhow.

Theirs, 968 kms, 4.5 years, $15 billion, Guangzhou-Wuhan, opened 2009

Launching the study Transport and Infrastructure Minister, Anthony Albanese, made it clear the study isn’t a policy manifesto but a document for discussion and hopefully,  a cause for critical corridors to be set aside for the future.

It might have been the only press conference the minister ever gives that is reviewed many times over after his death, indeed, given the time frames, after the death, or decline into elderly dementia, of most of those reporters in the Blue Room at  Parliament House  or watching the video cast.

And for those attempting to download all or part of the study at this link, the frustrations involved might be a reminder of how urgently the country needs an NBN to overcome the competitive failure of the internet industry in Australia to actually offer anything remotely first world or at reasonable prices.

The busiest parts of the Melbourne-Brisbane system could be ready as soon as 2030 for Sydney-Canberra, and 2035 for Sydney-Melbourne if the fastest plausible project times were allowed.

However the study argues for very long preliminary consultation, planning and designing stages. China built a similar high speed rail link to the proposed Sydney-Melbourne section between Guangzhou and Wuhan in only four and half years,which is 968 kilometres long and includes 468 kilometres of elevated tracks and 177 kilometres in tunnels, and which opened in December 2009.

That line now offers one stop trains between the two cities in three hours 33 minutes, but most of the services on the line are multi-stoppers connecting regional centres similar to those that HSR protagonists believe that this project will cause to be built at inland and coastal sites on or close to the line.

Albanese was in form, correcting the inaccuracies in Greens leader Christine Milne’s grasp of the political history of the study, which had nothing to do with the party, and contradicting her earlier statements as to how it would remove the need for a second Sydney airport.

“Sydney’s position as a global city of the future is endangered unless a second airport is built,” he said.

He also referred to the need for a growing population to sustain high speed rail on a European scale, a form of growth the Greens generally oppose, and reiterated that “Australia isn’t Europe.”

The study also recommends additional stations be built to be served by some of the HSR trains to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, addressing the issues in each city that could frustrate access to the main terminals because of metropolitan sprawl and city public transport and private car congestion.

In Sydney a northern HSR station would be build adjacent to the existing Hornsby station, after which the line would generally follow the existing railway to Homebush and then approach Sydney’s Central station by tunnel.

A major reconstruction of Central would be needed, as the northern section of the HSR line to Brisbane would terminate at a five platform lower concourse under the existing country platforms at the station and the southern HSR services for Canberra and Melbourne would depart from five platforms directly above them at an upper concourse.

It would be necessary to change trains at Central to go by HSR from Melbourne or Canberra to Newcastle, Coffs Harbour, the Gold Coast and Brisbane South (a new station) and a new concourse beside the existing main Roma Street station.

The southern Sydney HSR station would be between the existing Glenfield and Holsworthy metropolitan rail stations but some distance from each (a negative) but mainly aimed at passengers who would drive and park.

The all new southern highlands station would be five kilometres from the existing Mittagong station. The issues in this decision appear to be topographical as well as environmental as  the natural enemy of high speed rail is tight turns.

Canberra would get a new station at the end of four kilometres of tunneling in Ainslie Avenue near Civic, and the plan for its spur line makes reference to a track following the Majura Parkway now under construction near the airport, and then diving under Mount Ainslie to reach the city terminal.  The plan snubs Canberra Airport’s offer to build a high speed rail station in favour of Civic.

In an interview this afternoon Minister Albanese said the research done by the study showed that users wanted to catch high speed trains to city CBDs, not airports. (We may hear more about this, but as Albanese noted, if the NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell was serious about Canberra Airport being Sydney’s 2nd airport he wouldn’t have approved a housing estate across the state line near Queanbeyan which would cripple it anyhow.)

In Melbourne a new northern HSR station would be built near Broadmeadows but between the Upfield and Gowrie stations on the Upfield line. The main terminal at Southern Cross station would require significant rearrangement of platforms, but nothing of the scale of the changes flagged for Sydney Central.

The deadline for the public and other interested parties to make submissions concerning the HSR report is 30 June.

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