stop press

The SMH posted "The tweak that could make high speed rail a reality", at midnight and updated on 14 May by Phil Davies, What was correct was that he had been CEO of iA.

After the Herald has consistently refused to publish what other ACM media had, the non-CLARA, non-CSIRO model etc, and the potentially game-breaker "Mandurah" model, this was a last straw.  No one at the rag thought, it seems, that

  • Sydney CBD is the largest destination on the whole project route (below)
  • Badgerys has been neutered by iA, Bairdijiklian and Labor co-operation from having effective east-west transit and freight (air hub, grain, coal and containers) connections - and
  • The savings are arguably minor compared with the northern costs and the collateral damage to rural towns along the Hume alignment.

The best angle Davies gave us is confirmation that the 2013/4 model cannot proceed without significant re-thinking.

Sooner, cheaper and more effective Fast Trains

Australian HST: cleanse the palate and re-set expectations –

                                 “cheaper faster and more effective

                                                                                                                                                        © RG 2019

Labor has resuscitated the traditional form of High Speed Train after a period of revisionist thinking by Malcolm Turnbull, who was excited by the CLARA model of self-financing massive infrastructure through even more massive residential development. Labor’s Anthony Albanese started the latest study of conventional Fast Rail about 10 years ago and sees CLARA and the Federal 5 and NSW 5 different Fast Trains as indecisive.

Of course they are, CLARA was always a con, and the Business Chamber’s use of the Harbour Bridge and Centurion’s mixed fast and freight trains, the Chaser’s general diatribe, and the 10 and uncritical media acceptance, are (in Turnbull terminology)  muddle-headed, ideological and stupid.


It is worth asking the question:

Do we have to assume that a concept that was started by a scientist drawing a line on a map and projecting very shiny toys, that went through so many painful failed iterations, that seemed to die a natural death in a country that needs faster delivery of more cost effective infrastructure rather than 10 years of investigation and 30 years of construction, is still an acceptable option let along one worth now spending $1 billion on land acquisition AS A START?

The terms of reference given to Albo’s Feasibility team stated the expectations for routes and locations, type of service (over 300 km/hour) and term (to 2085). 

They conducted a professional study along economic and financial lines, with some environmental, taxation and customer factors too. 

They did not define peak and off-peak which makes some calculations difficult to check.

No route and service options were considered and time has moved on from 2014. The format seems to make consolidated cost and patronage analyses as hard as possible. The main conclusions which affect the socio-economic decisions are: 

  1. Operating costs total $189 billion (discounted to $2025) against a total capital cost of $114 billion, with a gap of $86.6 billion even with a 30% higher-than-normal fare level
  2. Planning, appraisals and approvals would take a decade, land acquisition is a massive task, the investigations phases will cost some $10,400,000,000
  3. Leisure fares are about half of business but how will the system know who-is-whom! Avoiding Parramatta is said to eliminate a loss of $45 billion in user benefits! That might fail the pub test 
  4. Sydney Terminal patronage is 29 per cent of the total
  5. Sydney to Canberra will be the first stage, followed hard by the Melbourne link, together accounting for 44 per cent of construction costs and 59 per cent of patronage. It is inconceivable that an HST would avoid this corridor and Wagga Wagga, Albury Wodonga and Shepparton. However, Wollongong and many North Coast towns are excluded, necessarily under the model, and the Southern Highlands’ towns will be remote from the line
  6. Sydney to Newcastle – 17 per cent of construction costs and 4% of patronage
  7. Newcastle to Gold Coast – 30 per cent of costs and 6% of passengers
  8. Brisbane – 10 per cent of costs and 3% of patronage.

North of Sydney therefore accounts for 57 per cent of costs and 13% of patronage. It has to be said, this is a no-brainer: it will not proceed.

The Feasibility contains much detail on the types and numbers of vehicles and services. There will be a fairly even split of 200 metre and 300 metre vehicles, respectively with 520 and 780 seats, with an overall loading of 90 per cent. It was found on checking that the fleet total was calculated incorrectly and is out by 50 trains.


Mr Albanese started Infrastructure Australia and would be well aware that option-testing is an essential first stage, with needs assessment, of all due diligence protocols. Sir Rod Eddington, in London especially, and Nick Greiner in iNSW, gave many examples of why this is vital to cost effectiveness. The logic applies to HST and the West and St Marys Metros, the 3-Port strategy and supporting infrastructure, and innerwest congestion etcetera. 

As a reminder, the Australian Infrastructure Plan is clear:

  • Proponents of new infrastructure which do not undertake the prerequisite project development work risk poor outcomes, preventing the community from accessing the infrastructure they require, and restricting economic opportunities.
  • Prior to investment decisions, governments should define the problem that needs to be addressed. Problems are identified through long-term integrated infrastructure planning and the analysis of strategic data sources such as Infrastructure Australia’s Audit. Once the problem has been defined, early project development studies should then proceed. These include:
  • Strategic options assessments: demonstrate the nature and scale of the problem(s) and identify solutions which may or may not involve the delivery of new infrastructure;
  • Feasibility studies: undertake engineering, environmental and economic assessments to develop solutions into fully-scoped projects; and 
  • Project business cases: provide more detailed economic assessments, including cost-benefit analysis.
  • These studies help ensure the right infrastructure solution is selected and that benefits to the community are maximised.

In Sir Rod’s words in London,

  • There are good returns across the priority areas, but smaller projects which unblock pinch-points, variable infrastructure schemes to support public transport in urban areas and international gateway surface access projects are likely to offer the very highest returns, sometimes higher than £10 for every pound spent. However, large projects with speculative benefits and relying on untested technology, are unlikely to generate attractive returns.

  • 4. The policy process needs to be rigorous and systematic: start with the three strategic economic priorities, define the problems, consider the full range of modal options using appraisal techniques that include full environmental and social costs and benefits, and ensure that spending is focused on the best policies…

For these and other reasons, it is concluded that Labor should withdraw its promise to start land acquisition at an initial cost of $1 billion, and adopt an iA-compliant protocol

As a transport futurist, I anticipated this crap:

The Pork Pie Briefing in January 2018:

A Very Fast Train or High Speed Train? – for dreamers

The Highlands is facing a growing crisis and is looking for solutions if only there were some in Federal and State “plans”.

Who knows what will happen but we can be sure that Australia’s distances and low population densities are crippling, “value capture” will never work, it never has, and rural regions need results not dreams and promises.

The CSIRO dreamt in 1984 of a VFT between Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney, which has long been called the “only privately financed project” in Australia, except it never was and never will be.

The PM has put $8.4 billion, sort of, into an inland freight line but left out a few details like connections to Sydney and Brisbane. Oops. The “sort of” is that he expects to be re-paid.

The VFT or HST has options such as magnetic levitation, tilt trains, French TGV and Japanese Shinkansen, and “tubes”. The ACT Government is committed to Spanish tilt trains which were rejected in the 1970s in NSW and which cannot be believed if Canberra is to be a branch line on a Sydney-Melbourne flyer.

This is a bit like Badgerys Airport: a dream, promised, funded a bit here and there, then becoming something of a pork pie with lots of bits and pieces but jelly too. 

Conversations get caught up between local access in existing places , mixing freight and passenger flows, and having a station at Wilton to service part of 350,000 as though the Melbourne and Sydney commuters will tolerate local crowding and short-distance stopping.

The Grattan Institute recommended that we get politicians out of “planning projects” in its Roads to Riches, and who could disagree when we think about broken promises and the bits’n’pieces compromises.

I know the PM’s $8.4 billion could be better spent by simply using commonsense on “local solutions”. 

The truth about Fast Rail – February 2018

South-eastern Australia is experiencing another epidemic of fast-rail fever. 

There are two conflicting objectives, to move some 80% of air travellers onto a fast, CBD-to-CBD 500+km/h train using the farebox and terminal rights; and a land profit model using levies and prices, without/with government subsidies. Both have new alignments through the bush.

As is usual in NSW, there is an option that it, the ACT Government and iA won’t look at, namely Perth’s Mandurah line which runs down the freeway.

The NSW Business Chamber proposed to run HST from Newcastle on existing track including the Harbour Bridge which Minister Berejiklian shot down, rightly.

The Consolidated Land and Rail Australia’ $200 billion system will have five, now eight, “new cities” of about 400,000 each, operational from 2026 or 2050 or whenever, with every $1,000 invested in land growing by 150 times. Six will be in NSW, two in Victoria. 1.6 million new dwellings is a challenging environmental and engineering prospect, worthy of Hercules.

They say they own about half of the Melbourne-Sydney corridor already which needs to be tested; while access to CBDs and metropolitan corridors will be a different matter altogether. 

Commuters will be locked out and CLARA acknowledges they will disadvantage existing cities. Professor Paul Newman said that is enough to politically kill the concept. 

There has been no real discussion about how people will live and work and how much they will pay the company upfront and ongoing. John Alexander MP was reported as saying “You will push up prices enormously around Goulburn; people will be delighted”. “Value capture” has every potential to make landowners and buyers very angry. 

However reports are that PM Turnbull is keen on CLARA but his Infrastructure Minister Paul Fletcher is highly sceptical. 

iA is following a Government-funded model of 4 capitals, 4 fringe cities and 11 regionals by 2065. Is that the best governments can do?

Centurion plans a “heavy metro” service between Campbelltown and Wollongong as stage 1 of an HST between Canberra and Newcastle. They include freight operations to/from Port Kembla. The NSW Government says it will “unlock” Wilton to the tune of 350,000 people (the Council is planning 11,000). 

To make a big project feasible on the basis of betterment – and the reality would be a mix – 100,000 lots would have to pay some $2.4 billion a year over 30 years or $25,000 p.a. per lot. Clearly that would be absurd. Maldon-Dombarton will be carrying 110 container trains a day plus car-carriers so Centurion are wrong.

Locking high speed rail into a value capture contract killed every previous attempt and will do the same now. Running a trainline largely down the freeway medians as in Mandurah in WA will better serve existing towns. Bending at Goulburn and other towns and allowing some capture from new towns say at Marulan, would be cleaner, faster and more effective.