High-speed rail too costly, study finds
Not now ... demand would not justify the high construction costs.
A high-speed rail line linking Sydney and Melbourne is not viable, the federal Department of Transport has told the government, claiming it is too expensive and will not attract enough passengers.
But the government should start locking up land now on which high-speed rail can be built in the future, it says.
''Australian cities are not predisposed to high-speed train linkages,'' the department told the Transport Minister, Anthony Albanese, in March.
The brief on the fast train was requested by the Seven Network under freedom of information laws.
But the department refused to release the document, saying it was completed in a short time-frame and would distort public debate on whether a high-speed rail line was possible.
It was only after Mr Albanese intervened that the document - a 19-page study of international fast rail lines and their costs - was released.
Mr Albanese said the public had a right to the information and, if it was to be convinced about the idea of a very fast train, needed to be aware of the challenges involved.
''We know that there's massive public support for high-speed rail,'' Mr Albanese said.
During the election campaign the government matched a Greens promise to spend $10 million on a study into a fast train linking Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. This study will still go ahead.
The department's brief, however, says that viable high-speed rail lines need about 6 million passengers a year to be viable when construction costs are low. More typically, they need about 12 to 20 million passengers to be able to recover their costs.
And while Sydney and Melbourne have large populations, an average speed of 250 km/h still demands a journey of three hours or more - which ''is the upper limit for the train to be competitive with airlines.''
''Other cities are more competitively distanced from each other but do not have the passenger and population base to warrant a new line,'' the brief says. For instance, fast trains linking Sydney with Newcastle and Canberra would have trip times well under two hours, but would be ''highly unviable'' due to their construction costs.
The briefing cites international construction costs for very fast trains rising from $16 million per kilometre on a rail link in Spain to $110 million per kilometre for the Channel Tunnel rail link into London. More densely populated areas produce higher costs, due to the price of buying land.
Until the numbers added up for a fast train, the department said the government could try and limit the future costs of fast trains by locking up land.
''Safeguarding such corridors now would deliver significant dividends at a time in the future when a high-speed rail line might be viable.''
In refusing to release the document, the Department of Transport told the Seven Network it was an ''incomplete picture unlikely to make a valuable contribution to public debate.
''Indeed, its nature is such that release would likely lead to confusion and unnecessary debate about issues that are not settled within government,'' the department said.