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 alone 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:
- 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 per cent higher-than-normal fare level
- Planning, appraisals and approvals would take a decade, land acquisition is a massive task, the investigations phases will cost some $10,400,000,000
- 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
- Sydney Terminal patronage is 29 per cent of the total
- 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
- Sydney to Newcastle - 17 per cent of construction costs and 4 per cent of patronage
- Newcastle to Gold Coast - 30 per cent of costs and 6 per cent of passengers
- Brisbane - 10 per cent of costs and 3 per cent of patronage.
North of Sydney therefore accounts for 57 per cent of costs and 13 per cent of patronage. It has to be said, this is a no-brainer: it will not proceed. The Highlands is largely by-passed and Camden/Menangle commuting excluded (as they have to be on Fast Trains).
The likely option has been explained in the Southern Highlands News as fast trains serving existing major town, along the freeways.
- Robert Gibbons started urban studies at Sydney University in 1971 and has done major studies of Sydney, Chicago, world cities' performance indicators, regional infrastructure financing, and urban history. He has published major pieces on the failure of trams in Sydney, on the "improvement generation" in Sydney, and has three books in readiness for publication, Thank God for the Plague, Sydney 1900 to 1912; Sydney's Stumbles 1830 to 2018; and Broken Democracy - deBairdising NSW. He has been Executive Director Planning in NSW Department of Transport, General Manager of Newcastle City, director of AIUS NSW and advisor to several premiers and senior ministers.