High Speed Rail (HSR) between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane is an interstate railway, but this is not its primary purpose. It is to facilitate population distribution from the major cities to new cities in the regions around them and to connect all the cites rapidly and cheaply. As the Australian population is projected to double, an increase of 25 million over the next five decades, HSR is a fifty-year project to be built in 10 years before population increase becomes unmanageable and detrimental to the major cities. It is the viable alternative to letting the two main cities grow overcrowded, over-congested and much less liveable, like London, New York and Hong Kong. The public transport systems of Melbourne and Sydney quickly grown to +8 million will never equal the excellence of London’s transport system for its 8 million people. They would be left in a worse situation, if the population is not distributed widely.
It is envisaged that HSR would connect Adelaide, a new city to the west of Geelong, Geelong, Melbourne, a new city in Gippsland, Canberra, a new city south of Sydney, Sydney, Newcastle, a new city north of Newcastle, a new city south of Brisbane, Brisbane, and a new city north of Brisbane. It will be a pearl necklace of 13 cities along the HSR line. Of these, six would be new cities of 1 to 3 million people, about 13 million in total. Population increase of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane would be limited to around three million overall. Adelaide, other cities and regional areas would absorb some 10 million. This would distribute the 25 million population increase more widely over the next few decades.
When a new city reaches its designed size, another new city would be started on the HSR line. Australia can grow and accommodate a larger population without disturbing life in its existing cities.
This initiative would bring together the core of a mega-region along the east coast to collaborate, increase international competitiveness and ensure the future prosperity and wellbeing of Australia.
The 2013 HSR Study corridor
The 2013 Study adopted the inland route from Canberra to Melbourne via Albury/Wodonga. It did not really address population distribution. HSR was seen as just an interstate railway. This corridor still appears to be regarded as the accepted corridor to develop. The chosen route explicitly excluded HSR connecting CBDs to major airports since the airlines submitted that there would be insufficient demand to make it worthwhile. The Study proposed two spur lines from the main line: one from Brisbane CBD to the Gold Coast, and one to Canberra CBD. It planned to build subsections of HSR to be connected along the corridor over 35 years. Most of the population increase would occur in major cities before it was completed.
Inland city attraction
Albury/Wodonga on the border of NSW and Victoria is seen as a possible large city on the HSR line. It is 300km inland from Melbourne. It is less attractive to new settlers than the coastal regions with access to the sea and a more benign climate. New coastal cities would be closer to the major cites’ CBDs with a shorter commute time. Inland cities are unlikely to attract a population of anywhere near 1 to 3 million, which is necessary to make a serious impact on major city population growth. The shortage of water supply for inland cities of this scale is a block to their development. There are many small inland towns and cities. Many do not want to be a mini-Melbourne or Sydney. If they were connected by HSR, their increase would not total enough new settlers to have much impact on reducing major city population increases. They may only become distant dormitory suburbs.
Coastal city attraction
Most of the 2013 HSR corridor is coastal in NSW and Queensland and is acceptable. It is all inland in Victoria and In NSW between Canberra and Albury. This is less attractive to a mass of new settlers and ineffective in offsetting Sydney’s and especially Melbourne’s population increase. A revised HSR corridor is required that supports distribution of population along the coast from Adelaide to Canberra and on to Brisbane. The whole corridor would have a coast climate and be located near the sea where 80% of Australia’s population lives. There is an ample water supply and plenty of space for new cities separate from, and not encroaching on existing towns and cities. A new city in Gippsland would also serve the present population of about 400,000 people.
HSR would connect the new cities to the nearest CBD in an average commute time of about 30-40 minutes, less than from city fringes today. It would be quicker than road and air. New cities would have their own excellent public transport systems that are designed for 30-minute commute times from the start and that keep up with city growth, unlike the major cities.
Cost of living is lower in the country than the cities. Cost of housing is lower than major cities. Cost of government utilities and infrastructure is also lower. Many everyday jobs, health and education in new cities add to their attractiveness. Settlers would experience the attractive lifestyle and low cost of living.
The new corridor in Victoria would be east from Melbourne through Gippsland, along the Cann River valley to Bombala, Cooma in NSW and Canberra. Bob Brown, the previous leader of the Greens Party, said that HSR was so crucial to reducing Australia’s co₂ production that some minimal environmental damage during HSR construction was acceptable. This would apply at Cann River. The east coast corridor through Cann River is about 26km longer than the inland route. HSR trains would still travel between Melbourne and Sydney CBDs in three hours. The cost/benefit ratio of this route is greater than the inland route when large-scale population distribution is considered.
The turnout tracks to HSR stations would be long enough for stopping trains to exit express tracks at full speed and slow to a stop at the platforms; and long enough to accelerate when leaving stations to enter express tracks at full speed. This prevents express trains being held up or from need to slow down. It allows them to pass and enables more of them on the tracks safely at the same time. It would connect Sydney and Melbourne CBDs in 3 hours. It increases the capacity of the system. A UK HSR expert said he would not stop HS2 trains for cities of less than 200,000 people (like those on the inland corridor).
The 2013 spur lines are unnecessary, add to the cost and provide poorer special train service compared to more through stopping train services. They would be deleted from the new corridor. Their cost savings would be applied to Cann River area construction. Removing the Canberra spur saves its CBD extra congestion and provision of large car parking facilities. The new HSR line would pass via the Canberra airport along the aeroplane noise envelope.
The Brisbane spur line is considerably east of the HSR more inland mainline to avoid noise of express trains through the built-up area and some difficult terrain on the NSW/Queensland border. Express speeds can be moderated where necessary, like the HSR 100km/h speed limit for 25km into Tokyo. Engineering solutions are needed through the difficult terrain. The cost may be higher but the benefit of closer service to where the denser population is located is much higher, so the cost/benefit ratio is greater than inland where cost may be less, but benefit of the spur is much less and the ration lower.
The new HSR corridor would connect all major airports in the major cities. It would also connect with new airports built for the new cities. Residents of old and new cities should have access by HSR to the nearest major airport and their local new city airport.
The HSR project would connect Badgerys Creek Airport to the Sydney CBD and the Tullamarine and Avalon Airports with the Melbourne CBD (by standard gauge). It would cover the cost of building the connections. Sale military airport would be converted to a military/commercial airport, like Canberra and Newcastle airports, to serve the new city in Gippsland by HSR.
The long view
Looking a long way ahead when the Australian population grows towards 50 million in the next few decades and possibly more later, the harbours at Eden and Jervis Bay on the NSW south coast would become more economic as ports and maybe naval deports for national security. New cities of I million or more would grow around them. HSR and a nearby Fast Freight Rail (FFR) line would be needed and later to be extended to serve the cities and ports.
This is another reason to apply foresight and take the HSR (with the adjacent FFR) route around the Victorian east coast and NSW south coast, instead of the inland route via Albury.
NSW south coast
In addition, recently it was advised that today many south coast residents who drive to Sydney take the road via Bombala (60km from Merimbula on the coast), Cooma or Canberra then on the highway to Sydney, not the sea-shore road which is very twisty and congested. They find that they can cut two hours off the six-hour journey. The short drive to Bombala, Cooma or Canberra HSR stations and rail to Sydney would probably more than halve their overall travel time. It would stimulate south coast local population growth, especially the million or more when the two ports become operative.
HSR to Cooma, between Bombala and Canberra, would open a quick journey to the snow for people in cities on the coastal route.
Fast Freight Rail (FFR) would be constructed next to HSR tracks at the same time to economise. FFR would connect all the new and old cities on the HSR route. It would halve the cost of interstate general freight along the east coast. Freight trains would be driverless and travel at 125-150km/h carrying 125 or more double-stacked containers. HSR would largely correct the present Australian freight distortion along the east coast: what should be carried by sea is carried by rail. What should be carried by rail is carried by road at great expense. HSR trains would carry some light, time sensitive parcel freight.
There are many separate ‘Fast Rail’ (Medium Speed Rail -MSR- speeds between HSR and traditional rail) schemes in Victoria, NSW and Queensland to connect their regional towns and their nearby cities’ CBDs somewhat more rapidly. These are intended to encourage some people to live in the country and commute rather than live in the major cities. There are two problems: different rail gauges and the small scale that has little effect on major cities population growth.
If the new schemes are restricted to MSR, they may not affect the interstate HSR system. There are some suggestions that HSR may be employed locally, possibly as sections of the interstate HSR Project, which raises the issue of serious ‘conflicting rail gauges’, different suppliers and different jurisdictions. The interstate HSR should be one integrated system from the start and have priority over other schemes to avoid troubles, particularly where there are common rights of way involved. It may be unnecessarily costly to partially duplicate the national interstate HSR tracks with separate local HSR or MSR schemes.
Paying for the HSR project
The HSR project would be designed to be ‘self-financing’. It would recover its capital cost during its 10 years of construction and repay its loans. The HSR Project capital costs cover building HSR and FFR and 400,000 inner-city dwellings in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. The dwelling would be sold and would recover the total project capital cost within 10 years. As HSR Project capital cost would not have to be recovered as it is traditionally from fares over 40 years of operations, HSR fares and FFR freight rates would be far lower. Commuter services would be profitable at lower fares. HSR and FFR would be very competitive and gain large market shares.
The dwellings would be built above the tracks in trenches in inner suburbs of the three major cities. In Melbourne, dwellings would be built above the suburban and HSR tracks from the CBD to Dandenong on the new eastern corridor to Gippsland. They would yield most return as they cover 30km, longer and more dwellings than entry from northern suburbs on the northern inland route and the nearby property is more valuable, so sale of dwellings would be at higher prices. The suburban corridor out of Melbourne to the new city west of Geelong and to Adelaide would also yield a return.
The northern inland route would not contribute enough return for Victoria to repay its share of the total cost of the HSR Project. Nor would it reduce Melbourne’s population increase enough. Two new cities of 2-3 million around Melbourne to east and west are the key to the viability of the whole project.
There is an overriding political concern why one, say 200,000, inland city at Albury on the 2013 HSR Study northern corridor in Victoria, were it to occur, would be undesirable. If two new large cities on HSR either side of Sydney kept its population down to say 6 million, and similarly two new cities kept the Brisbane population down; and if Melbourne without two new large coastal cities grew to 8-10-12 million, the situation would become politically unbalanced, unduly tense and unacceptable.
There are many reasons why two new cities in each state near the sea on HSR outside the major cities would attract large numbers of settlers and why the coastal corridor is important. One new city 300km away at Albury/Wodonga on the inland HSR corridor proposed in the 2013 HSR Study and adopted by Mr. Anthony Albanese would not attract 3 million settlers from settling in Melbourne (and 300,000 inland near Shepparton would not be enough).
HSR is not just an interstate railway. It is the means to distribute the population increase away from the big cities and save them from an overcrowded life and decline. It would be popular with the people who are growing more restless about city congestion at present densification much less than with 8 million. Australian governments assume that Sydney and Melbourne will grow to 8 million and it is acceptable to the people. The population projections stop at 8 million, though the population increase is unlikely to stop there. The small Fast Rail schemes are too small scale and will be ineffective in moderating city growth at all substantially. The people are largely unaware and unaccepting of government plans to highly densify their cities to be like London, New York and Hong Kong. The HSR Project and new regional cities is the viable, practical and desirable alternative.
It is critical that there is one integrated interstate HSR system from one source, rather than the piece-meal approach of joining separate bits, to avoid the troubles of different rail gauges, signalling, safety, technology, maintenance regimes, rolling stock, IT and service dimensions.
When a new city becomes full, a new one would be started on the HSR line. There is plenty of room for more cites and a larger Australian population. HSR is more than population distribution. It is the vital high speed connection of all the people in the Australian mega-region. A balance of six new cities, two in each state, is needed for optimum collaboration, liveability and prosperity.
The HSR Project is designed to be self-financing before it becomes operational. Agreement on the HSR Project with the one combined source/supplier/financier should be completed soon before the next economic crisis dries up finance for construction.
The southeast coastal route is preferable and certainly more beneficial than the inland route.