Elevated Tracks the Answer for High-Speed Rail?

Elevated tracks alongside freeway emergency lanes could be the way to make high-speed rail viable in Australia, according to a Melbourne’s Metro CEO Andrew Lezala.

Elevated tracks alongside freeway emergency lanes could be the way to make high-speed rail viable in Australia, according to a Melbourne’s Metro CEO Andrew Lezala.

Mr Lezala spoke about the idea in a story that appeared on the news.com.au and Herald Sun websites this week, saying there is no point considering high-speed rail unless it can be built for $10 million a kilometre - very cheap by overseas standards - he insists.

The Australia and New Zealand Property Journal (ANZPJ) looked at the bold concept of an Australian high-speed rail (HSR) network in its September 2012 edition. HSR remains a hot topic that prompted a $20 million feasibility study by the federal Labor government last year, an election promise which was spurred on by Labor’s agreement with the Greens to help form a minority government.

It is widely believed that a HSR network would dramatically change the way Australians work and live, offer huge potential carbon savings, and could alleviate housing shortages in Sydney and open up affordable housing alternatives in Canberra, Goulburn and Newcastle.

Imagine stepping onto a high-speed train that could take you at 350km an hour from Brisbane to Sydney or Sydney to Melbourne in just three hours. It would mean a commute of 40 minutes from Newcastle to Sydney and an hour from Sydney to the nation’s capital, Canberra.

The report forecasts patronage demand at 54 million people using a HSR network each year by 2036, with regional demand accounting for 50% of travel to areas outside Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

Federal Transport Minister, Anthony Albanese, sought to kick-start the national conversation about such a possibility, with his department dedicating an HSR unit.

“We are now looking at an east coast high-speed rail network that has the potential to connect almost 65% of Australians and provide a foundation for a low carbon, high productivity economy,” Mr Albanese told an infrastructure conference in 2011.

The construction cost of the entire network in the first phase of the study has put construction of the entire network between $61 billion and $108 billion, depending on the route. Costs have been broken down over various sections of the route – $11 billion to $18 billion for the Sydney to Newcastle route, between $20 billion and $26 billion for the Canberra to Melbourne leg and $20 billion to $41 billion between Brisbane and Newcastle.

A spin-off from an HSR network in Australia is the potential to improve housing affordability, especially for people in Sydney, by offering them the potential to commute from regional areas. One man with a close eye on the progress of the feasibility study is Raine & Horne chief executive, Angus Raine.

Sydney was under enormous pressure, with an extra 60,000 people moving to the city through migration and immigration, Mr Raine said. This made the prospect of an HSR network extremely attractive.

“The high-speed rail would possibly unclog most of the main highways, north, south and west, the M5 and the M2,” he said.

Patronage demand analysis suggests CBD locations would act as the major trip generator and attractor in each city, with stations closest to the CBD generating the most demand. Regional areas which have sufficient size and demand for a parkway HSR station include the Gold Coast, Far North Coast, Northern Rivers, Mid North Coast, Central Coast, Southern Highlands, Illawarra, Riverina, Murray and Goulburn Valley.

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