When John F. Kennedy saw a challenge worth taking he decided to get on with it as quickly as humanly possible, and in eight years Neil Armstrong was walking on the moon. On the other hand, our federal transport minister would have us believe building a high-speed railway from Melbourne to Brisbane will take 45 years.
The economic windfall which high speed rail will deliver to Australia has finally been recognised by the federal government, and that’s a good thing. But political delay and gold-plating could leave this as just a dream for another two generations of Australians.
Forty-five years is laughable.
Much has been made of the ‘technical and logistical challenge’, but we must get some perspective. Australia is in large part flat and vacant – a luxury that no other country operating HSR (high-speed rail) can boast. While there are some challenging points on the alignment, such as from Sydney to the Central Coast, a high proportion of the route is flat fields.
Spain and China have been rapidly constructing HSR in order to reduce the huge cost to those countries of imported oil and have completed 3,000km and 15,000km of track respectively in the past decade alone.
Indeed, these findings are an insult to the capability of Australia’s construction industry.
Beyond Zero Emissions has done its own study on the HSR route in partnership with the German Aerospace Centre (DLR). The research, which will be published in full in May, indicates that the chosen HSR route could instead be built for around $70 billion.
By making this project a life’s work no doubt adds considerably to the financial challenge as well as the gold plating which is evident in the cost estimates.
The notion of $114 billion is questionable to say the least.
Gerard Drew is a researcher for the Zero Carbon Australia Transport Plan with the climate change solutions think-tank Beyond Zero Emissions.
Gerard Drew, Climate Spectator, 17 April 2013