To build or not to build High Speed Rail

To build or not to build High Speed Rail

There's been a lot of interesting analysis on Beyond Zero Emissions release of their Zero Carbon High Speed Rail report launch this past week and I thought I'd link in some of the more pertinent discussions.

Alan Davies writing on his Crikey blog "High Speed Rail: too good to be true?" went through the claims of Beyond Zero Emission's report and compared it to the claims from the AECOM report handed down for the previous Federal Government.

It's obviously been read by the brass at Beyond Zero Emission as today Alan has given his blog over to a guest writer, Gerard Drew from BZE to explain "How we found high speed rail to be commercially viable".

Gerard Drew's guest blog neatly explains their rationale and looks in detail at the comparison between air fare assumptions and high speed rail fare assumptions.

And perhaps more amusingly Leith Van Olsen using his pseudonym Unconventional Economist on his site Macrobusiness writes "No Albo, Australia doesn't need high speed rail" in reference to Anthony "Albo" Albanese being published in multiple publications spruiking the notion we should keep an East Coast High Speed Rail project front and centre in our minds.

To quote the Unconventional Economist:

Albanese’s claims about the convenience of HSR are also spurious. The route between Melbourne and Sydney is roughly 900 kilometres, which would require an average travel speed of around 300 kilometres per hour to make it within the claimed three hours.

However, Albanese also contradictorily notes that HSR would be a game changer for regional communities along the route, suggesting that the train would need to stop at these locations. But the more stops that are included in the route, the slower the trip, making the three hour promise little more than a pipe dream.

For example, if the HSR train stopped just six times between Melbourne and Sydney, it could add up to one hour to the trip, assuming 10 minutes per station (including slow down, boarding, and acceleration times). If this was the case, then the Melbourne to Sydney HSR journey would slow to four hours, making it even less competitive against air travel.

Further, some of the time savings noted by Albanese are spurious. He mentions airport travel and waiting times as costs disadvantaging air travel, but conveniently ignores the time and cost associated with traveling to/from the CBD to board HSR (most of us don’t live near the CBD, after all).

If I may point out two things:

  1. The UE fails to reference how both the AECOM and BZE reports outline, quite specifically, they anticipate different tiers of service: express services (mimicking the point to point service provided by air right now), regional services (essentially operating a "stopping all stations" service between the capitals) and commuter services. Naturally a stopping all stations service will take longer, but both reports make it clear regional services wouldn't be the only stopping pattern.
  2. UE's last point on cost associated with traveling to/from the CBD to board HSR could easily be said for traveling to an airport. Freeway tolls and traffic, airport parking fees (that's if you decide to leave your car at the airport or a friend decides to park and see you off at the gate), taxi fares and of course the amount of petrol needing to be burnt to get from one's home to the airport - they're also costs which should be accounted for.

In Melbourne's case, all train lines, except Sandringham, stop at Southern Cross, enabling easy one train change access to any future High Speed Rail (or Airport Rail) services - Mr and Mrs Average family in the suburbs will live a lot closer to a local train station than they will to Tullamarine or Avalon airport. Much of the same muchness, wouldn't you say?


It's great to read that AECOM have been contacted to respond to BZE's claims on Alan Davies blog and I'm looking forward to seeing any response published.

Let's have the "do we need High-Speed Rail debate" - but let's also keep it real and not mince it with an idiotic housing affordability debate.

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