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Map of south eastern Australia, where most of the country's high speed train proposals would be located.

Australia is a country without any high-speed rail (200 kilometres per hour (124 mph) or above).[1] Queensland Rail operates two QR Tilt Train services to Rockhampton and Cairns using electric and diesel tilt train services respectively, but these do not exceed the speed of 210 km/h and typically are operated closer to speeds of 160 km/h. Since the 1980s, there have been several proposals, but consecutive proposals have not been approved and the project has not eventuated. All of the proposals have been for the construction of a linear high-speed link between Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne, while some proposals included links to Brisbane or Adelaide as well. The most promising proposal to date, the Very Fast Train Joint Venture, was abandoned in 1991.[2] In December 2008, the Australian Government announced that a Very Fast Train along the Sydney-Melbourne corridor, estimated to cost AUD$59 billion, was the government's highest infrastructure priority.[3][4][5] Today, the fastest passenger trains travel at 160 km/h (99 mph), which was first achieved in the early 1980s, however passenger trains on the Sydney-Melbourne rail corridor average about 85 km/hr on a track with many slow curves.

In Australia, most travel between rural centres is by car, and between rural centres and capitals, travel is by train or car. Domestic travel between capitals is mostly by air and not by rail or car, as air is the most economical and duration of travel is only a few hours.[6] However, the duration of travel between the capitals by HSR could be as quick or faster than air travel[7] - a Maglev train could travel Melbourne-Sydney in two hours and 45 minutes.[8] Studies and recommendations assert that a high speed rail service between the eastern major capital cities has merit, and is viable as an alternative to air.[9][10][11][12] The evidence for this claim is that rail would be economical as opposed to air and car travel (variable fuel prices and peak oil), and duration of travel by train would compare with air travel or would be quicker, as in Germany, and also would reduce national carbon emissions.[12][13][14]

The Melbourne-Sydney route is the world’s fourth busiest air route in both passenger numbers and the number of flights (variable figure of 800 flights per week), Sydney-Brisbane is seventh busiest in the Asia/Pacific region, and so rail links could potentially see high levels of patronage.[15]


Adoption issues

In 2001 the issues preventing the adoption of high speed rail in Australia included, according to Philip Laird:[11]

  • a perception of cheap car travel.
  • no tolls on the majority of roads.
  • a high level of competition in domestic air travel.
  • major inter-city distances exceed those for which high-speed rail can compete effectively against aircraft.
  • excessive domestic air transport subsidies.

Past and current proposals

CSIRO proposal

The first high speed rail proposal was made in 1984 by the CSIRO.[16] The proposal was for a rail network similar to the contemporary French TGV network, between Melbourne and Sydney, via Canberra, with the journey taking 3 hours. The proposal attracted much public and media attention, as well as some private sector capital for feasibility studies.[11] Opposition to a High Speed Rail network was on cost and environmental grounds, as the elements of routes under consideration ran though national parks and forest, with the proposal suspended by government in 1990.[11]

BHP, Elders IXL, Kumagi Gumi and TNT proposal

In 1986, a proposal to link Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney was put forward by a private sector consortium: BHP, Elders IXL, Kumagi Gumi and TNT. The proposal was entitled the Very Fast Train project or VFT. In 1991, the consortium withdrew their bid 'after failing to secure tax concessions'.[17]

Transrapid/Speedrail consortium/Capital Rail/Inter Capital Express proposals

In 1995, a second proposal was made by the Speedrail consortium for high speed rail between Sydney and Canberra. In March 1997, the Commonwealth, New South Wales and ACT governments formally invited expressions of interest for the project. Six proponents were in the running. In December 1997, the government received four proposals, all accompanied by the required $100,000 deposit.[11] The proposals were:

  • Maglev technology by Transrapid
  • TGV technology by the Speedrail consortium
  • Tilting trains and upgraded tracks by two groups: Capital Rail and Inter Capital Express

On 8 August 1998, then Prime Minister John Howard announced the Speedrail was the preferred party,[18] and gave the go ahead for the project to move into the 'proving up' stage, on the understanding that if the project proceeded, it would be at "no net cost to the taxpayer". The proposal was for:

  • Construction of the project to commence in 2003, with 15000 new jobs to be created during the construction period.
  • The line to operate under a Build Own Operate model, that would allow a private company to manage the network, but would then be transferred to government after 30 years.
  • Services to commence in late 2003, with nine eight car trains in use, that depart from each city at 45 minute intervals, and run at a maximum of 320 km/h (199 mph) to complete the journey in 81 minutes.[18]

In October 1999, the government received feasibility reports from the interested parties. At the time, the media speculated that $1 billion in government assistance or tax concessions would be required.[11] Calls were made to reopen the tender process to permit cheaper tilt train proposals to be considered. In December 2000, the concept was suspended by government.

Since 2000

After this period, the Liberal government did not revisit the concept while in government. Since the election, the elected Labor government established a body, Infrastructure Australia, which is said to be studying the option again.

In 2007, the Australian Greens called for the high speed rail link between the major capitals. The newly elected Labor government said that private funding would be needed.[19]

In April 2008, Infrastructure Australia received a submission, "High Speed Rail for Australia: An opportunity for the 21st century", from The Canberra Business Council. Key points of the CBC submission:

  • Improvements in technology, competitiveness and supply over the past decade.
  • Travel demand on the East Coast. The Melbourne - Sydney air route is the fourth busiest in the world and Sydney-Brisbane ranks seventh in the Asia-Pacific region.
  • Increased economic standard of living for Australians.
  • Use for freight. High speed freight trains are in use in France and soon to expand across Europe.
  • Environmental sustainability and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Energy efficiency.
  • Better social outcomes, quality of life, and reduced social disadvantage for regional centres on the rail line.

2009, a link for high speed rail between Canberra and Sydney is being considered as an alternative to the development of a second airport in Sydney.[20]

2008 Melbourne Maglev Proposal

The proposed Melbourne Maglev connecting the city of Geelong through Metropolitan Melbourne's outer suburban growth corridors, Tullamarine and Avalon domestic in and international terminals in under 20 mins and on to Frankston, Victoria in under 30 minutes.

In late 2008, a proposal was put forward to the Government of Victoria to build a privately funded and operated Maglev line to service the Greater Melbourne metropolitan area[21][22] in response to the Eddington Transport Report which neglected to investigate above ground transport options. The Maglev would service a population of over 4 million and the proposal was costed at AUD $8 billion.

However, the government dismissed the proposal in favour of the underground metropolitan network suggested by the Eddington Report

2009 emissions concerns

In 2009/2010 it was argued that since Melbourne-Sydney is the world's 4th busiest air route (in both passenger numbers and aircraft numbers) along with growing concerns about global warming caused by carbon emissions, the implementation of a Melbourne-Sydney high speed rail link would save a lot of the carbon emissions emitted by air travel and therefore make HSR viable in Australia. [1] Some groups have called for a HSR viability study in the light of rising jet-fuel prices and rising carbon emissions.

Medium speed services

Transwa Prospector railcar
V/Line VLocity railcar

Current medium speed trains include:

  • In Western Australia Westrail commenced using high speed diesel railcars in 1971 on the Prospector service from Perth to Kalgoolie, and set a new Australian speed record. Now operated by Transwa, the original railcars were replaced in 2004 with units capable of 200 km/h (124 mph), and the new railcars are also used on the AvonLink service.[23]
  • New South Wales commenced operations with their XPT in 1981. Based on the British InterCity 125 train, it had a service speed of 160 km/h (99 mph) and set an Australian speed record of 193 km/h (120 mph), on a test run in 1992.[24] Today the train is not used to the full advantage, operating along winding steam era alignments,[25] and has had the top speed limited due to track condition and level crossing incidents.
  • New South Wales also trialled the Swedish X 2000 tilt train in 1995. Propelled by two specially modified XPT power cars, the train operated on an eight week trial carrying passengers between Sydney and Canberra.[26]
  • Queensland Rail's Tilt Trains operate on two routes: from Brisbane to Rockhampton using an electric powered train, and Brisbane to Cairns with a diesel powered train. The routes used were partially upgraded in the 1990s at a cost of $590 million, with the construction of 160 km (99 mi) of deviations to straighten curves.[27] Both with a service speed of 160 km/h (99 mph),[28] the electric tilt train set an Australian rail speed record of 210 km/h (130 mph) in 1999.[29]
  • In Victoria the State Government upgraded railway lines as part of the Regional Fast Rail project, with V/Line operating their VLocity diesel railcars at a maximum speed of 160 km/h (99 mph) over the lines.[30] In the early stages of the project the Victorian Government incorrectly referred to it as the 'Fast Train' or 'Very Fast Train', and this practice continues among some politicians and members of the public.[31][32][33]

See also


  1. ^ "General definitions of highspeed". International Union of Railways. Retrieved 2008-08-13. 
  2. ^ Paula Williams (6 April 1998). "Australian Very Fast Trains-A Chronology". Background Paper 16 1997-98. Parliamentary Library. Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  3. ^ Peter Veness (20 December 2008). "Melbourne-Sydney very fast train tops wish list for Rudd Government".,27574,24825946-5000540,00.html. Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  4. ^ "Very fast train has merits: Albanese". ABC. 19 March 2008. Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  5. ^ "Melbourne-Sydney very fast train tops wish list for Rudd Government". Travelhouseuk's Travel Blog. 19 December 2008. Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  6. ^ "Australian transport statistics" (PDF). Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics. June 2008. Retrieved 2009-03-02. 
  7. ^ "Peak Oil and Australia's National Infrastructure" (PDF). Australian Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas. October 2008. Retrieved 2009-03-02. 
  8. ^ "Off the rails". The Age. 27 February 2004. Retrieved 2009-03-02. 
  9. ^ Laird, P., Michell, M., & Adorni-Braccesi, G. (2002). Sydney-Canberra-Melbourne high speed train options, 25th Australasian Transport Research Forum 2–4 October, Canberra.; May, M. (2006). Aviation meets ecology--redesigning policy and practice for air transport and tourism. Transport Engineering in Australia, 10, 117-128.; Brunello, Lara R. and Bunker, Jonathan M. and Ferreira, Luis (2006) Investigation to Enhance Sustainable Improvements in High Speed Rail Transportation. In: CAITR, 6,7,8 December 2006, Sydney; Journal of Transport Geography, Volume 14, Issue 6, November 2006, Pages 437-450; Brunello, Lara R. and Bunker, Jonathan M. and Ferreira, Luis and Ferrara, Renzo (2008) Enhancing Sustainable Road and Rail Interaction. In: Transport Research Arena Europe 2008: Greener, Safer and Smarter Road Transport for Europe, 21–24 April 2008, Ljubljana, Slovenia; A Fast Railway for the East Cost, Railway Digest magazine, August 2007 edition; Fast Future or a Slow Death, Railway Digest magazine, September 2007 edition; Fast Freight and Passengers, Railway Digest magazine, October 2007 edition; Mixing Fast Freight and Passenger Trains, Railway Digest magazine, November 2007 edition; Costing a 21st Century Railway, Railway Digest magazine, December 2007 edition; Fast Trains – Profit or Loss, Railway Digest magazine, January 2008 edition; Fast Trains – Financially Viable, Railway Digest magazine, February 2008 edition; Fast Trains – External Benefits, Railway Digest magazine, March 2008 edition
  10. ^ "(Submission)Towards a National Land Transport Plan : A Response To The Green Paper on AUSLINK" (PDF). AUSLINK. Retrieved 2009-03-01. ;
    "Summary of Submission 5122 : Colin Butcher". Australia 2020 Summit. Retrieved 2009-03-01. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f Philip Laird (2001). Where Are We Now: National Patterns and Trends in Transport. UNSW Press. p. pages 32–33. ISBN 0 86840 411 X. 
  12. ^ a b "High Speed Rail for Australia: An opportunity for the 21st century". Canberra Business Council. April 2008. Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  13. ^ Mike Steketee (26 July 2008). "Greenhouse plans went off the rails". The Australian.,25197,24077717-11949,00.html. Retrieved 2009-03-02. 
  14. ^ "Very fast train tops develops' wish-list". The Canberra Times. 26 November 2008. Retrieved 2009-03-01. 
  15. ^ "High Speed Rail for Australia: An opportunity for the 21st century". Canberra Business Council. April 2008. Retrieved 2009-02-26.  p.4
  16. ^ "WILD John Paul". Obituary. ATSE, reprinting article from Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  17. ^ Tony Boyd (5 February 2009). "On the wrong track". Business Spectator.$pd20090205-NXSUF?OpenDocument&src=sph. Retrieved 2009-03-01. 
  18. ^ a b Philip Laird (2001). The Institutional Problem. UNSW Press. p. pages 107–108. ISBN 0 86840 411 X. 
  19. ^ "Greens push for high speed rail network". ABC. 5 November 2007. Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  20. ^ Jano Gibson (10 February 2009). "Sydney to Canberra in 50 minutes: fast tracking second airport". The Age. Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  21. ^,21985,24100590-2862,00.html
  22. ^
  23. ^ "Australia's fastest trains enter service". International Railway Journal. September 2003. Retrieved 2008-08-13. 
  24. ^ "Australian rail speed records". Retrieved 2008-08-13. 
  25. ^ Philip Laird (2001). Where Are We Now: National Patterns and Trends in Transport. UNSW Press. p. page 31. ISBN 0 86840 411 X. 
  26. ^ David Bromage. "X2000 in Australia". Retrieved 2008-08-13. 
  27. ^ Philip Laird (2001). Appendix B: Australia's Gauge Muddle and Prospects. UNSW Press. p. page 191. ISBN 0 86840 411 X. 
  28. ^ "Tilt Train Fleet Back to Normal Service". QR Corporate: Media Releases. 24 May 2007. Retrieved 2008-08-13. 
  29. ^ "QR History". Retrieved 2008-08-13. 
  30. ^ "Public transport - VLocity trains". Retrieved 2008-08-13. 
  31. ^ Kenneth Davidson (22 September 2003). "Fast train is a big waste of money". The Age. Retrieved 2008-08-13. 
  32. ^ David Broadbent (19 December 2004). "Not even Libs believe Doyle's buy-out promise". The Age. Retrieved 2008-08-13. 
  33. ^ Editorial (14 March 2008). "Rail safety is vital, no matter how far down the track". Retrieved 2008-08-13. 

Further reading

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