High Speed Rail Could Provide $48 Billion in Benefits

highspeed rail australia

High speed rail (HSR) now exists on every continent except for Australia and Antarctica.

The Australian Government published its Phase 1 Report into HSR in 2011 and quantified the likely costs to build on Australia’s east coast at about $80 billion.

As a precursor to the Phase 2 Report, Australian Greens deputy leader Adam Bandt has released his own report as to the likely benefits, which claims $48 billion in benefits for the country.

“While there has been much discussion of the financial costs of high speed rail, there has been little discussion about the financial benefits. The report shows that over 30 years the benefits make up over half the cost of high speed rail,” Bandt said.

Bandt says the benefits, once quantified, are significant. They include both direct benefits to HSR users and operators through time savings and profits, respectively and indirect benefits to society, also known as externalities.

The main externalities include fewer accidents, lower greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), less air and noise pollution, less congestion on roads and at airports and substantial time savings to users.

The report says that in 2036, its first year of operation, HSR is expected to reduce net CO2 emissions by some 1.3 million tonnes, the equivalent of taking 365,000 cars off the road.

adam bandtAs member for Melbourne, Bandt’s report looks at the particular benefits of HSR to the rapidly growing capital of Victoria. HSR is expected to substitute for some 15 million trips by other modes in its first full year of operation. With travel times of 50 minutes to places like Shepparton or 65 minutes to Albury-Wodonga, the pressure on Melbourne’s outer suburbs, rental market and housing affordability, the report says, will be eased. The report said living in regional Victoria or, indeed, regional NSW, and commuting to Melbourne for work will be “feasible, reliable and enjoyable.”

Melbourne already has three major rail projects being built or under consideration, all of which Bandt says could integrate powerfully with HSR.

The $4.3 billion Melbourne Regional Rail Link, due to be completed in 2016, provides substantial increases in capacity and reliability for Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo regional rail services. Once completed, trains from these regional centres will be able to operate into Melbourne without being delayed behind suburban trains.

The project will also free up capacity for extra suburban services from Werribee, Sunbury and Craigieburn along Melbourne’s western growth corridor. The Regional Rail Link would connect Geelong to the HSR network at Southern Cross, providing a powerful extension of the reach of HSR.

The Baillieu government has also committed $50 million on preliminary works to build a railway line to Avalon, planned as Melbourne’s second airport over the long term.

Meanwhile the Melbourne Airport Rail Link, planned to increase public transport capacity between Melbourne CBD and Melbourne (Tullamarine) Airport, is still under consideration and is a stronger possibility following the release of proposals for another runway.

While some of the exact route options are still being addressed – for example, although there is only one short list corridor now being considered between Melbourne and Canberra, there are still five short listed routes between Newcastle and Brisbane – there is agreement on the general route of the HSR. Going South to North, the HSR will follow the Hume Highway corridor; the Central Coast corridor from Sydney to Newcastle; and a coastal corridor via the Gold Coast to Brisbane.

“As a nation-building project, HSR will position Australia well for the population growth being forecast by the ABS, as well as for a carbon constrained world,” Bandt concluded. “This report shows that the direct user benefits and the externality benefits make up over half of the forecast cost to build HSR. HSR is therefore worthy of serious consideration and analysis. A full analysis and public quantification of direct and indirect economic, social and environmental benefits is an important priority for government.”

By Justin McGar
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