High Speed Rail Report (2014)

  • Cover of High Speed Rail Report

Australia could have a high speed rail from Melbourne to Brisbane within a decade, with 60% of Australians living within 50km of a station:

  • 21 stations linking 18 cities and towns,
  • including Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney & Brisbane,
  • 1,799 km of rail,
  • 81 km of tunnels, and
  • 98 km of elevated sections.

(Beyond Zero Emissions: 2014)

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The high-speed rail could be running within 10 years and become a dominant mode of transport within the busy east coast corridor, providing superior service over flying or driving for a major portion of regional journeys.

This high-speed rail would deliver regular and cost effective travel to parts of regional Australia.

Rail travellers will be able to travel from the centre of Sydney to the centre of Melbourne in 3 hours, from the centre of Sydney to the centre of Brisbane in 3 hours too.  This makes these trips comparable to air travel.

Various technologies for high speed rail are well established. Many countries, including Japan, Germany and France, have had high-speed rail for decades. China is now building the most extensive high-speed rail network in the world.

Demand for the high-speed rail service

Travelling long distances is an unavoidable part of living in Australia, with approximately 1800 towns spread thinly over an enormous 7.7 million square kilometres. Travel is so much a part of our lives it accounts for one quarter of Australia’s total energy consumption, and 15% of greenhouse gas emissions.

Eighty per cent of Australia’s population lives along the eastern coastline and Australia’s passenger movements are heavily concentrated within a corridor in the south east of the country, between Melbourne and Brisbane. Travel within this corridor represents 65% of journeys, 45% of kilometres and 44% of emissions accumulated by passengers across all of regional Australia.

Demand for travel within the south-east coast corridor, especially between the state capitals, is extremely high, relative to other cities in the world. Currently regional travel is dominated in even proportions by the family car and air travel.

The Melbourne-Sydney air route is ranked as the 4th busiest in the world, Sydney-Brisbane is ranked 13th and Melbourne-Brisbane 36th.  The use of these air routes is comparable to those between the mega-cities of Asia and South America. And, much of this travel demand could be taken up by high-speed rail.

Benefits of the high-speed rail

High-speed rail offers ease and comfort that other modes of transport do not, it:

  • Rail transports passengers from city centre to city centre.
  • Driving a private car requires the driver’s focused attention for an extended period
  • Air travel requires time consuming security checks.

By powering the high-speed rail with renewable electricity, much travel on our east coast would not be contributing to global warming.

Also, Australia will not have to import and pay for as much fuel for planes.

Impact of the high-speed rail network

Considering only journeys up to 800 km in distance, and based on current air traffic within the south east corridor, 100 high-speed trains with a capacity of 500 seats could be filled each day.

The network would become the dominant mode of transport for journeys between 350 and 1300 km in distance, which covers 60% of passenger kilometres travelled within the east-coast corridor. Over three times more passengers are expected to travel by high-speed rail than air within the east-coast corridor in 2030; that is 68 million for HSR compared to 20 million by air. This would result in three million fewer domestic passengers at Sydney Airport in 2030 compared to 2012, significantly reducing the demand for a second Sydney airport.

The service would open up Australia’s regional centres, which are currently poorly serviced by air travel, and significantly reduce travel times to these regions, resulting in more travel and boosting local economies.

The problem of housing affordability in the biggest cities would also be addressed by allowing people to live further out in more affordable regional towns and commute to the metropolitan cities using high-speed rail.

Cost and Revenue

The project would have an estimated $84 billion total construction cost, including rolling stock, project management and contingency, with the Melbourne-Sydney leg costing $40 billion and the Sydney-Brisbane section costing $44 billion.

When fully operational, the service is estimated to raise $7 billion in fare revenue, with ticket prices cheaper than equivalent average air fares.  This revenue would repay the total capital expenditure in 40 years.

Effect on Emissions

This rail network would provide zero emission journeys in the east-coast corridor.  It is expected to reduce travel emissions within the east-coast corridor by 28%, which equates to a 13.5% reduction in regional travel emissions Australia-wide.


Tim Fischer, a former National Party politician and Deputy Prime Minister of Australia:

“I salute this work that further raises the profile of high-speed rail for Australia. Better fifty years late than never for high-speed rail”

Other features of the proposal

Australian regional travel: 45% is contained within the proposed High Speed Rail network corridor

Domestic regional travel in Australia is highly concentrated in the corridor between Melbourne and Brisbane. In 2010 Australian passengers travelled 145 billion kilometres across the country, 65 billion were within the corridor approximately 100km either side of the proposed High Speed Rail line.

21 High Speed Rail stations connecting 11 regional centres and seven major cities

Regional stations are proposed for: Seymour, Shepparton, Albury-Wodonga, Wagga Wagga, Goulburn, Moss Vale, Taree, Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour, Grafton and Lismore. With the proposed High Speed Rail network, these regional centres would be no more than one and a half hours from one of seven major cities on the network: Brisbane, Gold Coast, Newcastle, Central Coast, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne.

Ten minute train frequencies required during peak hours at Sydney station

From Sydney, the busiest station, high speed trains in both north and south directions would be departing platforms every ten minutes in peak hour. Meeting the passenger demand estimated for the proposed HSR network would require a fleet of 87 trains. The average train occupancy is estimated to be 85%.

Journey times less than three hours from the centre of Sydney CBD, to the CBD of Melbourne or Brisbane

Both express and stopping trains are proposed for the High Speed Rail network. Express trains will take less than three hours to travel from Sydney to both Melbourne and Brisbane. To travel the full length of the corridor, from Melbourne to Brisbane, will take around 5 hours and 56 minutes.

Three million fewer domestic passengers at Sydney Airport in 2030 than current levels

With the proposed High Speed Rail network operational in 2030, the reduced air travel demand would require 82 fewer daily aircraft movements than the current average of 850. The need for another airport to service Sydney will be greatly influenced by the proposed High Speed Rail network.

HSR becomes the dominant mode of transport for journeys between 350 and 1,300 kilometres in length

Once high-speed rail is operational it is estimated that it will account for 30% of passenger kilometres travelled. Most of this travel is estimated to be transferred from current air services, and longer car journeys. Journeys shorter than 350 km remain dominated by car travel, whilst those longer than 1,300 km remain mostly on air travel.

Over three times more passengers are expected to travel by HSR than air within the east coast corridor in 2030

68 million passengers are expected to travel by HSR in the year 2030, compared to 20 million by air (down from 55 million in 2010).

100% renewable energy powered for zero emissions journeys

The proposed HSR network can be powered by 100% renewable energy. This will allow passengers the choice of travelling with zero emissions for journeys that are appropriate to substitute with HSR. It is estimated that greenhouse gas emissions from regional travel would be reduced by 150 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent over 40 years of operation compared with business-as-usual. Emissions created from the HSR construction would be offset after 5 years.

$84 billion total estimated construction cost including rolling stock, project management and contingency

Melbourne-Sydney is estimated to cost $40 billion, and Sydney-Brisbane $44 billion. Of this, $18 billion of the total estimated construction cost is required for entering the cities of Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney, Gold Coast and Brisbane.

$7 billion estimated fare revenue when fully operational in 2030

The passenger demand estimated would generate $7 billion of gross operating revenue in the year 2030, with HSR fares priced cheaper than the equivalent average air fares. Operating costs are estimated to total $2.3 billion for the same year. The net operating profit is $4.6 billion.

40 year capital repayment from operating profits

The significant operating profits would allow repayment of the capital costs after 40 years of operation. This takes into account expected growth in passenger demand, with a 4% real discount rate on future cash flows.

1799 km of High Speed Railway requiring 81km of tunnels (4.5%)and 98km of elevated sections (5.5%)

90% of the proposed HSR network is on track at ground level, in cuttings or on embankments. The alignment has been careful designed to balance the need for expensive infrastructure such as tunnels and bridges, with the need to limit impacts on people and the natural environment.

Internationally, comparable HSR projects have been delivered in less than 10 years.

HSR projects of similar or greater complexity have been competed in other countries in less than 10 years from commencing construction to beginning services. If Australia proceeds with HSR and achieves a similar pace of project delivery, the proposed network could be operational by 2025.

Report produced in collaboration with:


Publishing details

Zero Carbon Australia: High Speed Rail
First Edition: April 2014
ISBN 978-0-9923580-0-6

96 pages

Published by
Beyond Zero Emissions
Fitzroy, Victoria, Australia

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Launch and Media

April 3, 2014 national launch media release

Video excerpt of launch (17min)

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By |2018-06-11T16:51:54+00:0001 Apr 2014|Publication Overview, Rail Plan|Comments Off on High Speed Rail Report (2014)