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Why are we still taking East Coast High Speed Rail seriously?

By Alan Davies - posted Friday, 18 March 2016

East Coast High Speed Rail is the boondoggle that just won't go away. Yet gunzels, rent-seekers and progressives stand side-by-side in wanting to squander $100 Billion on this folly

Last week the CEO of Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE), Stephen Bygrave, asked in the pages of The Guardian, Why are we still waiting for high-speed rail between Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane?

[This] disruptive project is a must for Australia if it wants to join other developed economies in the 21st century. One simply cannot imagine an Australia, with populations in both Sydney and Melbourne of eight million, still relying on air, road and an ageing rail system.


Dr Bygrave's main arguments for Melbourne-Sydney-Brisbane High Speed Rail (HSR) are:

  • It would only cost $84 Billion according to BZE's analysis; the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) reckons it can be built for $68 Billion.
  • It would "radically" reduce emissions.
  • The investment community is crying out for infrastructure projects with safe returns.
  • HSR is a commercial proposition; the private sector can meet the majority of the costs.
  • Labor's Anthony Albanese and the Liberal's Andrew Robb support the idea.

The only independent expert study of HSR in Australia was the 2013 $20 million AECOM study commissioned by HSR booster Anthony Albanese himself when he was Minister for Transport. It concluded East Coast HSR would cost $114 Billion (P50) to $127 Billion (P90) to build (2012$$).

It could cover its operating costs but virtually all the cost of construction would ultimately have to come from Government. That's an extraordinary sum of money; it's five to six times larger than the Rudd Government's $17 Billion GFC-busting BER program.

BZE and the ARA are both lobby groups so it's no surprise they insist it could be built for a lot less. BZE is the same organisation that two years ago claimed Melbourne Metro could be built for $3 – 4 Billion when the acknowledged cost at the time was $9 Billion and is now $11 Billion nominal (see What does urban rail really cost to build?).

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This article was first published on Crikey.

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About the Author

Dr Alan Davies is a principal of Melbourne-based economic and planning consultancy, Pollard Davies Pty Ltd ( and is the editor of the The Urbanist blog.

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