Tunnel vision? Mount Ainslie as seen from the lawns of Parliament House. Photo: Richard Briggs
The federal government will be asked to consider a very fast train line that travels into the heart of Canberra via a tunnel through Mount Ainslie.
The radical plan is one of three options for fast trains into Canberra to be presented this month to Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese by consultants working on a feasibility study for the high-speed rail lines to link Australia's east coast capitals.
After tunnelling through the Canberra landmark peak, the line would continue down what is now Ainslie Avenue and terminate in the heart of Civic.
Sources close to the study's reference groups have confirmed that private sector consultants Aecom will also include two other options for the proposed Canberra leg of a high-speed rail system, a station in Mitchell, no further south than Epic, and taking the line down the Majura Valley to the airport with the latter options linked to Civic by light rail.
The Canberra Times understands that some Canberra-based bureaucrats close to the research work are "appalled" by the tunnel option with its expense and potential for years of protest and legal action.
But the consultants are also grappling with the "challenging terrain" of the Brindabella Mountains if they are to design a through-line to Melbourne.
It looks more likely that a spur line to the national capital with a junction at the head of the Majura Valley and using one of the three Canberra terminus options would be proposed.
The report, the second stage of the Gillard government's "implementation study" into high-speed rail for the east coast, is expected to be made public next month.
It will follow up on the work completed in August 2011 that found an east coast network would cost between $61 billion and $108 billion.
The second phase of the work will contain recommendations for track routes and station locations, an assessment of the commercial and financial viability and funding options for the project, and environmental, social and economic appraisals.
Chris Faulks, of the Canberra Business Council, a key proponent of high-speed rail for the ACT, said Canberra's unusual configuration meant a city-centre station was less important than in other cities.
"The optimal option always is that the station should always be in the centre of the city, that's the accepted knowledge base all around the world, in which case the best option would be in the middle of Canberra city," Ms Faulks said.
"But there are several things about Canberra that diminish the importance of that. It would be very expensive to get into the city because it would have to go underground.
"Also we don't have that defined city centre like Sydney or Melbourne, we have those five nodes and people who come here don't necessarily go to the city centre, they might go to Parliament House or Defence or where other government offices are."
Ms Faulks said the council believed the airport would make most sense as a location for a Canberra station.
"From our point of view, because we're very keen on the airport having international flights, we think it's imperative that there be a station at the airport," she said.
"So you get off an international flight you go down the escalator, get onto high speed rail and you go to Sydney or Melbourne.
"And that would have a big impact on the region economically, an absolute game changer for Canberra.
"We don't think that Mitchell is the best option and that's because you tend to get a lot of commercial development around stations and it would almost make Mitchell a second city centre, which we don't think is a good idea."
Australasian Rail Association chief executive Bryan Nye said that his organisation had no preferences on Canberra stations.
"That's between the ACT government and the airport, but I think the airport's offer to fund a station at a price of $140 million might be persuasive," Mr Nye said.
"We just want to see high-speed rail to Canberra and a commitment to get it underway at the next election."