Speeding up the regions
High-speed rail would invigorate the regions, agree Greens senator Larissa Waters and the Nationals Barnaby Joyce. No such bipartisanship on cost, feasibility and green-lighting the project.PT9M22S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2hn51 620 349 April 11, 2013
It may be a little early to book reservations aboard Australia's Very Fast Train, and even if you could get one, say for the 50th birthday of your newborn grandchild, you would be best not to put down a deposit just yet.
The latest study for a high-speed rail service between Melbourne and Brisbane has such disconcerting qualifications that the most tragic gambler would be given pause.
''Whether to proceed with planning for a future [high-speed rail] program must necessarily be a policy decision, taking account of many factors that cannot be known with certainty, and in the context of risks which cannot be perfectly controlled,'' a key finding reads.
Super speedy but don't hold your breath for the Australian version. Photo: AFP
Unsurprisingly, Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese did not declare the high-speed rail project as part of government policy when he unveiled the 500-page report, along with almost 300 maps, on the fantasy choo-choo on Thursday.
Rather, he opened up the subject for public debate and comment, admitting that it ''does pose a number of complex challenges''.
Challenges? Take your pick: along the 1748-kilometre route would be a mere 144 kilometres of tunnels; 67 kilometres of which would be under the city of Sydney alone.
''It's certainly a cracker of a tunnel,'' Mr Albanese remarked.
Why, the high-speed Channel Tunnel from Britain to France is a mere 50 kilometres.
The only comparison with the proposed Sydney tunnel is the 67.3-kilometre metro running between an airport and a bus terminal in Guangzhou, China, the longest railway tunnel in the world.
There is also the ticklish cost of the Melbourne to Brisbane line: $114 billion.
The cautious tend to be a tad lairy about cost projections on big projects. The Chunnel, for instance, ran 80 per cent over its budget, though it took only six years to build.
Work on the first stage of the proposed high-speed rail project - a modest stretch between Sydney and Canberra - would not be able to start for about another 14 years because of the need for planning, approvals and the unravelling of red tape, the report says. Construction of the whole system, with branch lines to the Gold Coast, would take another 30 years.
Thus, even if all the federal and state governments agreed and the project got the whistle, it would not be completed until 2058, not taking account of those ''factors that cannot be known with certainty''. Enthusiasts tend to refer to the dream line as the Steel Snowy.
Somewhere along the way, however, Australia's imagination for monumental engineering exploits seems to have lost steam.
The Snowy Mountains scheme included 16 massive dams, seven hydro-power stations, a pumping station and 225 kilometres of tunnels, pipelines and aqueducts. It took just 25 years to complete.
Australian travellers, of course, have had to learn patience. The Fraser government promised in 1980 the Hume Highway would be a duplicated road all the way from Sydney to Melbourne, by 1990. The final section of the duplication - a bypass at Holbrook - is due to be completed in June, 23 years late.