15 May 2024

Federal Budget: Funding for High Speed Rail Authority ends early in forward estimates

| Andrew McLaughlin
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Alstom high speed rail concept

What will happen to the High Speed Rail Authority after funding ends in 2025-26? Image: Alstom.

Despite commissioning a study and the development of a business case for a first stage High Speed Rail link between Sydney and Newcastle, the Federal Government has made no funding provisions for the High Speed Rail Authority (HSRA) after the 2025-26 Budget.

Tuesday’s (14 May) Department of Transport and Infrastructure Portfolio Budget Statement says the HSRA’s business case is scheduled to be delivered by the end of 2024, and will recommend a preferred alignment for the line, station locations, what type of train to acquire, and an estimated cost and construction schedule.

Further work in 2024-25 will include the development of a high speed rail product definition that updates assumptions from previous studies, provides recommendations for further expansion of the network, and a strategy to progress state and federal environmental approvals.

The 2024-25 budget has allocated $55.1 million to the HSR to finalise the business case and definition work, adding to the $29.3 million that was provided in 2023-24. But just $7.6 million has been budgeted in 2025-26, which is the last year of funding according to the budget papers.

READ ALSO Lobby groups submit plan for Canberra-Sydney high-speed rail to ACT Government

The only definition of any ongoing work in the forward estimates is for the HSRA to “provide advice to the Australian Government to support its objectives for high speed rail”, so what happens after that is currently anyone’s guess.

Australia has long-held ambitions to build a high-speed rail network along the eastern seaboard linking Brisbane, Newcastle, Sydney, the Southern Highlands, Canberra, Wagga Wagga/Albury-Wodonga, and Melbourne, but multiple feasibility studies have demonstrated that the economics of what would be a multi-billion dollar project are yet to stack up.

After an undertaking by the Albanese Government during the 2022 election campaign, the HSRA was established in 2023 to develop the business case for the link as the first stage of a possible network of high speed rail lines covering Australia’s southeast from Brisbane to Melbourne.

A board was appointed in June 2023, and is chaired by experienced privatised transport infrastructure, social infrastructure and public healthcare executive Jill Rossouw. Board members include director of Ausgrid Gillian Brown; the CEO of the UK’s High Speed One (HS1) Ltd Dyan Crowther; experienced engineer and project manager Ian Hunt; and past Director-General of the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads Neil Scales.

READ ALSO Regional rail travel on the rise but new trains still years away from delivery

In July 2023, Federal Transport and Infrastructure Minister Catherine King visited the UK to be briefed on the troubled new High Speed 2 (HS2) rail project which is designed to link London with the midlands, and has been touted as the largest infrastructure project currently underway in Europe.

In January 2024 Minister King announced the appointment of Timothy Parker as the inaugural CEO of the HSRA. She said Mr Parker had considerable leadership and project experience in delivering complex infrastructure projects to drive the development of high-speed rail in Australia, including as the Head of Project for Sydney Metro, and having complex infrastructure experience working in Hong Kong and the UK.

In the meantime, lobby groups including Fastrack Australia and the high Speed Rail Association have offered submissions on the benefits of high speed rail, in particular the upgrade of the Canberra-Sydney link as a starting point.

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We can’t afford high-speed rail in this age of greed. And at a time we can’t get the most cost-effective trains here due to geo-politics. Imagine how much a ticket is going to cost. And the ongoing maintenance cost.

Instead, we might as well do what we are good at: Digging. We can upgrade the Federal Highway (basically straightening it out) and its connecting section of Hume Highway up until the Western Sydney Airport, so that the speed limit can be safely raised to 130km/h. Simple and straightforward. It’ll benefit many more people.

Cars will no longer be a thing of curse when they are electrical.

doomeddisciple9:58 pm 17 May 24

The longer we wait, the more expensive this will be. I heard the announcement on planning for high speed rail on the way to moving to Canberra with my family in 1985. Regional air travel is ridiculously expensive and housing crisis is concentrated in big cities. So many benefits present themselves to an Australia that can dare to invest in infrastructure

Never going to happen

The forward estimates don’t really mean anything, it’s just an indication of the ongoing funding but not set in stone as theres a new budget every year.

Tom Worthington2:49 pm 16 May 24

I suggest 200 kph battery powered high speed trains be run between Canberra, Woolongong, Sydney, and Newcastle. The trains would run at the lowest speed considered “high”, and be modified diesel-electric units, to reduce cost. The batteries would be recharged from overhead catenary wires, extending ten kilometers each side of the stations. The catenary would provide ten minutes charging, while the train slows, stops, then accelerates. This would reduce the size of batteries needed, as the train would be at full speed before it switched to battery power. New settlements would be built, so that stations are no more than 100 km apart, thus limiting the battery capacity needed (and to fund the cost of the rail line from the increase in land value of the new settlements). The rest of the track would be un-powered, to reduce cost.

doomeddisciple9:58 pm 17 May 24

Love this idea Tom

There has never been a positive business case for high speed rail in Australia despite numerous studies in the last 50 years. But, they just need to get Barr involved as he seems to be able to spin out of negative business cases, ACT Auditor General reports on the accuracy of assessments etc by including spurious claims of benefits which are not independently audited.

I think they have already used this scenario on “Utopia”.

HiddenDragon8:54 pm 15 May 24

In other words, this has a lot more to do with defending Labor seats in the Hunter than it does with getting started on turning the high speed rail mirage into a reality.

Saul Goodman8:47 am 17 May 24

well Central Coast + Hunter Valley combined corridor easily adds up to close to a million people – big commuter base with also continous urban spread with minimal gaps in between.
Seems as good a place as any to start east coast wide fast rail to me, albeit the terrain from edge of northern Sydney and around Hawkesbury River prior to Central Coast is different and an expensive engineering challenge to install rail in.

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