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I agree. Many proposals don't however and it's based on congestion and nothing else.
 

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One of the more recent extensions to the French LGV network has been the one that bypasses Nimes and Montpellier - extending from the Avignon/southern junction towards the Spanish border.

And how's this for a nice surprise, it's specifically built for high-speed and freight (rather than keeping the distinction of passenger-only like all other LGVs): Contournement Nîmes – Montpellier - Wikipedia

Passenger trains limited to 220kph and Freight limited to 120kph for the moment (passenger will eventually be able to go to 300kph with a signalling upgrade).

First eleven minutes of the video is on mainline, then it heads onto the new corridor - signal for the junction to the new bypass is at 11m11s. Formation for the eventual extension of the line down to Spain at 11m58s.


^ Love that this came after I made that map but this is pretty much what you'd expect to see for Craigieburn-Seymour on the concept I posted a few pages back (and of course [much] longer sections up the Sydney end as well).
 

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By the way, the cost of that project: 60km of high speed line (spec'd for 300kph, initially maxing at 220kph) + 20km more of other non-high speed track plus two stations = just over €2 billion in 2012 (EUR/AUD exchange rate averaged 1.24 in 2012 - so that's approximately $2.5 billion AUD in 2012).
 

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The northern Spain section looks ready to go and probably has similar topography as much of the NSW challenges. This is a good example as to what may be required between Albury and Campbelltown.
 

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A long essay in response to the Grattan Institute's Fast Train Fever which can be found here:

Edit: TL;DR The Grattan report really is a crock of shit. It just recycles the same old arguments and never considers a version of HSR other than the concept presented in the 2013 Phase 2 HSR Study. It surprised me when I wrote this commentary just how insubstantial it really is.

It is very long bit of commentary (I didn't just write this for you guys) so if you're allergic to reading, there is a scroll wheel. Or alternately, bite me, I'm tasty.




Lets deal only with the substantive arguments.

Overview section (page 3)

This report shows that while a bullet train may be a captivating idea, it’s not realistic for Australia. Our population is small and spread over vast distances

To the extent that this argument has merit, it is merely an argument against using HSR on intercapital routes. It is not an argument against HSR being used in high flow corridors such as Newcastle to Sydney or Brisbane to the Gold Coast.


Nor would a bullet train be the climate saver we might imagine. Yes, once it was up and running it would emit far less than today’s planes. But construction would take nearly 50 years and be enormously emissions intensive, hindering rather than helping efforts to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

There are two things wrong with this argument. Firstly it ignores the fact that in the absence of HSR in corridors such as Newcastle to Wollongong, a similar quantity of steel and concrete will go into the amplification of the road network and that this road work will be comparable in scale (material quantity) to the HSR line. Second it ignores the fact that the manufacture of steel and concrete will become carbon neutral in the relevant time frame.


And even at the best of times, it’s a big ask for every taxpayer in the land to stump up $10,000 primarily for the benefit of business travellers between the east-coast capitals.

This is an argument against HSR becoming a premium fared replacement for intercapital air travel that caters to an elite. It is not an argument against HSR that provides accessible and affordable mobility in high flow corridors.


Australia’s regional towns have more pressing infrastructure needs than faster rail, including better internet and mobile connectivity and freight links. And governments would help a lot more CBD commuters by improving transport options for people in the outer suburbs rather than the regions.

This is an argument based on the single bucket of money theory which I have little respect for. To the extent that regional towns will benefit from better infrastructure, if it can be argued that this is a good social and economic investment, it should be done. To the extent the outer suburbs need improved transport and it can be argued that this is also a good social and economic investment, this should also be done. Likewise, to the extent that HSR represents a sound social and economic investment then it should be considered quite independently.

In an era where 30 year bond yields are close to one percent the idea of a limited bucket of money is harmful. If its worth building because it has sufficient return on investment then its worth building right now and in parallel with other worthwhile things.


Box 1 (page 7)

The second is upgrades to existing rail lines to yield speed improvements – which we refer to as rail renovations. Upgrades of this kind may involve electrifying the track or removing bends and inclines, enabling speeds above 150km/h, and sometimes as high as 200km/h.

It should be noted that this is not an argument. Rather it is definitional. However, much of the argument that follows is predicated on the implicit assumption that 150 to 200 km/hr standard rail is actually feasible within the ordinary meaning of renovation. Whilst it is feasible in certain places (notably parts of Victoria) it is definitely not feasible in other places (for example, Newcastle to Sydney). Such speeds are only possible with the creation of an entirely new main line and thus the idea of renovated is a nonsense. The cost of a new 150 to 200 km/hr standard rail line is most of the cost of a full HSR standard rail line. This misunderstanding of what is actually feasible and what is not, weakens much of the argument that follows.


1.2.2 and Figure 1.2 (page 9)

The proposed rail renovations would not reduce journey times as much as a bullet train would, but in some cases the reductions would still be significant because existing services are so slow. Figure 1.2 shows travel times today on a number of the lines in question, and the travel times that governments and other proponents are seeking through rail renovations and upgrades.

The problem here is that much of what is being claimed in Figure 1.2 is largely hypothetical and also highly debatable as to cost and feasibility. For example, the reduction of time from Newcastle to Sydney is ultimately based on a proposal to build an entirely new section of rail line between Hornsby and Woy Woy which would be mostly tunnel and/or bridge. That would cost several billion dollars and the time saving would be realistically 20 minutes - not the 40 minutes claimed in Figure 1.2 . The figures given for the Sunshine Coast rail line are for an extended proposal that includes an entirely new route through northern Brisbane. The 30 minute claim for a Geelong line would require substantial sections of new track and would also cost billions. Indeed all of this strains the ordinary meaning of renovations used in the heading.


2.1 (page 12)

Around the world, it is very rare for bullet trains to span a distance of 1,000km or more. When they do, they usually serve populations of at least 50 million ..

This is simply a continuation of the argument against the notion of an intercapital service. At this stage the report hasn't really dealt with HSR as an alternative to car travel over modest distances.


2.1.1 (page 13)

The success of the Japanese system in gaining market share from air travel inspired a spate of European high-speed rail lines.21 France’s TGV started with the Paris-to-Lyon route in 1983, and now includes routes to Marseille and Bordeaux. Spain’s Alta Velocidad Española initially linked Madrid with Sevilla, and now links it to several cities across the country, including Barcelona. Germany’s InterCityExpress has focused on improving links between pairings of cities with a combination of rail renovations and short stretches for bullet trains. Italy’s high-speed network consists of a major line from Turin, south through Rome and beyond, and a partially-renovated section between Milan and Venice.dddddd

This is a fundamental misunderstanding of why these countries went about building HSR. Japan's Shinkansen was in response to a capacity shortage on the existing slow rail line, back in an era well before budget airlines. France's Paris-Lyon route was essentially an upgrade to an existing successful rail route that was already competitive with both air and road travel. It simply cemented the dominance of rail. The motivations for Spain's HSR network are complex as is the politics, but the issue of competition with air travel was secondary. Indeed there is no example of a country making the decision to build HSR based largely on the issue of air travel replacement. This is a peculiarly Australian distraction.


2.1.1 (page 14)

The UK is also building a new bullet train, known as HS2, to link London with Manchester and Leeds, despite some talk of abandoning the project.2

It has survived an exhaustive process of re-evaluation.


Now at this point I found myself skimming to page 21. Because the intervening material is essentially arguing the point about the feasibility of HSR over large distances. The report hasn't yet dealt with the notion of HSR as an arm of mass transit between cities that are far closer together. I don't entirely agree with the implicit simplifications in this material. Distance isn't as important as cost and some routes are a lot less expensive to build per unit of distance. Noted also is the avoidance of mentioning China's low cost of construction and the role of scale and commonality in design.


2.2 (pages 21-24)

I don't need to use a quote here. My rebuttal of this line of argument (about carbon emissions) has been summarised above. In further detail:

- Grattan has failed to ask the question "what happens if we don't build HSR?". This is because Grattan really hasn't understood that HSR can act as an alternate (faster and higher capacity) mode of transport to car use. In the absence of HSR we can expect to see tens of billions of dollars spent on roads in certain corridors such as Newcastle to Wollongong and Brisbane to the Gold Coast (and there is also an argument about certain roads escaping Melbourne). The construction of a motorway requires a comparable quantity of materials and other resources to the alternate HSR line. So even in the absence of my second point, the argument is highly questionable. There is also the question of environmental costs of actual use of a motorway versus a HSR line. Not to mention the fact that the HSR line is likely to have much lower physical impact (more bridge/tunnel).

- None of this matters. To the extent that we will move to a carbon neutral economy, its also true that anything we do (steel, concrete and so on) will have a lower or zero carbon footprint. So using the now dated embedded carbon estimates from the 2013 Study are pointless. It also follows that air travel will become carbon neutral, but that is also irrelevant. Grattan have put forward a weak argument.


2.3 (page 25)

The 2013 study ignored the important question of how to pay for the train.
The BCR is very sensitive to the choice of discount rate, and the chosen discount rate is more generous than the Australian standard for infrastructure projects.
The train’s route was compromised to reduce costs, which also compromised its usefulness to regional areas.
A second airport is now being built in Sydney, which would dampen demand for the train. ∙ The study assumed no cost overruns.


Whilst I don't agree with much of the 2013 Study, the figures in the Study show revenue above operational expenditure.
The EBCR was indeed sensitive to the choice of discount rate. However, the Australian standard is egregiously out of date given 30 year bond yields closer to 1 percent.
The 2013 Study had a compromised route not so much to reduce costs but because of a culture that dismissed the importance of regional stations and an ill-defended a-priori exclusion of commuting. Nevertheless this is really only an argument against the route chose in the 2013 Study which I also strongly disagree with. It is indeed feasible to have a HSR network that directly accesses cities such as Newcastle, Gosford and Wollongong.


2.3.1 (page 26)

Although the 2013 study found the rail line would cost well over $130 billion in today’s dollars to build, it was silent on the question of where the funds would come from. This meant that the study’s assessment of costs and benefits did not include the economic loss that society would suffer as a result of raising sufficient tax to fund the scheme, known as the ‘excess burden of tax’. But in the real world, someone must pay. The choices are passengers or taxpayers, or some combination of the two. The Commonwealth Government’s own handbook of cost-benefit analysis makes the point that an adjustment should be made for the excess burden of tax.61 In the real world, it would take a tax hike of about $10,000 for every personal taxpayer in Australia to fund the bullet train. Because the 2013 feasibility study omitted this, it’s not surprising that it was able to find that travellers would enjoy significant benefits over and above what they’d actually paid for through their train fare.

I'm not going to completely cover much of this section. However good rhetoric, like paint work, should not be laid on too thick. The clear assumption was that the majority of the capital would come from the Federal Government's budget. I don't wish to defend the 2013 Study. However the time frame chosen was a deliberate political calculation based on the idea of the government spending some smaller number of billions per year. A simple back of the envelope calculation here. $130 billion spent over 20 years is on average $6.5 billion per year. Or about 0.4 percent of GDP. On a per head of population its $260 per year. So I'm not really going to dive any deeper into trying to understand Grattan's figures.

Further in Figure 2.10 it is shown how a large fraction of the user benefit goes to business travellers. Again, this is a fair criticism of the network put forward in the 2013 Study. But it ignores the possibility of HSR being of far wider value to more people if designed primarily as an affordable and accessible alternative to car travel over much shorter distances.


2.3.2 (page 28

The 2013 study relied heavily on a discount rate of 4 per cent. But using a 4 per cent discount rate gave the project a major leg-up compared to rival projects – a leg-up that would not be permitted under current policy. Without this leg-up, the benefit cost ratio was estimated to be just 1.1:1; in other words, only by the slenderest of margins would the project be judged worthwhile. Discount rate policy in Australia leaves much to be desired,62 but that doesn’t mean project proponents should be able to cherry-pick a rate that suits their project.

The standard 7 percent discount rate represents a bias towards road projects that require a shorter time frame. Whereas a HSR line is a 100 year plus investment. In any case, even a 4 percent discount rate looks excessive in an environment where 30 year bond yields are closer to 1 percent. One doth protest too much here.



2.3.3 (page 29)

The feasibility study was published in two phases. The first considered a range of routes for the bullet train before a final route was chosen. This first phase report made it clear that one of the policy objectives of the project was to service regional populations. A central inclusion, for example, was a detailed study of commuter demand for a Newcastle-toSydney shuttle. But by the final report, this aspiration had been abandoned. The Newcastle-to-Sydney commuter service was dropped, and the authors acknowledged that the train had not been designed to be suitable for commuters. The reason was that it was too costly. To properly service regional towns, the train would need to stop in the centre of town, but this would involve more expensive land acquisition or more expensive tunnelling. Instead the proposed train route stopped kilometres outside each of the regional towns in its path. For example, the Newcastle station would be 20km from the Newcastle CBD, and the Gold Coast station would be inland near Robina to avoid built-up areas. The cost of tunnelling under the Royal National Park also meant that Wollongong was not included in the route at all, despite being one of the largest regional population centres between Melbourne and Brisbane. These design decisions made the final proposal cheaper, but compromised the bullet train’s potential to service regional populations, a fact which was not accounted for in passenger number projections.

This is indeed a deep flaw in the 2013 Study. However, Grattan appears to ignore the possibility that these flaws can be corrected with good design. Again, it is feasible for high speed trains to access Newcastle, Gosford and Wollongong - as well as Albury-Wodonga and stations on the Gold Coast line. This is common practice overseas but hasn't been mentioned here.


2.3.4 (page 30)

The 2013 study’s favourable finding relied on an assumption that there would be no additional aviation capacity in Sydney.74 But the situation has changed fundamentally since then.

This is true. However, two things. Firstly, Western Sydney Airport is not particularly useful to much of the eastern half of Sydney and therefore it is less of a competitor than is the existing airport. Secondly, we are up to page 30 and Fast Train Fever hasn't gone beyond criticism of HSR as replacement for intercapital air travel.


And so we get to section 3 "rail renovations might be worthwhile"...
I will skip over some largely introductory material and on page 35:


3.1.2 (page 35)

Most metropolitan jobs aren’t in the CBD. In Sydney and Melbourne, about 15 per cent of jobs are in the CBD, and in Brisbane about 12 per cent. Most jobs are dispersed all over the city, with no suburb having more than about 3 per cent of the city’s jobs.91 And that dispersion of jobs explains in large part why most people drive to work. While most CBD commuters take public transport, most commuters to anywhere else in the city drive to work. It’s the same for regional commuters. Most work in the suburbs, not the CBD. And people who are commuting from regional cities are only taking public transport if they work in the CBD (Figure 3.2).

That's a useful observation. However, what it does do is point to the need for HSR to integrate fully with the public transport network and provide car competitive journeys from points outside major cities to points dispersed within major cities - and not just the CBD. Hence its a design issue and I believe that Grattan hasn't considered the possibility of a better designed HSR network.


(page 36)

While it could be that some non-CBD workers would switch from driving to taking the train if a faster commuter service was available, it’s not likely that many would. That’s partly because the greater the number of suburban stops, the slower the renovated rail would become.

This is a common misconception. The answer to the problem lies in hierarchy of services and ease of interchange. Again, the devil is in the detail and Grattan is making the mistake of assuming that the network proposed in 2013 is the best network that can be proposed. Far from it. However, to make a public transport system that is far more competitive with car travel you do not build renovated rail. You need to build true high speed rail as the spine of the network. Time saved here compensates for time lost on other tiers.


Even if hundreds of thousands of people moved out of Sydney and Melbourne, it wouldn’t be noticeable to those who remained. For instance, Victoria’s population grew by 138,000 to 6.4 million in the year. ABS (2020b); and ABS (2017). to June 2018 – and that’s well over the entire population of Ballarat in a single year.

This isn't really a satisfying argument for or against HSR. The question of where you want growth to occur (or even if or how much growth) is still quite separate to the question of how HSR improves the lives of extant populations. This isn't really gone into here.


If rail renovations led to the trip times claimed, then some regional cities would have public transport trip times to the CBD that are comparable to those for many metropolitan travellers. This would be true for Wollongong, Geelong, Ballarat, and the Gold Coast, as the previous section explained.

This claims are largely misleading and in some cases have been spun.

- The idea of a faster train from Sydney to Newcastle is built around the proposal to build a rail bypass between Hornsby and Woy Woy. This will cost billions of dollars and the time saving will be in the order of 20 minutes (not the 40 minutes claimed in Figure 1.2).

- The 35 minutes claimed for Brisbane to the Gold Coast appears to be predicated on a multi billion dollar new alignment. Whilst feasible it simply begs the question of why this isn't the first stage of a full HSR network. Again, this level of investment strains the meaning of renovated.

- The idea of a 45 minute trip from the Sunshine Coast to Brisbane is predicated on a multi billion dollar new alignment through the north of Brisbane, including a substantial tunnel. Without this section, the journey is possibly around 80-85 minutes. Even then it is a multi billion dollar project.

- Wollongong in 60 minutes is predicated on billions of dollars worth of new alignment and tunneling. Again, this begs the question of what the HSR alternative is.

- Melbourne to Geelong in 30-35 minutes is bordering on a full HSR project with major new alignment features.

- Canberra in 3 hours is a pointless undertaking and at the same time would require a major investment. The point here is that all this does is create a large percentage change in the current tiny rail patronage. This is not car competitive.

At the end of the day, you get what you pay for. Modest physical changes to existing rail lines do not deliver game changing behavioural change. They can deliver increased patronage on certain lines (which may or may not be justifiable depending on the cost) but they do not challenge the dominance of car travel on these intercity routes. On the flip side, anything that delivers real changes to behaviour is also going to cost billions, thus begging the question of whether we should cross the threshold to full HSR and thus acquire the full benefits.

Unfortunately much of what follows in the report hinges on the above if.

And now briefly..

3.2.1 (page 42)

Cities are a magnet for people because they offer important advantages. There are higher-paid jobs available in the city, and if someone loses their job, they are more likely to find another one quickly. Working with other specialists helps people to further develop their own skills.103 And there are more opportunities for informal learning where there is a greater density of people with overlapping interests.104 While jobs are fundamental, people are also lured to cities by other opportunities. There is a much greater range of cultural, leisure, and service options, meaning that not only mainstream but also niche interests can find a place. A larger centre is more able to sustain a doctor specialising in migraines, a Serbian-language church, or a weekend hackathon.

And so on. Yes, there is a reason why cities exist and why they tend to act as a magnet. There are also natural limits to cities that are defined by the average speed of public transport. To the point where cities such as Sydney or Melbourne have actually become loosely coupled collections of sub-cities. The point here is that the benefits of being in a city are precisely why there is a benefit in allowing people who live outside a city to be able to easily access the city. Its fundamentally about quality of life. Being able to enjoy access to the services, opportunities and interpersonal connectivity that cities bring. Its not just about commuting to work. its about having a life and being connected. And when HSR is debated, the argument is too often about commuting and too often about new population. The question that needs to be answered is how does HSR benefit those who already live in places like Newcastle and Wollongong. What do these people get out of it in terms of greater personal mobility, opportunity and connectivity.

As for the arguments about the larger city gaining the most out of a faster transport link with another city. What I find quite interesting here is how no one argued that building the M1 (then the F3 freeway) would benefit Sydney more than Newcastle. The reality is that before the F3, Newcastle was vastly more isolated and it has indeed benefited from the the transport link. Now, what Grattan should do is go back and do a study of how the F3 benefited Newcastle and ask the question "Was the roughly 20 billion dollars (in today's money) worth it?". I've seen a lot of arguments about this issue and about "dormitory" cities, but the evidence from overseas is too confounded (and often too recent) to be particularly useful. Travel over distance is not in itself a bad thing. Travel over distance that congests an expensive resource such as a road is a bad thing and this tends to colour the conversation. But should this aversion to longer distance travel (whether commuting or not) apply to HSR? Also, one thing that Grattan (and others) don't really properly comment on is the time lag inherent in business-creation decisions. Build a HSR link from Newcastle to Sydney and yes, Newcastle instantly becomes a dormitory. Then people move to (or populate their way into) Newcastle. It grows. More people, better educated people, and all this encourages business creation. But this has a longer time constant so this is why I'm taking a lot of HSR studies with a grain of salt.

One final point worth bring up with the Grattan people is this. We build HSR between Campbelltown and Wollongong. Its now a 25 minute trip instead of an hour or so. It totally outperforms driving. Which city benefits the most? Which one creates the most jobs? Who has the best beach? These are things worth asking.
 

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Question for everyone. What's the argument against routing HSR through the middle of Albury?

Most proposals i have seen to date seem to have a station way out at Barnawartha.

But through Albury itself, there's a curve either side of the station (But most trains are likely to stop there right so a tighter curve there is less of a concern?)
Otherwise, north of the town it is definitely nice and straight, and likewise south of the town you could do a nice fast alignment over gateway island and north of the Moloney Dr industrial estate.

Albury seems like one place that could undergo some real development with a good centrally located station in their CBD, and the scoping studies insistence on putting regional stations 20km out of towns seems to deny them the opportunities the capital cities get in terms of having centrally located stations.
 

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Terrain is probably the main reason.

Think:

1. Barnawartha, Burrumbuttock, Henty, Wagga Wagga, Gundagai, OR
2. Albury, Bowna, Holbrook, Tarcutta, Tumblong, Gundagai.


Similar distances, however the first route has far fewer kms running through very hilly areas.

In saying that, I would be happy to see an alignment that has trains stopping at Albury following the A41 and express services following alignment 1. This will save 13km for the express.
 

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^I was thinking after Albury you'd just keep heading north to Henty and Wagga following the current line since its so straight, not go via Gundagai.
 

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Interesting. Hillier for longer, or more hilly for shorter.

IMO, I'd rather more hilly for a shorter distance than still hilly but for a longer distance. It's not too bad after Juiong.

Also, the HSR study adds 20min to the length.
 

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The northern Spain section looks ready to go and probably has similar topography as much of the NSW challenges. This is a good example as to what may be required between Albury and Campbelltown.
What do you mean? The LAV Barcelona-Perpignan opened in 2013. It's mixed use for passenger and freight trains. It includes a long tunnel under the Pyrenees built and initially run by a private company that went bankrupt. Figures to Barcelona does not have much of a hard topography but the corridor is densely populated and includes a motorway (clogged by heaps of trucks), a national highway and the old double track broad gauge line.

Not many trains use the Barcelona-Perpignan HSL, just 71 per week cross the border according to the last update http://www.lfpperthus.com/docs/servicios-comerciales/Repartodecapacidades.pdf. There were just a handful more high speed services before Covid-19, but the service has always been skeletal. There are more trains doing Barcelona-Girona-Figures, but even that is not so successful. The AVANT service on the HSL has just 5 departures per day, plus 3 more AVEs.
 

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I'm talking gardes and turn radii.

Are they not appropriate for HSR?
 

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Question for everyone. What's the argument against routing HSR through the middle of Albury?

Most proposals i have seen to date seem to have a station way out at Barnawartha.

But through Albury itself, there's a curve either side of the station (But most trains are likely to stop there right so a tighter curve there is less of a concern?)
Otherwise, north of the town it is definitely nice and straight, and likewise south of the town you could do a nice fast alignment over gateway island and north of the Moloney Dr industrial estate.

Albury seems like one place that could undergo some real development with a good centrally located station in their CBD, and the scoping studies insistence on putting regional stations 20km out of towns seems to deny them the opportunities the capital cities get in terms of having centrally located stations.
I'm not sure about "most"..

The 2013 Study routed west of Albury with a station at North Barnawatha.
The Beyond Zero Emissions study went directly through Albury. They also routed via Melbourne airport and Albion.
CLARA had a route much further to the west which ignored Albury entirely. I recall having a discussion with them about this. They weren't particularly interested in Albury.

What I think should happen is the following..

  • Build a new HSR standard track from Craigieburn to Seymour
  • Upgrade the rail line from Seymour to Albury to 200 km/hr standard
  • Upgrade the rail line from Albury to Wagga Wagga to 200 km/hr standard
We can then operate a 200 km/hr class train along the route from Wagga Wagga to Melbourne, using the HSR capable track from Seymour to Craigieburn. In fact you can probably go beyond 200 km/hr is some stretches of track without much effort.

The next step is to upgrade the Melbourne approach. One can argue for a variety of approaches, but given the likely state of the art in tunneling I think a realistic option is a tunnel from Roxburgh Park to Melbourne - that is 20 km. This doesn't have to be a 300 km/hr tunnel. Rather 250 km/hr is the sweet spot in terms of speed versus cost. Depending on how the airport rail link pans you, you might consider tying into its line and platforms, but that's an option.

In the end game, its a choice between running all trains through Albury (a compromise you'd have to compensate for elsewhere) or simply building a bypass west of Albury and having the best of both worlds. That way you can have high speed trains directly serving Albury-Wodonga and Wagga Wagga, whilst leaving your options open as to whether your main line goes near Wagga or else cuts past Gundagai.
 

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^ By the same token, any new alignment from Wagga toward Canberra/Sydney: back to basics, build along the Murrumbidgee River valley as far as Gundagai and then broadly along the Hume (or its median) to wherever the junction for Canberra will be.

Sure there'll probably need to be tunnels through the sides of some hills in the river valley - ditto (including bridges/elevated sections) to alleviate grade problems alongside or in the Hume median. However given the Hume FWY is the only major road between Yass and Gundagai - kind of makes sense to keep the new rail corridor close if not for ease of construction (and moving dirt to where its needed to create cuttings and culverts etc).
 

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I would follow existing alignment between Albury and north of Junee (around the Bethungra spiral), then turn off there for a new, reasonably straight line to the Yass Junction station (you could got Jugiong then follow the Hume), which is a good chance for interchange with the existing line. Then keep going straight to Goulburn, with a Y-junction for the Canberra branch in between.

I also agree that the existing Albury station should be kept for high-speed services. The line is pretty straight and the corridor is also wide (and the platforms at the station are long). Later, a bypass can be constructed between Barnawartha North and Table Top, but this would only be for non-stop Sydney-Melbourne services (which do need to be as fast as possible). So there's no need for an ex-urban station serving Albury-Wodonga.
 

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^ By the same token, any new alignment from Wagga toward Canberra/Sydney: back to basics, build along the Murrumbidgee River valley as far as Gundagai and then broadly along the Hume (or its median) to wherever the junction for Canberra will be.

Sure there'll probably need to be tunnels through the sides of some hills in the river valley - ditto (including bridges/elevated sections) to alleviate grade problems alongside or in the Hume median. However given the Hume FWY is the only major road between Yass and Gundagai - kind of makes sense to keep the new rail corridor close if not for ease of construction (and moving dirt to where its needed to create cuttings and culverts etc).
I worked that problem through in detail some years ago. This is a small part of what I came up with.

Bottom line here is that going via the Murrumbidgee River valley saves about 30km compared to the route that goes near Bethungra and it involves something like 12-15 km of tunnel all up. I'm not convinced this is the optimal path, but on the other hand if you're determined to make compromises elsewhere, this is one place you can save distance and time. The time saving would be around 5 minutes compared to the 2013 route.

The original full map runs from Goulburn to Culcairn and is about 18k pixels across. This is a reduced resolution version of the central part of that map.

 

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^ where's the full map? :)

What I think should happen is the following..

  • Build a new HSR standard track from Craigieburn to Seymour
  • Upgrade the rail line from Seymour to Albury to 200 km/hr standard
  • Upgrade the rail line from Albury to Wagga Wagga to 200 km/hr standard
We can then operate a 200 km/hr class train along the route from Wagga Wagga to Melbourne, using the HSR capable track from Seymour to Craigieburn. In fact you can probably go beyond 200 km/hr is some stretches of track without much effort.

The next step is to upgrade the Melbourne approach. One can argue for a variety of approaches, but given the likely state of the art in tunneling I think a realistic option is a tunnel from Roxburgh Park to Melbourne - that is 20 km. This doesn't have to be a 300 km/hr tunnel. Rather 250 km/hr is the sweet spot in terms of speed versus cost. Depending on how the airport rail link pans you, you might consider tying into its line and platforms, but that's an option.

In the end game, its a choice between running all trains through Albury (a compromise you'd have to compensate for elsewhere) or simply building a bypass west of Albury and having the best of both worlds. That way you can have high speed trains directly serving Albury-Wodonga and Wagga Wagga, whilst leaving your options open as to whether your main line goes near Wagga or else cuts past Gundagai.
By the way, in that concept I posted a few weeks ago, by putting everything on standard gauge north of Wallan (gauge converting the existing Wallan-Seymour for freight and exurban services, the new section from Roxburgh (as you point out) to Tallarook, gauge converting Shepparton and if you re-open the Kyabram-Echuca line - gauge convert it) you'll get critical mass where the new approach to Melbourne is really warranted.

As you say in your phases, I'd add that in the beginning, you would gauge convert everything north of Wallan because then you'd be able to de-dual gauge the Albion corridor (Tottenham-Jacana), therefore increasing the SG track speed through there for passenger services off the bat/from the get-go. There's a DG and a SG pair through there for the most part, just having SG means the performance would be the same in both directions versus 80kph limited on the DG versus 100-130kph on the SG pair.

A realistic 1-2TPH off peak to Seymour (SX via Tottenham/Jacanada out to Wallan then all stations on existing alignment to Seymour), ~1 TPH off-peak to Albury (SX via Tottenham/Jacana express to Seymour via new alignment, then stopping all up to Albury), a train every 2-ish hours to Shepparton (SX via Tottenham/Jacana express to Seymour via new alignment, then stopping all up to Shepparton) and probably another train every 2-ish running on an express stopping pattern to Albury-Wagga (Seymour and Wangaratta stops, say) - maybe a train every 3 hours to Echuca (same type of stopping pattern as Shepparton)....

~3-4 passenger trains per hour plus freighters is probably fine for the existing infrastructure/route into Melbourne - just de-dual gauged - in the beginning. There'll be intermodal terminals build between Broadmeadows and Wallan at some point which will add short-running freight shuttles - basically, there's clear medium-term need for freight that might congest things - translating in a need to do the Melbourne approach relatively quickly after doing the new Craigieburn-Tallarook/Seymour track and upgrades from Seymour to Wagga via Albury.
 
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