A TICKET on a high-speed train to Melbourne or Brisbane would cost between $75 and $197 for a journey taking about three hours, a major federal government-commissioned study has found.
And travelling between Newcastle and Sydney could take just 40 minutes, for a ticket price as low as $16.50, the study also shows.
The federal Transport Minister, Anthony Albanese, will today honour an election commitment and release the first stage of a $20 million study into building an east coast high speed rail network.
As previously reported in the Herald, the costs of the entire project could run to as much as $100 billion, and the government is not about to commit to build a fast rail system any time soon.
But the study, nevertheless, anticipates plenty of demand for a line, which would help keep ticket prices down. Passengers would be expected to make more than 50 million trips on a high speed line by 2036, about half the number of plane journeys that would have otherwise taken place between Sydney and Melbourne.
"Imagine boarding a train in the centre of Sydney - no racing to the airport, no delays, no lost luggage, no taking your shoes off - and then being whisked at 350 kilometres per hour, arriving three hours later in the heart of either Brisbane or Melbourne," Mr Albanese said.
"For individuals, as well as the wider community, the potential benefits of this technology are hard to ignore," he said.
The study, conducted by a consortium led by AECOM and comprising KPMG, Sinclair Knight Merz and Grimshaw Architects, puts a total price tag of between $61 billion and $108 billion for a network linking Brisbane, Newcastle, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne.
The cost depends, in part, on what routes were selected. It would cost more to link Sydney and Canberra via Wollongong than it would to link them via the current Hume Highway corridor.
It would also cost more to develop stations at Central or Redfern than it would to build stations at Parramatta or Homebush. A station at Central could be built for an estimated $13.8 billion, a station at Parramatta for $9.5 billion, and a station at Homebush for $7.8 billion.
The majority of the cost would come from acquiring land.
Today's study is the first stage of a two-part inquiry. The second stage, to be released next year, will involve geotechnical work to better define potential route alignments.
If it were ever built, a high speed rail line linking Sydney to Newcastle would be a powerful incentive for Sydney residents to move north and commute. Mr Albanese's study forecasts five million regular commuting trips a year between Newcastle, the central coast and Sydney by 2036.
Linking Sydney to Canberra would cost between $10.9 billion and $24.6 billion. The journey would take an hour.
Extending the line to Melbourne from Canberra would cost another $19.5 billion to $25.6 billion, and a ticket to Melbourne would cost between $99 and $197. A ticket to Brisbane would cost between $75 and $177.
Proponents point to the Sydney to Melbourne air route - the world's fifth busiest - as evidence of demand for the line.
Detractors, however, note the cost, the tunnelling work required, and the numerous inquiries that have already looked into the idea.