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Having been the bid manager for the under bidder in the Sydney - Canberra High Speed Rail Tender and, later, the consultant project director of the Commonwealth's East Coast Very High Speed Train Study, I found the recently released 2000 Cabinet papers of considerable interest.
In regard to the tender, they confirm absolutely what we had told government; that a capital spend of upward of $3.5 billion was not viable in creating an operating project that would be at no net cost to government. Indeed, in our debrief, we were told that we had the best business case, at a projected spend of under $2 billion.
But we were unsuccessful.
Why? Well because apparently, and I quote, "you didn't think of it first!" To say we were "gobsmacked" is an understatement. Had government understood the realities better, Canberrans - always the most enthusiastic for HSR despite not having the wherewithal to pay for it - could have had a travel time under two hours for 15 years.
In regard to the study, the taxpayer evidently received excellent value for money as our fees were less than one tenth of the cited $20 million budget. That study, which was the first ever to assess the project from the perspective of the national interest, remains as reference on the government website. Promoters of HSR could do worse than to dust it off and read it.
Fortunately, government now seems to have a better understanding of realities and is targeting a project more along the lines of what we had proposed
Peter Thornton, Killara, NSW
This article first appeared on www.canberratimes.com.au
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