AN AMBITIOUS plan to be unveiled on Thursday for a high-speed east coast rail line would bring parts of the New South Wales North Coast to within two hours of Sydney and five hours of Melbourne.
Transport and Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese will release the second and final report of a landmark HSR study on Thursday.
APN Newsdesk can reveal Casino, Grafton and Coffs Harbour would be among 12 regional stops along the 1750km route.
Getting from Coffs Harbour to Sydney would take one hour and 50 minutes under the plan and only marginally longer from Grafton and Casino.
At the moment it takes about 10 hours to get from Grafton to Sydney on the Countrylink service, and a further 10 hours to Melbourne.
Coffs Harbour to Brisbane would take one hour and 11 minutes - a trip that currently takes five hours.
Tickets would be comparable with air fares, the study found.
But if the HSR project does ever get off the ground, North Coast residents won't get to enjoy the benefits until much later this century.
Constructing the route - estimated to cost $114 billion in 2012 terms, or $65 million per kilometre - would happen in five stages.
Work on the Sydney-to-Canberra route would begin in 2027, with plans for it to be operational by 2035.
The $34 billion Gold Coast-to-Newcastle route would be the final stage built, starting in 2048 with the first services rolling out in 2058.
Accelerating the project could be possible, the study found, which would bring the completion date forward five years.
Linking Casino to Grafton would cost $55 million per km, while Grafton to Coffs Harbour is slightly less at $50 million per km.
A 30m-wide corridor would be required for the entire route - significantly less than the 200m mooted in the first report released last year.
The 12 regional stations were selected on the basis of potential patronage.
"To minimise cost and avoid disruption to built-up areas, these stations would be located outside the current urban areas, although they would typically be within 10 to 20km of the town centre and would have both car parking facilities and facilities to interchange with local public transport services," the report reads.
A combination of express and limited stop services for regional areas would be offered. Two regional services from Brisbane and four from the Gold Coast would leave every hour.
Once fully operational HSR could carry 84 million passengers each year, the report found.
Mr Albanese, who commissioned the study in 2010, said HSR was a potential "game-changer" in terms of the way Australians lived, worked and took holidays.
"It also has the capacity to better integrate our regional and metropolitan communities, ease congestion on our roads as well as provide a new foundation for a low carbon, high productivity economy," Mr Albanese said.
But admitted the project would not be without myriad technical, logistical and financial challenges.
"To this end, I am today initiating a comprehensive program of public consultation and debate on the role HSR could play in Australia's transport future. As part of this, I am inviting feedback and views on the report and its findings from all interested parties by June 30," he said.
"My department's HSR Unit is also embarking on detailed consultations with industry, local governments and community groups."
Mr Albanese will also establish a high-level advisory group to work with the HSR Unit in advising the government on key industry and community issues arising from the report.
He has also written to the premiers of Queensland, NSW and Victoria, as well as the ACT Chief Minister, seeking their views on the report and nominations to a new ministerial group charged with coordinating the next steps for HSR across jurisdictions.
If after the consultation a decision is taken to proceed, a memorandum of understanding would be signed to allow planning and development work, including corridor protection.
NEED FOR SPEED
Total route distance: 1748km
Construction costs (in 2012 terms): $114b ($64b Brisbane-Sydney; $50b Sydney-Melbourne)
Fares: The study used comparable airfare prices
Construction timeline: Built in five stages starting in 2027 and finishing in 2058
Speed: At least 250kmh
City stops: Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne
Regional stops: Gold Coast, Casino, Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Taree, Newcastle, Central Coast, Southern Highlands, Wagga Wagga, Albury-Wodonga and Shepparton
Travel times: Brisbane to Sydney (797km) - 2hr 37min express, 3hr 09min regional; Brisbane to Coffs Harbour (332km) 1 hr 11min; Coffs Harbour to Sydney (465km) - 1hr 50min; Sydney to Melbourne (824km) - 2hr 44min express, 3hr 03min regional
* The HSR report was prepared for the Federal Government by a consortium led by AECOM and comprising Grimshaw Architects, KPMG, Sinclair Knight Merz, Acil Tasman, Booz & Co and Hyder.
IMPACT ON REGIONS
The implementation of HSR would substantially improve accessibility for the regional centres that it serves, providing the opportunity for - but not the automatic realisation of - increased regional
The ability of these centres to take advantage of the opportunities created by improved accessibility would require coordinated and complementary policies to be implemented at federal, state and local levels.
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