Cost Estimates

This page is a summary of the different cost classes we look at in this blog; each class listed below is explored in detail in its own post. Using the 2013 AECOM high-speed rail study as a starting point, numerous additional sources have been used to either confirm or question the reliability of the government study’s numbers. In some cases the AECOM numbers have been confirmed or supported, in others they have been found to be implausibly high, or have not been sufficiently justified. In such cases alternative cost data was sought, ideally from contemporary Australian experience, or failing that, from comparable Western economies (high-wage, well regulated, strict building code).


Cost per bore-kilometre of tunnel:

Tunnel type Design speed OD Cost per bore-km
High speed single track 300km/h 9.3m $45m
High speed dual track 300km/h 14.6m $75m
Medium speed single track 200km/h 7.7m $36m
Medium speed dual track 200km/h 12.4m $62m


Short and generic bridges are costed according to the following table.

Bridge type Span (m) unit Cost (2013 AUD)
Small culvert (single) 2.5 Each $200k
Large culvert (single) 10 Each $500k
Pipe culvert (continuous) 1 track-km $1.25m
Box culvert (continuous) 2.5 track-km $2.5m
Short beam 20 track-km $15.0m
Long beam 50 track-km $25.0m

Bridges requiring a longer mainspan than 50m will be classed as major bridges, and costed individually using the cost functions (Cost = AeBS) which are presented below. Note that these cost functions give cost per track-metre; multiply by 2 for dual track, and by 1000 for cost per track-kilometre. Also note that multipliers apply for “short” bridges of only a few spans; apply a multiplier of 2.35, 1.67 or 1.15 for bridges comprising only 1, 2 or 3 spans respectively.

Bridge type Span range (m) A B
Short beam 5-80 11725 0.012
Long beam 50-350 19541 0.005
Truss 80-350 25404 0.0038
Deck-arch 100-350 27358 0.0032
Through-arch 150-400 29313 0.0027
Cable-stayed 150-750 42990 0.0012
Suspension 500-2000 58624 0.0007


5km of mass-haul is priced into these estimates; any haul over and above this costed at $2 per mper km.

  • Rural:
    • Cut (rock):           $31/m
    • Cut (non-rock):   $14/m
    • Fill:                        $16/m
  • Urban:
    • Cut (rock):           $61/m
    • Cut (non-rock):   $21/m
    • Fill:                        $26/m



Item Design speed Cost per km
Single track 250km/h $1.5m
Dual track 250km/h $2.25m
Dual slab track 400km/h $3.55m
Low-speed turnout 100km/h $0.7m
High-speed turnout 200km/h $1.5m

Track upgrade costs are assumed to be 67% (two thirds) that of greenfield construction.

Signalling and Control

We will use a mixture of unit costs and per-kilometre costs:

Element Cost Unit Frequency
Track crossover $4m Each As needed
Station crossover $8m Each Every station
Balises (transponders) $2000 Per route-km Entire length
Control Centre building $25m Each At terminal stations
Control Centre equipment $7m Each At terminal stations
Communications cable $125k Per route-km Entire length except tunnel
Wi-fi/radio tower $800k Each 10km (average)

An expected range of average per-kilometre costs versus design speed should be:

  • Less than 120km/h: $150,000/km
  • 120-199km/h: $225,000/km
  • 200-299km/h: $600,000/km
  • 300km/h or greater: $900,000/km


Although power infrastructure is not needed for the Hot Rails strategy, the costs below will be assumed for purposes of comparison. The costs of AECOM13 have been adapted to an average construction cost per-km cost for simplicity, and modified by design speed based on a University of Iowa study.

Design speed Single track Dual track Additional track
Less than 180km/h $400k $600k $200k
180-250km/k $1m $1.5m $500k
250-350km/h $2m $3m $1m

General Civil Works

Item Unit Cost
Gravel road Lane-km $50k
Local bitumen road Lane-km $250k
Main bitumen road Lane-km $500k
Agricultural fence Linear-km $15k
Chain link fence Linear-km $50k
Security fence Linear-km $100k
Armco barrier Linear-km $150k
Concrete barrier Linear-km $350k
Retaining wall m2 $2500
Drainage Route-km $200k
Noise attenuation wall Linear-km $4.8m
Level crossing (plain) Each $180k
Level crossing (lighted) Each $350k
Level crossing (gated) Each $700k
Farm underpass Each $0.5m
Minor grade separation (simple) Each $1.25m
Minor grade separation (complex) Each $2.5m
Major grade separation Each $5m
Utilities relocation Route-km $125k
Site clearance and minor demolition Route-km $125k


Station type Description Upgrade cost
Operational Currently in use and well maintained $0.5m
Partly operational Some buildings in use and mostly well maintained $1m
Closed Not in use but suitable buildings still exist $2.5m
Greenfield No existing or badly degraded structures only $10m-$70m

Land Acquisition

Generally costed on a case-by-case basis by looking at current real-estate prices on websites such as, and assuming a 40-metre corridor (4ha/km, 8.8 acres/km). Where houses must be demolished, the entire block must be purchased regardless of size. Compulsory acquisition will be assumed, but no “compensatory uplift” will be applied.

Some typical land values are listed below (determined by casual survey of and rounded to nearest $250k).

Land type Cost/quarter acre Cost/ha Cost/km (40m corridor)
Rural low N/A $1000 $40k
Rural typical N/A $2500 $10k
Rural high N/A $5000 $20k
Hobby farm N/A $50000 $200k
Lifestyle block N/A $250k $1m
Minor town $250k $2.5m $10m
Major town $500k $5m $20m
Metropolitan fringe $750K $7.5m $30m
Metropolitan suburbs $1m $10m $40m
Metropolitan core $2.5m $25m $100m



  1. Hi HR, I saw this costing in the comments of this Canberra Times article –
    Is $1153 per centimeter for light rail about right or is this ACT Government inefficiency ?
    Best regards, Pablo.

    BBAMay 22 2017 at 1:18am
    On the ACT Government jobs vacancy site today, there are 11 vacancies advertised that are in the Light Rail project. The combined salaries for these positions is $1.21 million.

    I wonder if these salaries and oncosts (super, accommodation, resources, back filling etc) along with other salaries, have been included in the cost?

    As of April this year, the tram cost was $1153 per centimetre.

    • $1153/cm is $115 million per kilometre. ACT light rail is certainly expensive, though perhaps not quite THAT expensive. Estimated construction cost of $780m divided by 12km length makes $65m/km – almost (incredibly) exactly the same unit cost as the Rudd government estimated for high-speed rail (and even that is probably excessive). There is certainly a strong argument that the cost of ACT light rail is far, far too high.

  2. In regard to the costing of the high speed train service between Murray Bridge and Adelaide at an estimated cost of $1.1 billion, I presume that it would include at the very least a certain amount of tunnelling down through the hills and leading into Adelaide.
    Question; In regard to minimising bends as well as hills and valleys, would tunnelling (keeping it as straight and level as possible) be a better solution and also cheaper in the operational long turn? EG. Like the London Tube.

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