An east-coast high-speed railway linking major cities would deliver more than $48 billion worth of benefits in its first 30 years, a new report has forecast.
Benefits would include boosting health and social services in regional communities and easing the burden on Melbourne's sprawling suburbs, the study says.
The study into the benefits of the rail link says $31 billion worth of "time savings" would be made through reduced car and air travel, with a further $11 billion saved by decreasing road congestion.
Commissioned by the Greens and authored by Naomi Edwards, a former partner at Deloitte, the report found that high-speed rail would be a powerful way to deal with the sharp rise in people settling 20 kilometres from the CBD.
It says Melbourne's 4 million residents would each be saved 2 hours and 20 minutes every year through reduced congestion and access to fast rail – it would also remove 9.8 million passenger trips in and out of Melbourne Airport in 2036.
The report found that by reducing cars on the road, Melburnians would save $30 million a year on accident costs – over the first 30 years of the railway the report estimates savings of $4.2 billion in accident costs across Australia.
"In addition to these monetary benefits, HSR will have enormous beneficial impacts on Melbourne's struggling first home buyers and commuters. HSR users will be able to live in Albury or Shepparton and commute on a daily basis to the Melbourne CBD," the report says.
"This will take pressure off Melbourne's straining outer suburbs, while also boosting regional economies."
High-speed rail is on the national agenda with the first phase of a government study estimating the line would cost between $60 billion and $110 billion depending on the route. The second phase is expected to be released by year's end.
Regional centres, specifically Wagga Wagga, Albury-Wodonga and Shepparton, would benefit from the rail because it would provide better access to services in cities, and rebalance equality between regions and capitals.
"HSR opens the door for Australians to live in regional areas and commute to cities for work," the report says. "Regions die because of the lack of accessible employment within commuting distance, not because people do not enjoy the lifestyle."
A unionist on Tuesday described Australia's lack of high-speed railway lines as "criminal" and he said decades of politicians neglecting rail left the nation far behind the rest of the world.
Voters across the states cannot be blamed for being sceptical when politicians promise new rail lines, Australian Workers Union national secretary Paul Howes said.
Speaking at the Australasian Railway Association's national conference in Canberra, Mr Howes said both conservative and Labor state governments had "made an art form" of promising new rail projects, only to later renege.
"Governments around the country announce, reannounce, tear up, redraw, replan and reannounce transport plans that are unfunded, uncosted, and due to start construction on the never-never," he said.