The feasibility study commissioned to determine the economic benefits and financial viability of a high speed rail network along Australia's east coast has started following the appointment of outside experts to complete the first stage of this work.

A consortia lead by AECOM Australia - a leading global consultancy - will identify possible route and station options, a process which will provide the basis for determining indicative transit times and construction costs.

This first stage is expected to be completed by the middle of this year.

Beginning shortly thereafter, the study's second stage will determine an optimum route alignment, identify patronage levels, develop robust cost estimates and investigate financing options.

In its totality, our feasibility study seeks to build on the previous work that's been done and once completed, will provide the basis for an informed public debate about whether this technology is an appropriate response to our nation's future transport needs.

Given the high level of interest in the study, my Department is in the process of setting up a formal reference group to make sure the views of organisations such as the Australasian Railways Association and the CRC for Rail Innovation as well as state and territory authorities are taken into account.

The AECOM Australia consortia comprise KPMG, Sinclair Knight Merz and Grimshaw Architects.

The study's terms of reference are attached.

The Gillard Labor Government has put high speed rail back on the national agenda because of its potential to spur economic development and transform the way Australians get around this vast continent of ours.

But importantly as well as planning for the future, we're also investing in Australia's existing rail infrastructure.  Indeed we've already lifted spending on rail tenfold and are currently rebuilding more than a third of the interstate rail freight network.