Has the time come for high speed trains in Australia?

Having had a very positive experience using the Inter City Express (ICE) trains to travel around Germany I am a supporter of the service high speed trains provide for the public. It is fast, convenient, safe and cost effective. When powered by renewable electricity high speed trains also have a very low environmental impact. All things being equal I’d always take the train if I had a choice of flying or a high speed train in Australia. Air travel cannot compete with the convenience of boarding a train in one city centre and alighting in another to be greeted with a myriad of other public transport options to quickly get you to your destination.

German Inter City Express train

BusinessWeek: German Inter City Express train

The Very Fast Train consortium first proposed a high speed rail link between Melbourne and Sydney in the late 1980’s. The track was to go via Canberra and East Gippsland and cost around $5 billion. Journey times were to be 1 hour from Sydney to Canberra and 2 hours from Canberra to Melbourne. The proposal ended when the Federal Government did not agree to the tax provisions put forward by the proponents.

The Speedrail consortium subsequently proposed a high speed rail link between Sydney and Canberra. The consortium saw this as the first stage of a possible Melbourne-Canberra-Sydney-Brisbane network. However, this proposal stopped in 2000 when the then Federal Government and the Speedrail consortium could not agree on the level of government financial support required for the project.

On the back of rising oil prices (since subsided) and a greater emphasis on sustainable mobility the Canberra Business Council (CBC) has attempted to reopen the debate on high speed trains with a submission to the Infrastructure Australia agenda. The CBC submission uses the following key points to highlight the benefits of an East Coast high speed train network:

  • Improvements in technology, competitiveness and supply over the past decade.
  • Travel demand on the East Coast. The Melbourne – Sydney air route is the fourth busiest in the world and Sydney-Brisbane is ranks seventh in the Asia-Pacific region.
  • Increased economic standard of living for Australians.
  • Use for freight. High speed freight trains are in use in France and soon to expand across Europe.
  • Environmental sustainability and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Energy efficiency.
  • Better social outcomes, quality of life, and reduced social disadvantage for regional centres on the rail line.

To put this into perspective, countries which are extending their existing high speed train networks include Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Japan and South Korea. New high speed train networks are under construction or being planned in The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Sweden, Vietnam, China, India, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Morocco, Argentina and the USA (in California).

High Speed Rail for Australia, also by the CBC, highlights why Australia should look again at high speed rail. While none of the high speed rail projects listed above match the distances required in for a Melbourne – Brisbane line the technology is readily available and I’m sure Australians would use the service extensively once they understood the capabilities and convenience such a service offers. Unfortunately, history tells us that a project of this magnitude cannot succeed unless the Federal Government has the political will to make it happen.

The establishment of Infrastructure Australia by the current government may give high speed trains a fighting chance. One of the primary functions of Infrastructure Australia is to advise governments, investors and owners of infrastructure on Australia’s current and future needs and priorities relating to nationally significant infrastructure. The above submission by CBC was sent to Infrastructure Australia for evaluation and possible inclusion on the National Infrastructure Priority List. The first of these lists should be handed to the Council of Australian Governments in March 2009.

Source: Net Traveller


2 Responses

  1. Given the present spending splurge by the Rudd team, I am surprised that there is not a major, economically sensible big focus project like HSR linking Melbourne, Albury, Canberra, Illawarra, Sydney, Central Coast, Hunter, Gold Coast and Brisbane.

    Or a combination of this and a cheaper inland route.

    It could be the backbone of economic development in so many regional areas and be used for freight and passenger movement.

    The sense of a 60 minute trip from Newcastle to the Sydney CBD or a 30 minute trip from Gosford would ease the pressure on housing in Sydney and open up affordable areas for commuters to live.

    Even a sub 60 minute run from mittagong to Sydney CBD would be a winner.

    Add to these types of links a 3 hour CDB to CBD run from Sydney to Melbourne and this program can really take off.

    The Gold Coast rail link to Brisbane runs on new tracks as far as Beenleigh and then dinosaur rail from there in to the city. Surely a 30 minute travel time is possible on this route within such a network of HSR.

    The shorter journeys can support the longer journeys economically.

    It takes some guts to make this happen but in California they are doing it and it will happen. They will end up with a world class system – because someone had the vision and the balls to do something about it.

  2. It is difficult to stipulate as to why a leading world country such as Australia does not already have a HSR network linking Sydney-Canberra-Melbourne, ‘only the fourth busiest aircraft dense route in the world with the highest number of passengers and flights.

    The Australian government has always bragged that we have the best and strongest economy in the world, and the most beautiful harbour city the world has to offer. Whilst spending multi millions of dollars on travel and tourism add campaigns and complaining that the level of tourism in our country is always on the decline.

    Its time to do something about this as public transport should be the backbone of this great country. The United States of America owes a great deal to its for fathers creating a rail line linking the east and the west coasts.

    Lets follow in the foot steps of some of the great countries of this world and advance in all facets of transport, technology and environmentally friendly resources.

    Australia is a great country but nowhere near what it should be at this point.

    The most important thing to remember is that it is up to the people of this country to make it happen.

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