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Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Not quite the John Candy/Steve Martin film, but more a query in regards to transport options. As it appears Australia will have a Federal election sometime this year, the age old question about fast trains (especially in Australia’s eastern states) gets hauled out of the too hard basket and recycled for another look-see. TGV

To fly between the three main cities, Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane, on the eastern seaboard, takes an hour to seventy minutes, with the usual conditions about weather applying. In context, the Sydney-Melbourne route is considered to be the world’s fifth busiest air route. To fly from Sydney to Perth or the reverse varies, from four to five hours, however the fast train option doesn’t quite apply here. ProspectorAlso, theres plenty of intra-urban trains (some will, in certain areas say, not enough), rural trains such as the Prospector that runs between Perth and Kalgoorlie, the XPT service between Sydney and Melbourne and Brisbane (11 to 14 hours) and some other destinations, and the world famous Indian-Pacific…which takes 65 hours to travel Perth to Sydney.

If one was to drive, non stop, it’s somewhere in the order of ten to eleven hours. from Sydney to either other city. So why don’t we have a fast train option yet? Firstly though, in order to be considered a fast train in this context, the rolling stock must reach 200 kmh. There’s the well known bullet train in Japan, the 320 kmh TGV in Europe and a trial, of sorts, here in Australia, with a Tilt train reaching 210 kmh.

There’s been numerous studies, as it happens, since the early 1980s. In 1979, the “Premiers Meeting” suggested the electrification of the rail network between Sydney and Melbourne. “Oddly enough”, it was rejected  on economic grounds, which appears to be the reason why all such subsequent proposals have been shelved. One proposal in the early ’80s, from the CSIRO, was costed at $2.5 billion dollars, with then estimated revenue at $150 million per year whilst operating costs were estimated at around $50 million. However, the construction costs were allegedly found to be $1.5 billion under what the purported true cost would be and the project was binned.bullet train

In 1986, a VFT (Very Fast Train) project was investigated. The route would have been from Sydney to Melbourne via Canberra, with stops at locations such as Goulburn and Albury-Wodonga. The estimated train speed would have been 350 kmh. Construction costs then were estimated at $6.6 billion but would take just five years to be built, being based on existing trackwork. However, the Australian Democrats and Australian Conservation Foundation raised objections, focusing on the coastal corridor plan that was put forward as part of the route. Again, cost, amongst other reasons was cited.

As journalist Dominic Knight noted recently: “Just try travelling from Sydney to Newcastle, a route that inexplicably begins the trip to Newcastle, which is north-east of Sydney, by travelling due west to Strathfield, and you’ll get a sense of just how absurdly archaic our train network is.” And: “Australia’s the only first world country I’ve ever visited where intercity trains, with their dedicated traffic-free corridors, are reliably slower than driving.”

It’s also why certain road journeys are quicker than taking the train. A driver can comfortably cover the distance from Kalgoorlie to Perth in six hours or so; the Prospector is over eight hours in duration. There’s also the time of travel to the airport, then checking in….and checking out via the baggage pickup at the destination. Assuming the airline got your baggage there…

Driving also needs breaks; for a reast, food, a toilet break. All of these can be done on the train. And it’s clearly not an issue of building a trainline from scratch between the cities.

So when will a government bite the bullet and start now before the real cost becomes so much it’ll be cheaper to build a carbon fibre space elevator? And safer than driving a car long distance? Sadly, don’t hold your breath…S-M HST


  1. Stephen Sandilands says:

    Ggiven the cost of road building now (which is usually the lowest quote accepted and then constant upgrades and fixing what was not done properly the first time (seems endemic in all sorts of business now – just get it up and running) it really just try extending the Hume Freway beyond where it is 3 lanes and that has already been undergoing major upgrades in recent years and it could very well be that the rail option would now be cheaper. High speed NBN (with original equipment instaled in Tassie having to be replaced 2 years or more ago as it was already obsolete, and thes avvy users going to wireless which is quicker in most cases (still cant get NBN in rinner metrolopitan Perth despite being offered it – probably about 10 years away – then high speed trains are a definite must, it will certainly be quicker that the postal pixxies und the current structure and pricing regime.

    April 26th, 2016 at 2:30 pm

  2. William Falkiner says:

    I live in the Southern highlands, it takes over 2 hours by train to Sydney and only 1 hour by car. It would be great to have a Maglev train like the one in Shanghai it goes over 460kph and is very low maintenance.
    I’d also increase the speed limit on the better highways to at least 180kph, the revenue collectors say speed kills, and yes anything over 15kph is dangerous but having a low 110 kph speed limit that was set in the days of cross ply tires and drum brakes is very inefficient on a 21st century motorway.

    April 26th, 2016 at 2:58 pm

  3. Bill says:

    Just returned from a old school mates get together and BBQ in Moree. I traveled from Sydney to Moree by car in exactly seven hours (622 Km door to door). One of my mates took the train, It took him ten hours station to station. No comparison. Another had planned to fly in from Sydney, but at $600 return airfare he just stayed home.

    April 26th, 2016 at 3:12 pm

  4. Bruce Jensen says:

    Magnetic Levitation (MagLev) trains are the way to go They could even be placed on a raised track in the middle of existing motorways. Whatever we do it has to be done ASAP, but everyone puts in the too hard basket!!.

    April 26th, 2016 at 3:28 pm

  5. Ian Crawford says:

    The High Speed Rail Project
    Thankfully the Prime Minister has lifted the obsession about costings to a pragmatic formula, which embraces the funding opportunities and the strategic strengths of growth centres away from Sydney and Melbourne. In balancing strengths and weaknesses he has clearly recognised the productivity factor that if we are moving people inefficiently in one of the world’s busiest passenger corridors the costs of inefficiency will impact on the pricing of our goods and services for all markets.

    One refinement that we should have examined is to eliminate Badgery’s Creek and its costly high speed rail diversion from main trunk travel and its use of farming land. An alternative would be to establish the second airport at Goulburn. This location would be on the main trunk rail connection and could be located on less productive pastoral land.

    An extension of this, which as a concept might need more rigorous assessment, would be that with a Goulburn airport taking much of the air freight traffic, Goulburn could be a national distribution centre, serving both Sydney and Melbourne for air cargo. Both land uses would enhance the land value capture potential of Goulburn.

    This would also take pressure off Sydney’s air terminal so that it can meet increasing passenger traffic. Yet another concept would be the use of the high speed rail in the hours when it is not used for passenger travel and maintenance in a container-carrying configuration, taking overnight freight pressure off the highways. Freight contending with large city congestion is a worldwide problem. Goulburn could also be a rural freight hub, servicing products in a fresh condition for overseas markets using transport connections from Gippsland and the Riverina.

    April 26th, 2016 at 4:36 pm

  6. K Watt says:

    When will all our Govements realise we as Australians needes this to happen years ago – Just do it NOW

    April 26th, 2016 at 5:33 pm

  7. Gregory Ashe says:

    Would welcome high speed rail

    April 26th, 2016 at 6:00 pm

  8. Graham Nicholas says:

    Surely, the longer the delay in doing this the higher the costs will be. It is time to get out of the dark ages and bring Australia into the future. Yes, it is expensive, but if it can compete with the airlines in travel times then they will surely get an increased volume of passengers due to the less hassles at each end and the fact the terminii will all be in the city itself instead of half an hour or more outside.You will have your bags with you so no waiting for them to be unloaded from the aircraft. All positives.

    April 26th, 2016 at 6:15 pm

  9. Alan Richardson says:

    Why oh why is the government(s) seriously considering building another airport at Badgery’s Creek to relieve congestion at Kingsford Smith The cost will be $6 to $8 Billion (according to Wikipedia) and the locals are strongly opposed to the idea.

    Why not spend that money on building a High Speed Train between Melbourne-Canberra-Sydney-Brisbane for about the same cost. It would take the pressure off existing airports in terms of capacity, provide a boost to growth in places like Albury/Wodonga, and be a much more pleasant travel experience for inter-city commuters.

    It’s a no brainer! For some reason, we in Australia just don’t “get” rail transport. Must be because we stuffed it all up from the word go when we adopted three different rail gauges.
    So everything has to go by road (or air in the case of passengers). Maintaining & upgrading those roads costs us a fortune.

    You can go to China, USA, Europe, Russia, even India to see how rail takes the bulk of the freight task and a significant part of the passenger task as well. Not in so called “developed” Australia, where we only ever think in terms of road transport.

    So much for being a “smart nation”!

    April 26th, 2016 at 9:26 pm