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Federal

Oct 28, 2009

We need new fast trains ... fast.

We are all to blame with our pathetic mimicking of the American arrogant entitlement to drive anywhere we want. But fast rail lines, like those seen in Spain, are exactly what Australia's public transport system needs.

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Poor Guy Rundle, who cannot but feel his pain expressed in his rant yesterday (We don’t need new fast trains). One has to admire his energy and ability to get all fired up. Sadly this author has lost that ability, having fallen into a funk of depression upon returning to Oz after a few weeks overseas, when our unutterable mediocrity, smug self-delusion and complacency is unavoidable to anyone with eyes wide open. It seems our complacency knows no bounds — probably due to the Lucky Country and No Free Lunch scenarios, a consequence of this unearned easy money from mining, exacerbated by some kind of Anglo-Saxon disease.

Compare the continental Europeans and the Asians with the hapless Brits, the nightmare sprawl of the US and, arguably worst of the lot, Australia. (Is Canada rescued from this Groucho Club of incompetents by being partly French? Maybe, in the same way that the Asian Anglo city-states Hong Kong, Singapore and now Shanghai, etc, are rescued by their Chinese citizens). In the way that one can barely imagine modern Italians running the Roman empire, one wonders where the Victorians have gone when we really need them. Obviously this is not a reference to those latter-day Victorians who derive their electricity almost exclusively by burning the world’s dirtiest energy source, brown coal. No, I mean those Victorians who built the first sewers and the first Metro system and many of the world’s railways.

My sole complaint against Rundle is that he too easily shunts the blame onto politicians, such as Albanese and Rudd. They may be deserving of our contempt but no, it is all of us, the dumb voters and selfish citizens of this vast continent of which we are so undeserving. We have no excuses whatsoever. We got a good start from the tail end of the Victorian era. In Canberra and Adelaide we got two of the world’s better planned cities, even if being built in the age of the car meant they neglected proper transport planning. And Sydney had an excellent far-sighted public transport plan set out by that classic Victorian engineer, Bradfield. Only the first phase of his plan was built but it largely remains the sole functional system to this day, with barely anything meaningful added in the seven decades since.

It is not as if there are not plenty of people who know what is needed. Sydney has had no end of public transport plans any one of which, even if only half achieved, would have been something. We are all to blame with our pathetic mimicking of the American arrogant entitlement to drive anywhere we want. Our insistence on ever more roads. Our suburban dreams that turn out to be unsustainable nightmares. Among the experts and politicians, defeatism is all dominant.

For example, while Crikey’s transport correspondent Ben Sandilands writes much sensible stuff, nevertheless reveals himself to be an unreconstructed road lobbyist as well as totally inflexible about Sydney airport without any lateral thinking on the whole wider issue of planning for the 21st century (see here and here). He is so utterly defeatist about the (un)likelihood of sensible Australian, not to mention Sydney, transport planning, that he pre-empts his reader’s — and his own — enthusiasm for fast trains by labelling them as fantasy.

Rundle was mocking when he said we don’t even need fast rail lines. Actually it is exactly what we need. Not just to overcome the defeatists who blather on about Australia’s usual excuses of sparse population and large distances but because the rest of the world has been showing how to do it for three decades. Fantasy? Is there anyone who has not noticed what Europe is doing? It is no fantasy. The bigger cities such as  Lyon and Lisbon have shiny new Metros but one is astounded that even smaller cities such as Bilbao, Toulouse and Lille have proper Metro systems and others such as  Bordeaux, Nice and Seville have brand new tramway systems that work.

Yes, even countries such as Spain, considerably less wealthy than Australia. Last year, a TGV linked Madrid and Barcelona, cities comparable to Sydney/Melbourne in size and only about 30% more in distance. Iberia, the national airline, has stopped flying Madrid to Barcelona since the opening of the TGV (in Spanish, Alta Velocidad Espanola, AVE) which does the 630-kilometre journey in two hours 45 minutes.

Due to be finished this year the tunnel under the Pyrenees will ultimately join the Spanish and French TGV networks. Barcelona to Montpellier at about 300 kilometres will take between 80-100 minutes depending on other stops (probably Figueres, Narbonne, Perpignan). This will link the sunbelt smart-growth centres of Barcelona, Montpellier and Toulouse (the latter two not accidentally being the two fastest-growing cities of Europe and centres of high-tech and academia) and the whole region of Catalonia and Languedoc-Roussillon will continue to thrive.

If Australia continues to squander countless billions on roads that just create more congestion (at a cost to the economy of at least $10 billion per annum. not to mention our $26 billion oil import bill), the connectivity of our major centres and the way they serve any international visitors can only get worse. Canberra to Sydney at 280 kilometres is less than half the distance Madrid-Barcelona. Either Canberra airport should be developed into Sydney’s second international airport or a new airport halfway (with 45 minutes TGV to central Sydney, less time than most airport queues) is the perfect large infrastructure project.

A TGV to the new airport might be about $3 billion while all the way to Canberra (which would be needed anyway) might be $7 billion. Double the cost if you are a defeatist. Even triple the cost if you are a NSW politician. If we can build the 3000-kilometre Darwin railway at under $2 billion we can surely build these TGV lines. Forget the defeatists argument about the poor economics of the Darwin railway, the real question is can we afford not to build them?

Obviously a TGV from the new airport to Melbourne is the other vital link. This would transform domestic travel in south-east Australia and also relieve conditions for international traffic in two ways: less domestic traffic taking Sydney/Melbourne slots and a second airport for all three cities. And, of course, such a high speed rail corridor (Sydney-New airport-Canberra-Melbourne) would fulfil Rundle’s desire for new cities.

As in so many things, but forgotten or derided by the do-nothing conservatives, the Whitlam government was ahead of its time in championing Albury-Wadonga as a future growth city. The other growth centre, Brisbane is developing into a giant linear city (100 kilometre coastal development to the north and south — the 200km city — and inevitable expansion to the west) that cries out for a serious high-speed rail network to link it all (and with any luck transform it from dullsville to an exciting creative place; oops there’s that fantasy creeping in again).

Rudd is correct, if perhaps just accepting the inevitable, in embracing a larger Australia. With the greater Brisbane metro area possibly heading towards four million, the choice will be either to build such a rail network or face chaos and deteriorating quality of life, like some developing world cities — meaning in South America and Africa, not most of modern Asia, which is leaving us in the dust — or many American cities.

More people will bring more critical mass, higher tax revenues, higher efficiency and perhaps more important, more talent and perhaps a different perspective to the homegrown defeatism we seem to have inherited from the modern Brits. Even the US will finally get smart. California will probably be the first in the US to build a TGV line, not coincidentally linking its two major cities (LA, SF) to its state capital, Sacramento — a close enough model for Sydney-Canberra-Melbourne.

Are we going to wait another 20 or 50 years to get smart? Or as Tom Friedman complains about his fellow Americans, are we going to insist on continuing to be as “dumb as we wanna be”?

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26 comments

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26 thoughts on “We need new fast trains … fast.

  1. Mark Duffett

    I know it isn’t the main point of your piece (which I actually mostly endorse), Michael, but this isn’t the first time you’ve taken a gratuitous sideswipe at the industry, so: Exactly what is ‘unearned’ and ‘easy’ about mining?

  2. Fowls

    What makes Sydney public transport “the sole functional system to this day?” Is it the hundreds of diesel-powered buses on the streets? A lot is made of the differences between Sydney and Melbourne, but for me it’s the smell of diesel – the smell of Sydney in peak hour. It’s lacking in Melbourne due to the foresight of the Victorian planners who established an extensive and efficient tram system, and the common sense of the city’s burghers who didn’t follow the mad rush of Sydney, Brisbane et al to get rid of trams in the 1950s and ’60s. I would argue that Melbourne’s public transport, despite overcrowding in peak hour, is very much a functional system.

  3. Michael James

    From Michael R. James:
    Mark (2.27pm): if I remember correctly, Mark you are a mining engineer 🙂
    Obviously I have nothing against the highly skilled engineers such as yourself (some of my best friends….). But actually while mining today can be a highly sophisticated thing (especially the offshore oil and gas rigs etc) at the same time it does not compare to other hi-tech value added sectors. As in the developing world, Australia imports most of the expertise and all of the equipment. Of course it is even a misnomer to say “Australia” because most of the companies, including the ones often thought by the public as Australian (even with names like “Queensland Coal”) are majority owned by others (Brit, American, Japanese, Swiss). And the industry doesn’t even employ that many people (most of the wealth we gain is via corporation tax). Also some mining is still pretty basic: China is the world’s largest coal miner and it is not much different to the 19th century in methodology.
    But all of that is still not the main point. It is as described by Guy Pearse, of us as a Quarry Nation. I recently read a history of Spain and it was fascinating to see how they were utterly corrupted by their easy money from south america and played a significant role in them becoming the poor man of Europe. And ditto Portugal, have you been to what was the world’s largest gold&silver mine at Minas Gerais? Maybe a trillion dollars extracted and what today is there to show for it? The even more fascinating flipside is the history of Barcelona. Historic enemies of the Castillians, the Cataluynians were excluded from the S.American bonanza, and so instead turned to industry. It is no accident that the only parts of Spain to industrialize were Catalonia and the Basque–and this persists to this day. Barcelona is without any skeric of doubt the most exciting and dynamic city in Spain and one of the greatest in Europe.
    Well, you know what lesson I draw for Australia from this? Guess whether we are Cataluynian or the dirt poor Portuguese in the long term. (Hmm, I feel a longer Crikey essay coming on…..thanks, Mark.)

  4. Michael James

    from Michael R. James:
    Addendum to my 2.56pm post. By “Minas Gerais” I meant the mountain-top town of Ouro Preto (“black gold”, because it was in iron-ore seams I believe) in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. I took the deep underground tour there—it shows that modern technology may improve the efficiency and profitability and extractability but that 17th century mine still extracted incredible amounts of the stuff from deep shafts etc. What remains of it today, other than the holes in the ground, are dozens of elaborate churches with absurd solid gold ornamentation. The place is UNESCO listed. What of our mining industry mines/towns will be worth heritage listing? Mt Isa for a monument to human (Australian) stupidity for building a town on top of a lead mine?

  5. sean hosking

    I was appreciating this up until the point where you say “rudd is correct, if just accepting the inevitable about australia’s population increase”. Having decried the politics of ‘defeatism’ this lazy and highly defeatist point left me feeling a bit flat. Australia’s population growth, the second highest in the world flies in the face of everything we know about environmental sustainability – particularly with climate change now pretty much tracking the worse case scenario’s. it won’t matter how fast the trains are – I’d be more worried about where the water is going to come from…

  6. Mark Duffett

    Close enough, Michael R., I’m actually a geophysicist.

    “Australia imports most of the expertise and all of the equipment” may be so to some extent in the petroleum sector. Almost the exact opposite is true in the minerals industry, though; we export a lot of expertise and not a little equipment to the mining sector globally.

    And if you want to look at history, much of Victoria (including anything that’s heritage listed in Ballarat, Bendigo, Melbourne, Stawell…) was built on gold wealth, and they seem to be getting on all right these days. Ditto California.

    It’s far from obvious to me, indeed counter-intuitive to say the least, that a big injection of wealth from mining to one generation means impoverishment for the next. If its products are squandered, is that the mining industry’s fault?

  7. Michael James

    from M.R. James:
    Mark at 5.03pm. “If its products are squandered, is that the mining industry’s fault?”
    I must be failing in my intent. I do not blame the mining industry at all. It is us, all Australians, and as you say, what we do with it. What Howard didn’t do with that amazing bounty, and perhaps the awful realization as feared by Rundle, that the Rudd government doesn’t care either. Your example of the gold towns is pretty much what I was saying: solid Victorian heritage serving the following generations. But today what is the legacy of the mining booms–probably just their various holes in the ground (coal in Qld and Hunter, lead etc in Mt Isa, giant pits and poisonous slagheaps at Olympic Dam, levelled mountains in Pilbara and giant oil slicks in the NW shelf) and a completely unproductive (counterproductive) property bubble. Debt to the eyeballs but no sensible public transport in the major cities. Meanwhile our own manufacturing, ok like the rest of the world, has moved offshore and so little intellectual enterprise onshore. I think the Spanish example is a good (bad) one for Australia.

  8. Rena Zurawel

    Michael James
    I do agree with most of your arguments. What I do not feel comfortable with is your attitude towards people of different opinion. We argue problems not personalities.
    Guy Rundle may be right to suggest building new cities as the priority. In previous post I suggested infrastructure as the priority. I am not an engineer but my husband is and has been struggling with politics and culture in Australian industry for over a quarter of century. Being a migrant he has not been ( he could not be) very successful although he had worked with the biggest steel plants all over the world and he had had his training in Toshiba-Japan, Linz in Austria, ASEA Sweden, Wurth – Luxemburg and many others. Managers and accountants make decisions in this country- not degree engineers or any technical staff for that matter. Do we have any engineers in our Parliament???
    What I am trying to say is that hoi polloi in Australia have nothing to say and our votes do not count. The decision making process in Australia is beyond belief. Howard promised ‘no GST’ and no one had anything to say when the GST was introduced because apparently our governments have ‘ a mandate’ to break all possible promises. Howard’s government was treating AUstralia as a corner deli owner Mr. Arkwright from ‘Open all Hours’.
    So it actually IS up to politicians and their lobbying friends to make all sorts of decisions; very often stupid or contrary to Australia interests…
    Rudd and his government are responsible for running the country. Otherwise we would not need any elections. The government should be accountable. They have all the resources and money to hire proper advisors and make proper decisions. Their actions have to be on the radar screen all the time. They are supposed to represent Australia and respect their voters.
    We have scandal after scandal as it comes to infrastructure. I spent my last holidays in Gold Coast where my children live. It is beyond belief that it took me nearly two hours to get to the train station in Gold Coast and get to Brisbane.
    Adelaide’s Gepps Cross has been a drivers’ nightmare for ages and apparently nothing can be done because the politicians who get to power no longer feel responsible for anything in particular.
    A million of air/jet planes take off every day all over the world. I do not know about Australia but I think fast trains would help us lower emission per capita. They should be fast trains from Adelaide to Melbourne and from Melbourne to Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane.
    One big scandal is that we are not poor Spain, overpopulated Brazil or overpopulated and resource -poor Japan. It is a shame that we cannot afford better development of our country. We are getting behind..and spend too much money on non-issues like …detention centres
    And we do need a national debate on the future of this country. We do not even have a population policy and I am not sure we need one. I would be happy to listen to other people’s opinion.

  9. Simon Burrow

    You may be interested to know that even South Africa is investing heavily in a high speed train network due to road congestion and a chaotic taxi industry. A multi-billion Gautrain project linking Johannesburg airport, Pretoria, Sandton and Midrand will open in time for the World Cup in June 2010. It’s being developed by French and Spanish companies (sound familiar?) and will travel at speeds of up to 25okm per hour. It will revolutionise the economic hub of Africa.

  10. bakerboy

    Michael – interesting treatise on high speed trains but they are only a small part of the problem highlighted by Rundle. We must stop the unplanned urban sprawl in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. A TGV is of no use to a family living 40 klm out of Melbourne or Sydney with no public transport to take them to work. Sure, let’s look at high speed trains where the population density would warrant it (Australia is not Europe) but we do need new cities away from the existing capitals to cope with population growth. Read my comment on Rundle from yesterday. Alex

  11. Michael James

    (from Michael R. James)

    Rena Z. at 5.20pm: “Managers and accountants make decisions in this country- not degree engineers or any technical staff for that matter. Do we have any engineers in our Parliament???”
    Exactly. Some time back I wrote a whole article (called “In defense of engineers”) on this but it was probably too boring for Crikey (and afterall the editors and journos are all liberal-arts grads so they probably didn’t appreciate the humor or the point). In the AngloSaxon world (still including America for the time being) politics is dominated by lawyers and various types of liberal-arts grads. I believe this is the explanation for why Sydney is such a mess after a decade of Bob Carr–he just fundamentally was not interested in the nitty gritty of city planning. Compare to France which has arguably the best infrastructure of any country. They have special elite schools (grand ecoles) for engineers (and others) who end up in high civil service positions where they run the country. The Chinese leadership is loaded with engineers, and one can complain about the lack of democracy but they know how to plan and build things. Obviously our political system makes it extremely difficult for professionals outside the lib-arts to have a political career. People like Brendan Nelson were in medical politics from early on, but other professionals have to sweat at their careers for decades to obtain the relevant experience (and if they haven’t they probably are not much use anyway, which arguably might have been the case for B. Nelson re Health issues?). It was obvious that Peter Costello (and certainly Howard) had zero interest in the physical world. Is there any expectation that a career diplomat like Rudd could be any different–his previous careers have all been about “managing perceptions”.

    Incidentally I must be deeply insensitive because I am not sure what you meant by your comment about “people of different opinion”. I love Rundle (though perhaps not quite “Rundle for PM”) and am glad of Ben Sandilands writing for Crikey.

  12. james mcdonald

    Never mind all thes advanced European countries with matte stainless steel everything. A friend of mine has just got back from Mexico City where he says the public transport goes like a breeze, making ours look like billy carts that you have to drive with your own legs. That’s the same Mexico City that the world scoffed at when it had to turn off the water supply a couple of years ago.

  13. Michael James

    (from Michael R. James)
    Bakerboy/Alex at 7.20pm: we don’t really disagree, like I don’t disagree with Guy Rundle’s basic points. BUT how do you think you are going to avoid sprawl out to 40km? As Guy said, build other cities people want to live in. How to do that? Well, we–and increasingly the whole world–are intensely urban, so just like the French (and now the rest of Europe) make intercity travel fast, easy and efficient. So that Keating’s joke that “anyone not living in Sydney is just camping out” loses it impact. And perhaps the government can try serious devolution as France and Britain (less successfully) have done. In the 60s Paris’s growth was extrapolated to reach 20 million and this was such a nightmare scenario that it forced the entire devolution strategy, and the transport strategy was a big part of it. This was serious long term planning and look at how amazing it has turned out. Paris growth slowed and has more or less stabilized at under 12M. It also serves their industry, their distribution networks and tourism (biggest in the world and the single largest contributor to their GDP). Whitlam (yes there are some good lawyers) saw the same thing–and the nightmare did come to pass because we did absolutely zilch with respect to planning or transport and the new cities that would have generated.

  14. Michael James

    (from Michael R. James)
    OK, I realize I must have failed in my primary message. Guy and Whitlam and Bakerboy/Alex and me, and no end of planners can dream of new cities in Australia but it amounts to pipedreams without the fast trains connecting them up (to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra). The most efficient cities are actually linear, and both Canberra and Adelaide are examples of ones planned that way; Brisbane(-Sunshine&Gold coasts) of unplanned expansion limited by the ocean.
    So it is a lot like that maxim, “build it and they will come”; by which I mean, build the best possible transport link and people will be happy to live in say Albury-Wadonga, or new cities that will be along the TGV route. Just like it was the tramways in American cities early last century that drew out suburban development linearly from the centre of cities, this is the only way it can happen. Simply designating places as “new cities” doesn’t work. The only way a fast train line up the coast linking Sydney to Brisbane will be justified is part of a devolution strategy –to designate a few existing towns as future growth centres and which obviously are the ones to get the TGV stations (which have to be pretty infrequent or you lose the whole advantage of fast trains).

  15. Rena Zurawel

    Michael James
    Thanks, many thanks. At last, me, ethnic – albeit a devoted Australian citizen, found some friendly spirits who understand our migrant headache watching this wonderful country wasted resources and lost opportunities for young Australians who, very often, have to look for jobs overseas. .

  16. Ben Sandilands

    Michael,

    I’m passionate about public transport. And doing logical things, like building the second Sydney Airport at Badgery’s Creek, on what is left of the original site. Badgery’s Creek now has the road infrastructure substantially in place because of the M7/M5 and M4 links to compete for business with the main airport, and be more proximate for Parramatta, the Hills, and the fastest growing parts of the metropolitan area, which are in western Sydney. A substantially surface routed and thus less expensively engineered fast rail link from that airport to the main western rail interchanges is available and appears on some of the studies of future metropolitan lines as a link to Leppington. It is easily adaptable as a second airport link.

    Guy is right about the heavy fast train issue in Australia. The numbers, unfortunately, do not work. One thing that does work however, is the increased capability of wi-fi networks to reach our slow trains. This changes everything for the better.

    The loathsome drive into Sydney from the highlands and the costly parking in the city can be replaced by a cheaper, but slower and and generally loathsome train which nevertheless now gets enough signal to allow the use of a PC or hand-held for most of the journey. Drive time thus becomes seen as unproductive and costly, while train time becomes productive.

    It is interesting to see the same factors come into play in the revival of higher quality bus travel between some more closely spaced US cities too. The point to point service on coaches from various parts of Manhattan to DC actually beat the Acela train and the air services in terms of trip time, continuous connectivity and price, not to mention the security hassles at the airports.

    If people are prepared to become more pragmatic about what they really need from transport infrastructure, we can aggregate road usage more usefully, and liberate ourselves from much of the cost and tension of driving or flying when it comes to travelling between closer centres of population.

  17. Rick Cleverick

    Build more cities, and connect a hundred easy-to-get-around-on-foot towns with each other by fast rail.
    Spending a year in Germany this year has shown me that you don’t all have to live in a conurbanation surrounded by endless fields and national park afterall. Europe is dotted with towns of all sizes, and around and between them is farmland, national parks and wildlife centres. Why do we have carpet suburbs connected by roads instead of discrete towns with their own centres, supporting not only offices and apartments but also farming and most importantly a well-serviced train station?
    Take Elizabeth, near Adelaide. Instead of considering it a part of Adelaide, start to think of it as a separate city. Build apartment blocks in its centre. Keep Holden there for a while, to provide the jobs. Block off a street and create a mall. Start to hollow out the train line so that rather than over an hour journey with many small stops, it becomes a fast connection with only four or five intermediate stops. Eventually those houses will lose value and can be returned to farmland or gold courses, with a net gain in housing since the density around Elizabeth centre will have increased.
    It’s possible. We just need people to want it.

  18. Rick Cleverick

    And a tunnel through the Hills to Monato would be brilliant. You could house tens of thousands within 30min of the city that way.

  19. james mcdonald

    Rick: Sounds like a livelier version of Canberra plus trains. (I’m not having a go at you, the high-level layout of Canberra is the best thing about it). That’s a great vision. More detail please.

  20. Michael James

    (from Michael R. James):
    I agree with James McDonald (8.23am), Rick you really are CleveRick. I wish Ben S would acknowledge or consider some of your points instead of the defeatist (and IMO false) argument that “fast trains cannot work here”. Ben, can you address specifically how Spain can build a TGV between a modest city like Seville and the national capital (540km, total ca. 6M people)? Why is the 630km TGV linking Barcelona to the capital (and soon to the capital of Languedoc-Rousillon) not broadly comparable to Sydney-Canberra and on to Melbourne? Instead you want to commit us for decades into the future to a vision of flying and driving while the rest of the world goes in the other direction, including the USA. Building fast train (and I admit we may not always be able to afford the fastest track due to economics though in the long run that may be short-term economic modelling, I think the French and now the Spanish have got it right–better to spend up big at the beginning and reap the incredible rewards) solves so many of the problems to do with urban growth, congestion and planning, including your obsession with better air-services for Sydney. Of course if you ask an accountant or most economists their narrow vision/bean counting will always claim that such infrastructure is uneconomic. Also I suppose, but am not quite sure, that your use of “loathsome” train is ironic, and your advocacy of “less expensive solutions” is the best solution in long-term planning. It is the easiest thing in the world to find something less expensive, but that doesn’t mean it is the sensible one to build. Indeed almost by definition it turns out to be the worst (and in Brisbane it is not at all clear that Campbell Newman’s ca. $20B of tunnels and bridges is cheaper than a proper public transport system.) As you know well the road lobby in the US has perfected the art of claiming public transport is wanton subsidy and practically a communist plot. Thus would the great train systems of the world and the great city’s Metros never have been built (and thus they would never have sustained great world city status).
    Incidentally Rick, I haven’t ever properly seen Adelaide so I am amazed that in the first decade of the 21st century you can still say “Block off a street and create a mall.”! And as I recall (not very authoritatively) Adelaide was designed along the concept of a linear city and Elizabeth was designed as one of the satellite cities along the main axis. The danger of course over the decades is that politicians and people allow infill of the open spaces to create endless ribbon sprawl (again because of short-term economics).
    Your comment “hollow out the train line so that rather than over an hour journey with many small stops, it becomes a fast connection with only four or five intermediate stops” is absolutely on the money. Here, I occasionally take the north coast railway (goes up to Gympie) and it is a joke; stops at every one-pub village and takes 2 hr just to Nambour which it should be doing in about 45mins. No wonder no one much uses it and the Sunshine Coast is reportedly the most car-dependent area in Oz. Americans would lurve this area because Sunshine Coasters (and Gold Coasters) are every bit as dumb as we wanna be.

  21. kebab shop pizza

    Steve Fielding is an engineer. Not too sure how interested he is in the ‘physical world’ though.

  22. Michael James

    (from Michael R. James):
    Kebab at 2.15pm. Actually my unpublished piece was a riff mostly on Steve Fielding (bordering on the libelous, possibly another reason Crikey declined it), with a sidebar on our engineer mayor Can-d0 Campbell Newman. So the “in defense of engineers” was double edged. (Google “in defense of engineers” and you’ll see what I mean.) Some engineers do seem to have a very serious lack of imagination. On the other hand some (Ove Arup–Opera House, many of the iconic structures of the last 50 years) , Brunel, Buckminster Fuller, lots of bridge builders etc have souls that soar into the stratosphere.

  23. Rick Cleverick

    Here in Heidleberg where I am studying, I catch a bus for the 15-minute journey from my apartment to the city. I am virtually on the northern outskirts of the city, in the university/hospital complex built on greenfields since the War. They have spent a long time thinking about this, and plan to replace the bus with a tram by 2012.
    Why are we in Adelaide so shocked by the 1.6km extention of our only tram line (Heidelberg, with 150k people, has 5) to where people actually use it?
    James, thanks for the confidence-booster. I’m sorry to disappoint, but so far I have only fuzzy idealist visions. I am, after all, still just an undergrad. But as you can see from http://www.cleverail.blogspot.com, I’m not short on vision. Lately I am filled with a sense of urgency, and I plan on becoming active in transport policy circles sooner rather than later. I am torn, however, between the relative benefits of starting in Syd/Mel/Can, and wanting to remain in Adelaide. We’ll see what can be done. I definitely see the Adelaide-Brisbane SE corner of the country capable of a high-speed train network with tendrils to Townsville, Perth and Darwin.

  24. Rick Cleverick

    And Michael, you are correct. Next to Salisbury, Elizabeth and, by extension if not plan, Gawler, make a string of cities. The trouble has been suburban infill. I have no problem with suburbia, but keep it to limits. Again using Adelaide you could have the centre square dense, the parklands thank-the-Lord are still preserved, and then about 2km of quarter-acre housing. This is not so far that if you had enough train lines at various angles to the City, the entire area would be well serviced with public transport.
    Then you’d have farmland (everything which is now suburb was originally drained for wheat/sheep) between either ‘villages’ (older suburbs like Lockleys) or ‘towns’ (Glenelg) and then in the further distance ‘cities’ like Noarlunga and Elizabeth. Each of these would also have suburbs, suitable to the size of the centre. And I’ve been doing some research on Monato and the Multi-Function-Polis, and it’s a friggin’ awesome idea. Just connect it to Adelaide CBD with a single tunnel under the Hills and Bob’s your proverbial uncle.
    One argument I hear a lot is that “only rich people could afford to live in the quarter-acre blocks everyone else would live in apartments”. Well, yes. Only rich people can afford to live on Sydney Harbour. The market, my friends, at work. Only rich people can afford to go to Europe every year on holiday. It’s not a bad thing. It makes you want to get rich, which in turn makes everyone richer.
    Besides, there’s no reason apartments can’t be a big, with as many rooms, and as personalised as a house. Given that in inner cities land makes up most of the purchase price of a property, there should be more money left over after the third storey is built than the value of the other two storeys combined.

  25. Michael James

    (from Michael R. James): this blog is dead but just for the record here is my response to Guy Rundle’s dig at me last week. Crikey declined to run it.

    Ouch, slapped down by Guy Rundle yesterday when I am one of his biggest fans, it hurt. I guess it is my own fault for writing that slightly snarky smarty-pants intro that seemed to diss Guy but was just my attempt (successful, to my own surprise) to get my boring (evidence-based) piece past the Crikey subeditors. Guy accused me of not reading his article properly but this suggests that he stopped at the third para of mine because I went on to fully endorse his cry for new cities (though please please not designed by Gehry!) and in fact acknowledged, if indirectly, his own endorsement of fast trains. The main, crucial, difference is that I do indeed believe that the fast trains must come first so as to make the growth of any new cities a reality. Otherwise we end up with the likes of Kellyville (or the Sunshine Coast which is turning into a 100km iteration of Kellyvilles) where vast sprawling exurbs are built and only then are serious transport links talked about (and talked about….for decades to come). More boring details are in the blogs to my and Guy’s piece.

  26. Mark Duffett

    Michael R James, I sympathise with you at Crikey‘s apparent lack of interest in evidence-detailing contributions, having been there myself a few times. At times like these I am reminded of Ben Goldacre‘s perceptive words (in Bad Science):

    The people who run the media are humanities graduates with little understanding of science, who wear their ignorance as a badge of honour. Secretly, deep down, they perhaps resent the fact that they have denied themselves access to the most significant developments in the history of Western thought from the past 200 years.

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