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Nov 5, 2009

Sydney/Melbourne by plane or bust: Airbus vision kills the fast train

The notion of a Very Fast Train for the Melbourne-Sydney corridor has been shot down by new plans from Airbus to fly Very Large Planes between the two cities, because the entire cost, and risk, is funded by the privately owned airlines and airports.


Airbus dealt a heavy blow to the notion of a Very Fast Train (VFT) for the Melbourne-Sydney corridor with its Very Large Plane (VLA) forecast yesterday.

Airbus’ chief operating officer for customers, John Leahy, predicted that it will be extensively used between major city pairs such as Melbourne-Sydney by 2028, and possibly within 10 years.

Is he kidding? No. Half a lifetime ago, Sydney-Melbourne was served by 16 flights a day each way in 80-passenger Lockheed Electra turbo-props, private road trips that killed about 500 long-distance drivers a year on the Hume Highway between them, and two steam trains that met in the middle of the night in Albury to change passengers where the different rail gauges of the colonies of Victoria and New South Wales terminated.

Today, it is flown about 73 times each way each day by the combined jets of four airlines. The physical availability of slots at each airport is shrinking, almost to vanishing point at Sydney Airport, meaning the jets have to get bigger, but be boarded and disembarked in no more time than it takes today.

Given the heated Crikey debate over VFTs started by Guy Rundle and joined by Michael James, the VLA prediction comes with one potent characteristic. It doesn’t require a single dollar of taxpayer funds. The entire cost, and risk, is funded by the privately owned airlines and airports.

No billions of dollars in public private partnerships, no competing with education, health or defence for money, no endless inquiries and studies, and no permanent ways, cuttings or bridges slicing through towns, or national parks.

Sydney International already turns around A380s more efficiently than its domestic terminals manage with much smaller single-aisle jets, because the biggest jet ever has wide aisles and four main doors all served by quick-load, double-level gates.

Trains in Australia run on fossil fuels, even if they use electricity generated by coal. There are clear signs that by 2030 if not sooner algal-grown octanes will begin replacing aviation-grade kerosene, releasing no fossil-sourced carbon.

The Airbus forecasts concerning VLAs is predicated on continued urbanisation and the rise of mega cities. It lists 37 such cities in terms of air travel today, including Melbourne and Sydney, which in total generate 92% of all long-distance flights.

By 2028 it forecasts such mega cities will number 82, including Brisbane and Auckland, and will be generating 90% of all long-haul passenger trips. And something else happens, in that they will generate VLA connections over 80 short-distance connections between each other or nearby major if not mega destinations. Including most of the inter-capital and trans-Tasman flights served by smaller jets today. Just the way 767s replaced the 727s that replaced the Electras.

Leahy’s forecast excludes those city pairs where very fast trains will produce faster door-to-door trip times for most potential travellers. And this is one of issues that Michael James misses in his criticism of Australia, and alleged road lobbyists such as myself, for not getting behind very fast trains.

VFTs came to London and Paris, and linked the major cities of Japan, after many decades of serendipitous investments in public transport systems that make it easy to get to the likes of the Eurostar platforms at St Pancras and Gare du Nord from almost everywhere across their metropolitan and outer suburban sprawls.

Their Metros achieved critical mass and cultural acceptance before car ownership became common. The convenience of fast, efficient, cheap and proximate stations means that just about 100% of London and Paris can quickly reach Eurostar and in the latter, the Thalys and TGV network of VFTs. London and Paris can plan and build new Metros in about 10% of the time it takes for them to be studied, debated and ditched in Sydney and Melbourne.

A Sydney or Melbourne VFT terminal at Central or Southern Cross stations respectively is very hard or costly to reach by public transport, or car, from large proportions of their catchment areas. To begin to make VFTs attractive in Australia we have to make their speed usable in reducing the point-to-point trip times.

Both cities need much better public transport links to their airports, which can bring dividends to non-airport commuters too. But in terms of spending, and overcoming a century of public transport neglect, there is no case for spending billions of dollars building a 500kph 1000-kilometre long rail link when the airlines can assume all of the risk and cost.

Making public transport within the cities functional, slashing car dependency within them, and building some new “smart” cities seems a much better start to breaking with a dismal past.


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54 thoughts on “Sydney/Melbourne by plane or bust: Airbus vision kills the fast train

  1. Guy Rundle

    arrrrhhh got the last time I wasn’t against VFTs (i was against the proposed gippsland route in the 80s but thats another story). I was merely arguing in my article that VFTs of themselves, solve nothing in terms of infrastructure provision for a growing population – they simply increase their velocity.

  2. Craig Trimble

    All very good if you only want people to live in overcrowded Sydney or Melbourne, and nothing else exists in between. I look forward to when flights of the airbus will be stopping at Seymour, Albury, Canberra, Yass, etc? Never, and this is the point the article misses! Airport development lobby 1, contribution to national policy debate and quality of life 0.

  3. james mcdonald

    If algae fuel is all it’s cracked up to be, it’s going to be needed replacing existing uses of fossil fuel, not adding to it. Correct me if I’m wrong: planes do most of their work staying in the air, what trains achieve by static forces. It’s that externality cost of fuel in the carbon-trading age that will change the relationship between private and public costs (the same reason trucks are “cheaper” than trains–diesel tax doesn’t cover their share of road costs, but rail freight users have to pay the total cost of the rail.)

    And I’m mystified how additional air terminals are supposed to be easier to build and use than VFT terminals. Both require intermodal connections but only one of these requires taxiing and takeoff space.

  4. Michael James

    (from Michael R. James)
    Guy, actually I wasn’t saying you were against fast trains. But as I replied (in a blog buried in the responses to my article) I absolutely believe that the trains must come first. Any serious attempt to create new cities, which will require a policy of devolution ie. relocation of industry and government departments, universities, hospitals etc., is doomed to failure if those fast, convenient links do not exist. In fact it was the specific policy behind the development and construction of the French TGV network. In Australia I would give Canberra as an example. It is almost 100 years old but remains a very modest city–by rights it should be a major city (look at Washington DC that has grown hugely to become one of the US’s top 10 regions). apart from the myths about Canberra, to get there one has to endure air travel or 4 hours driving. If it had the fast train link it could have taken some of the strain off Sydney (and Melbourne) and still could.
    But Guy, my response to Ben’s article: Aarrrrgghh!

  5. Most Peculiar Mama

    I find it hilarious that the Labor spin doctors have successfully inserted the ironically named Very Fast Train (VFT) into the vernacular.

    Worse that people persist in using it.

    It’s still quicker to drive from Melbourne to Sydney than by the speed-challenged VFT.

    We should be asking why that is?

  6. whatiris

    @MPM would that be because we don’t have one?

    The XPT is not a Very Fast Train. Only at very occasional points does it go faster than the speed limit on the Hume Highway for cars.

    The track simply isn’t up to it.

  7. james mcdonald

    Maybe someone needs to do a history of the VFT the best infrastructure project that we never had. I remember it being touted as the coming thing in time for the 1988 bicentenary, but that probably wasn’t the first time. An efficient, scenic, fast way to travel Melbourne – Canberra – Sydney – Brisbane, soaring through the snowy mountains like a skycar and getting you from Victoria to Queensland in half a day.

    John Howard later started a tendering process for a truncated version. The German Maglev company put in a below-cost bid to test a new generation of magnetic levitation on us–a train that hangs suspended a few cm above the track by superconductor electromagnets. The levitation wasn’t new, just the generation that the Germans were offering to test on us. Howard favoured a traditional “steel-on-steel” option (thinking, like most ignoramuses who don’t know how to listen, that steel is indestructible) before throwing his hands up at the whole thing.

    Australia basically will have a VFT when there is no slower technology available in the world to buy.

  8. Ben Sandilands


    Algal fuel is intended to replace all the kerosene burned in an airliner, rather than be a blend. It took a while for the vested interests to come to grips with this. The benefit of blended fuels is lost as air transport grows. Even when the Australian air travel market ‘matures’ and reaches the point where it can’t get any more customers there are around 5.7 billion people left on the planet who have barely began to use air transport, and cars and lots of electrical power which is predominantly fossil carbon releasing today.

    The release of fossilised carbon has to be ended as soon as possible to bring anthropogenic global warming to a standstill, and I find it incredibly disappointing that the public debate mashes all carbon into the debate, thus allowing this government to essentially rort the figures and leave fossil carbon from coal untouched while stuffing around with cosmetic calculations to reduce carbon emissions that involve non fossil carbon releasing carbon exchanges cycles, including those involving photosynthesis and so forth.

    We cut our release of fossil sourced carbon or we collectively pay a very high price for the consequences.

  9. Ben Sandilands

    Michael James has previously made some strong points in my view about how Queensland could greatly improve rail along its northern coastal and near coastal corridors. Faster short distance trains are much more economically plausible than a Sydney-Melbourne VFT, and there are real possibilities in this country.

    And Sydney and Melbourne badly need greatly improved city rail services, efficient ticketing and consistent high speed broadband coverage. If Sydney were to act now there are still options for new rights of way for western suburban rail lines, including efficient access to Badgerys Creek. In ten years time they will all be covered in housing estates, their inhabitants forced into over reliance on cars on what is a very ordinary metropolitan road network.

    But maybe this won’t matter, as Sydney is condemned to choke, both at the commuter level, and in lacking the air links that will make it relevant to the location of large businesses. Not even the A380 or other future VLA will save Sydney from medium term decline and stagnation. My view is that Melbourne-Brisbane will become the main domestic VLA route by around 2040.

  10. james mcdonald

    Ben, yes I see that, but if large scale production takes off it will be needed first to replace fossil petroleum in road vehicles, where it will compete with products that are (a) diminishing and (b) subject to carbon-trading premiums–and it will be priced with those factors in mind. So, the fact that it’s carbon neutral doesn’t isolate it from carbon considerations, and isn’t an excuse to proclaim energy is now free so let’s do everything in the most inefficient way.

    Trains, cars, trucks, ships, heating in cold climates, and existing requirements for air transport, all have a claim on new fuel sources before we start thinking about tilting the transport market towards the most inefficient means possible.

  11. Ben Sandilands


    The algal research is in fact aiming to produce a range of liquid fuels to fit the specific needs of land, sea and air transport, and replace fossil releasing oil or gas completely. Algal diesel is likely to be the first widespread application, and aviation kerosene replacements perhaps coming last in terms of validation, but capable of quicker deployment given the comparatively smaller need. The over riding characteristic of these fuels for aviation purposes is energy and handling equivalence, so an airliner could use it at one airport and kerosene at another in the interim period. It has to behave identically to av gas at -50C, occupying the same space at the same temperatures as kerosene, and so forth. It mustn’t corrode fuel lines or spring surprises if subjected to spark discharges. In the tests at the start of the year, an algal blend used in one engine of a 737 ending up producing around 1% more energy than the equivalent amount of kerosene and behaving slightly differently in the fuel lines. There is a huge amount of work to be done, but a fortune to be made.

    There is also the issue as to which algal pathway will work best. In 2006 at a Green Skies conference the consensus was that a real test of an algal blend would not take place until around 2020, but it happened three years later. No one should pretend it is going to be a fast or easy solution despite the speed with which some of the projects are said to be moving.

  12. Rick Cleverick

    I have written about this article in my blog: http://cleverail.blogspot.com/2009/11/proximate-mega-destinations.html

    I *do* apologise for its design- I am working on it, but for now it stays that terrible green. Copy-paste it into Word for easier reading!

    @MPM, I’m with Whatiris.

  13. Rick Cleverick

    Oh, and @Rundle and @McDonald:


  14. james mcdonald

    Maybe a literary type like Rundle can help me with the meaning with “argh”. Or maybe he can help me make it clearer that … I’m actually on your side Rick. Have been all along, not only for moving people but for more freight applications too.

    Despite the high fixed cost, the long flat distances in Australia actually increase rail’s comparative energy advantage over other modes, compared to denser hillier countries that already make good use of rail. The proportion of energy spent accelerating compared to overcoming air resistance at constant speed is highest in trains. That means whatever efficiency advantage rail achieves in Japan or western Europe, it can be even better here if it’s done properly.

  15. Ben Sandilands


    Sincere good wishes for participating in a rail empire in Australia as supported and discussed on your site. I’m not against that at all and I’d urge readers to visit your site and take it all in. Nor do I think Albury Wodonga should be neglected, and in fact, it isn’t. You can now drive to anywhere in Melbourne from there much faster than any possible rail link via Southern Cross and then changing to other modes, and you can fly on a jet to Sydney.

    The fact is that air transport, which is very imperfect in many regards, does take over the risk and capital investment in a way that sets a very high bar for rail projects to jump over. The history of the great US railroads was one where the rails underpinned true empires in which ‘the company’ owned the critical real estate, dictated local regulations and was in fact the law, hanging those who offended its values in some cases, and dispossessing the Indigenous communities that had the misfortune to get in the way. Not that I’m suggesting your empire would lurch into such horrors, but the benefits of railroad expansion in the US came from absolute power exercised by the companies, and it is important to look further than the school text book air-brushed versions as to what happened.

    And our history of rail and metropolitan transport neglect is not going to be reversed by a costly, under patronised, or terminally awkward to access showcase VFT.

    Recognising this doesn’t in any way invalidate the criticisms you, me and most people make about city centric policies (even though most of those policies never get enacted. )

  16. mtats

    I want a fast train between Melbourne and Sydney simply so i don’t have to go through all the timewasting that comes with air travel (taxi/check-in/security/waiting/waiting on board/taxi out/liftoff/taxi to gate/wait/disembark/luggage/taxi)

  17. eggmcgreg

    I don’t come to this article as an expert in rapid transport by any stretch of the imagination. However, I did recently have the opportunity to travel between Tokyo and Hiroshima by Shinkansen and to observe some of the advantages of this kind of transport.

    The journey (which is slightly shorter than the distance from Sydney to Melbourne) took about 4 1/2 hours. My train ticket was printed with a time the train was expected to arrive in Hiroshima – 12.54 or something similar. It was completely accurate, notwithstanding a nearly 1000 km journey and a change of trains at Shin-Kobe. The same was true of the return journey. (indeed, the only late train I caught in Tokyo was the Narita express back to the airport, which ran about 10 minutes late). You simply cannot achieve that level of reliability with an aircraft. And once you add in the time taken to travel to the airport, embark and disembark etc, the trip is not substantially longer.

    Second, the real advantage I observed of this train was the stations at which it stopped in between Tokyo and my destination – Yokohama, Shizuoka, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka & Kobe were all stops (and the stop was seldom more than 2 minutes). Imagine the benefits to Goulburn of a VFT from Sydney to Canberra, to Albury and Wagga of a VFT to Melbourne or to the Far North Coast of NSW of a VFT to Brisbane. If we are serious about population growth of 50-70% over the next 50 years, these centres need to be focusses for growth.

    While we are habituated to thinking about Australia’s vast distances, it occurs to me that the crescent containing Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane is probably a little smaller than the total size of Japan, not to mention geographically much less challenging (albeit which a much lower population density). I understand that the Japanese built the Shinkansen network more or less from scratch in the 1960’s. While I understand the difficulties involved in any major new infrastructure project, in principle why couldn’t and shouldn’t trains become the major mode of travel in this part of Australia?

  18. Ben Sandilands

    Trains (or some advanced form of surface transport technology) will achieve success when the matrix of costs, profits and benefits exceed those of competing forms of travel. It is hard to guess whether it will be all train, or plane or subsonic surface effect coastal devices as Phil Ruthven once predicted in the early 90s. All we can be certain about is that technological innovations will ambush us, or our descendants.

    One of the greatest transport innovations in Europe was the canal systems, until rail suddenly took over. The canals remain wonderful to explore, and you can contemplate the startling twists and turns of transport developments on them as you pass over or under motorways, emerge briefly beside high speed rail lines, or come within sight of an airport or its approach paths. But no-one who invested in canals had any inkling of the surprises sprung by the early industrial age, which was when Michael Faraday described in general terms the principles that supported the maglev concepts that were finally tried given trial runs 150 years later, in the second half of the last century.

    The underlying point about the current dominance of air transport between most developed cities is that the asset is movable. If a route fails or an airline fails the equipment can be redeployed, or resold. Airports that fail can be turn into big box storage farms (like Hoxton Park in Sydney), or racecourses (Rosehill aerodrome). But the capital spent on tunnels and bridges can’t be physically transferred.

    My view is that Australia can only advance the rail solutions to many of its transport needs by making them work in places where there is massive latent demand, in the major cities, or coastal corridors. And that broadband enabled buses, trams and metros are the least risky and fastest way of shifting concepts of how commuters should use their trips times, and the money they spend on daily transport away from gridlocked roads.

    Once it is possible to reach the locations of a high speed surface terminal by integrated transport solutions from anywhere in a metropolitan catchment we start not only the process of unclogging our cities, but that of enabling more realistic projects to connect the likes of Sydney and Melbourne. London and Paris are already there, but it took more than 100 years for them to get there and the critical groundwork was done prior to the proliferation of private vehicles.

  19. meski

    Most of the people travelling from Melbourne to Sydney, and vice versa, are doing so for business? For meetings? I say eliminate the travel completely, and improve the technology that would let you stay where you are, and have virtual meetings. Travel time zero, boarding time zero, CO2 emissions not zero, but a tiny fraction of surface or air travel.

  20. Kirk Broadhurst

    In principle trains should be the major mode of inter-city travel in Australia. I don’t think you would find too many people to argue with that. But we should be very surprised if it even came to fruition.

  21. Ben Sandilands

    Let me offer a different take on the reasons people travel and the issues of virtual meetings and so forth.

    Since air travel became affordable, the major users of ‘virtual meetings’, the SMEs and small often solo entrepreneurs, have become frequent flyers. They can afford to meet in person the people they only spoke to on the phone, or by email. Instead of hours of total frustration over trouble shooting this broken gizmo or that, they can fly to the warehouse in East Doncaster, and fix either the hardware, or the person or client who was screwing it up. There are more people flying between Melbourne and Sydney to go to plays, concerts, sporting events or rave parties than flew for all purposes 20 years ago. While business is considered the largest source of air travel, the changes in on-line distribution, and the popularisation of discretionary air travel make it less easy to identify. We do know that the role of the major corporate and government travel accounts is being diluted by the rise of other reasons for travel.

    I’m not sure the genie of affordable air travel can be put back in the bottle. But if it is, that would also suppress the very demand that VFTs need anywhere to become successful.

  22. Most Peculiar Mama

    On 24 September 1986, the Very Fast Train Joint Venture was established in Australia.

    Has anything tangible happened since then?

    Oh wait…successive Labor Federal governments abandoned the plan.

    That’s at least something we could rely on.

  23. meski

    @Ben: agreed, virtual meetings as they exist at the moment are unpleasant to use. A mere detail 🙂 Regarding affordability, if it were made unaffordable for trivial reasons like regular meetings by for instance a carbon tax, then virtual meetings would be on the table again.

  24. Michael James

    Ben, I have a comment that might be in today’s DM.
    My frustration with these train discussions is how off the rails (sorry..) they get. On the one hand I think you believe some train/metro schemes are quite feasible but you seem to have given up on the politicians and the voters, and so you end up arguing for what are in effect awful non-solutions (second airports with massive reliance on roads and a vicious circle of congestion etc). On the other hand we get the fantasists which make everyone, especially the politicians glaze over. I hardly ever discuss Japan because really it is too different to Oz; a single narrow axis down the main island services maybe 90 million people. I also avoid using the UK as a model: in my opinion our heritage and the habit of politicians doing their study tours there is a big part of the problem. If anything, post-war they are an example of exactly how NOT to run either a long distance train system or citywide Metro–(I was there when Maggie killed their own fast tilt train project, appalling decision)–if anyone thinks I am talking nonsense, or am just being picky, I am afraid you just haven’t experienced much of the rest of the world. Ask (or google travel blogs) any Brits who have either lived in France or spent plenty of time there, and they will all tell you how depressing it is to go from the incredible Paris Metro and the Eurostar then reach London etc.
    So, as anyone reading my stuff knows I appear to have an obsession with France and Spain. Ok, part of this might be bias because I lived there and the UK for 10 years each. But it is an evidence-based bias. France still has more than 2xpeople than Oz but it is the biggest country in Europe and some of the distances are comparable to the area we in Oz should be concentrating on first, ie. Syd-Canberra-Melb. eg. Paris to Marseilles=776km, Paris-Bordeaux=560km (these are all train not road distances which are longer). But Spain is even better because it is both smaller population and poorer than Oz, yet it is planning to have more kms of TGV than France (well we’ll see), and the distances and city populations are actually quite comparable: Barcelona-Madrid=630km, Madrid-Seville=540km. (Barc-Paris is 1045km and I’ll do that in preference to flying any day even if it nominally takes longer.)
    The population of the Melb-Canberra-Syd area exceeds the Barc-Madrid-Sev region. It is utterly inaccurate to say that we cannot afford it. All the arguments based on cost are simply false, most likely because they are too simplistic. In some narrow accountants sense the cost of a TGV line may never be recouped by the government but the country certainly does in myriad ways (and actually the government indirectly by the wider more efficient economy etc etc).
    Your discussion of the canals is a point. the Canal du Midi (the first serious one in Europe) was built in the 17th century for commercial shipping between the Med and Atlantic. It was a incredible working canal for 3 centuries until the rail finally killed it (it took rail almost a century to kill it off because canals still can make sense for heavy commercial goods). Luckily the French look at these things differently to the Brits who allowed their canals to sink into decreptitude (then finally in late 20th century to start restoring a few of them) and instead the canals of France (needless to say the best, longest etc in the world) are now an incredible tourist/pleasure resource. The Canal-du-Midi is Unesco listed. It is practically impossible to calculate the economic (and now pleasure) benefit of the canal du Midi to France, but it has been huge.
    I was in France when the first TGV started, linking Paris-Lyon (460km). Everyone, especially the Brits, were extremely curious how it would go because yes, it had cost a bomb. It went just gobsmackingly more successful than the wildest french bureaucrat could have hoped. The airlines stopped flying the route before the end of the first year. It was merely months before the first millionth passenger was carried, and this was when it still took over 3 hours (it is down to about 2h15min now). It is no accident that it the french who are building TGVs all over the world (not the Japanese). I guess not enough Australians have either enough experience on such systems or still take the dumb American attitude that it is either fast trains OR my car. Well, funny that France also has one of the worlds best motorway systems and love their cars as much as anyone.
    Support for the Syd-Can-Melb fast train link is not some trainspotterish wetdream, it is essential for the orderly development of this SE corner of Australia, for both transport (including air) and urban development, new cities etc. etc. etc. The cost is high but the benefits are incalcuable. If done properly (no Brits involved please) it will be Lyon-Paris, it will amaze everyone and in 10 years any other options will look like the idiocies they are.

  25. Michael James

    (they did publish my Comment, for convenience I repost it here)
    26 . Comments, corrections, clarifications, and c*ckups
    A fast train to nowhere:

    Michael R. James writes: Re. “Sydney/Melbourne by plane or bust: Airbus vision kills the fast train” (yesterday, item 8). In response to Ben Sandilands piece Guy Rundle wrote “Arrrggghh!” So do I. I mean, Sandilands CANNOT BE SERIOUS. (There are times when only the John McEnroe response is appropriate.)

    This vision of hundreds of 800-passenger jets servicing Melbourne-Sydney-Canberra “doesn’t require a single dollar of taxpayer funds”? That’s only if you do not count the cost to the economy of city congestion, currently estimated to be about $10B annually and likely to reach $20B under the business-as-usual scenario of Ben Sandilands and the roads lobby. Or the oil import bill, $26B annually according to the ABS. Or if you are happy to export high-value jobs to Toulouse and Seattle (or China which is building its first Airbus under license from Toulouse). Or the cost to the soul of the slow torture that airports represent today (Ben, haven’t you noticed that the actual final boarding of the planes is the very least of it?)

    Well, of course Airbus is using Melbourne-Sydney as their poster boy because we (along with the Americans) are the Neanderthal holdouts when it comes to sensible transport policies (and not coincidentally, energy policies) Naturally any vision of fast trains and new cities (and new energy policies) includes vastly improved public transport for our major — and any newly planned — cities.

    As one of the bloggers, James McDonald, writes “I’m mystified how additional air terminals are supposed to be easier to build and use than VFT terminals. Both require intermodal connections but only one of these requires taxiing and takeoff space.”

    All these things (fast trains servicing new distant airports, and new cities and proper Metro systems for cities) work together in a coherent and mutually beneficial way — and contribute to a much better quality of life — instead of the vicious circle of more roads and more congestion from perpetually delayed decisions on things like airports due to Nimbyism and short-termism.

    Ben actually acknowledges all that. He says “Making public transport within the cities functional, slashing car dependency within them, and building some new “smart” cities seems a much better start to breaking with a dismal past.” But it seems that he has simply become totally, 100% defeatist that Australia is capable of changing from an unplanned road-based mess of poorly serviced sprawl. Because we don’t have it now and haven’t done it in the past, we will never do it in the future.

    With transport “experts” like him settling for third-rate non-solutions, and even more rabid road lobbyists everywhere (who have given us the Sydney of today and the Brisbane of tomorrow), maybe he is right. And with Costello now appointed to the Future Fund, how much imagination in infrastructure spending can we expect from that repository of our national wealth? What an appalling “vision” for what Australia will be like.

  26. Ben Sandilands


    Please don’t verbal me. I mean what I say not what you say I mean. I’m very serious about public transport, and the need to get it right in Australia. But if we can’t run two of the world’s smallest metropolitan railways efficiently in Sydney and Melbourne, or ticket them in a sensible way, I’m not going to burn a candle for suddenly spending billions of dollars on a service between points that are difficult to reach physically and implausibly expensive in ticket prices compared to air. If we can’t get the fundamental engineering of rail right in this country with what we have, explain to me just how ready we are to socially engineer the desired result, and which parts of the revenue base of the entire country will be pillaged to built something relevant to its two richest states.

    Your fantasy views do not acknowledge the hard work that needs to come first. First fix the cities. Learn how to do the essentials. Create a willing public transport culture by rendering the dysfunctional functional.

  27. Venise Alstergren

    When I was ten years old I was given an encyclopaedia for teen-aged children. In it was a B & W image of a VFT. For some reason this image has stuck with me all my life. It was going to be a revolutionary train of the future, solve the vast distances of countries like Canada and Oz (it was an English publication, therefore former colonies of England were writ large). In another section there was another image of an overhead rail attached to a VFT.

    Were either of these transport miracles destined to appear in Victoria? Ha! When Henry Bolte-way back when-was premier of this foul state, he bent over backwards to accommodate General Motors. His greatest party trick was to terminate as many rail destinations as possible, thus forcing people to purchase a car.

    Today we see precisely the same attitude with premier John Brumby who is doing every thing possible to destroy-and to keep destroyed-anything which would compete with coal-generated power. Plus ça change plus ça la meme chose.

  28. Michael James

    Ben, It is like the 60s saying, if you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem.
    Sadly to say I do see the British disease in your writings. Lack of confidence and instead of thinking big, settle for the mediocre “pragmatic” compromise, that turns out to be the worst of all possible worlds. But as Burnham said about small mediocre plans (“Make no small plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood”) they are even more prone to failure because no one is passionate about them.
    At least one reason for supporting the intercity (tri-city) TGV (I would throw in the airport, it makes it more viable) is because the Feds can do it. Tackling Sydney public transport is a nightmare of local, state and fed politics and finances. Nothing can happen for years, and nothing will happen.

    But here is an extract about the Paris-Lyon TGV: “In total 1,2 billion people travelled on the TGV since its maiden trip back in September 1981 on the Paris-Lyon line. As a foretaste of things to come, Paris-Lyon was only 2 hours, city centre to city centre and the business and leisure worlds of both cities were brought together in closer proximity. ” I would point out that Lyon did not have a Metro at all when the TGV opened, and now it has a proper citywide underground Metro system. Doesn’t have to be one thing or the other. As Lyon showed, a single successful TGV line can transform public perceptions; this was the catalyst for fast train all over Europe, and now the world. It all traces to those fateful brave decisions by the French to go for it. Back in the 17th century the Canal du Midi was the Moon Program of the era and it too showed what could be done and it transformed Europe too. Unlike horrifically complicated city Metro systems, such a Canberra-Syd line is relatively simple, and could actually built quite quickly.
    David Marr was absolutely correct on QandA last night. We Australians are a timid fearful lot. But he said that once we have been guided to the future we accept it. (Perhaps he was thinking of multiculturalism?) We need such political guidance now more than ever before. It doesn’t look like we are going to get it.

  29. Ben Sandilands


    Like yourself I visited or was assigned to reside in France for various periods over many years, and went truant for two summers climbing in the French alps, but have been back only intermittently since the mid 90s. I saw the original TGV grow from a single deck train once every two hours I think to the current duplexes once every 15 minutes. And powered by electricity generated by nuclear fission too. I am not ‘timid’ by nature and could be described as positively enthusiastic about similar technologies in Australia, if we can work out a way to avoid bringing the entire country to its knees for two decades of national sacrifice to bring trip parity to say Canberra by rail compared to air. Neither air not the near miraculous completion of a fast rail half hourly service is going to make for trips faster than by car now for a whole range of destinations starting in various parts of Canberra and ending in greater or even lesser Sydney.

    I do however have a vision, or delusion, I would like to share, which is that by around 2020 Sydney will be gripped by such a crisis of decline related to transport and shipping infrastructure that a seriously empowered authority will be set up to ‘fix things’.

    This crisis will be triggered by the withdrawal of major business generators simply unwilling to put up with the nonsense of Sydney Airport’s inadequacy, and idiot ministers telling people to fly via some ridiculous airport four times as far away as say Narita is from Tokyo Central, and the collapse of essential utility services, including public transport. Once transport infrastructure collapses so does business activity, and with that state revenues.

    If soundly governed Melbourne and Greater Brisbane (including the 2015 Murwillumbah purchase and its amalgamation with the Gold Coast corridor) will feast on Sydney’s demise, and make sure that every solution proposed by the hard headed SFA or Sydney Fix All authority is completely starved of Federal monies and applied instead to their own well laid plans for growth and prosperity.

    Sydney will become a sort of dementia farm with beaches and a ghost CBD inhabited by inmates with an average age of about 70, hidden away as a national shame halfway between the Republic’s two largest cities.

  30. Venise Alstergren

    Rather than leaving a v stupid comment I am asking a couple of questions.
    1) Doesn’t the short distance between Melbourne and Sydney mean that the larger planes from achieving optimum height and cruising speed?
    2) The bigger planes need a huge amount of energy to land and take off?
    3) If the answer to the first two questions is yes, wouldn’t using those huge Airbuses increase the amount of pollution which already exists?
    4) Perhaps to the point where trains wil be less polluting than the plane option?

  31. Venise Alstergren

    PS: Sorry…’Melbourne and Sydney prevent the larger planes from using optimum height and cruising speed?

  32. Michael James

    Ben, alas I agree with your gloomy, almost apocalyptic scenario. However I don’t see how you figure Brisbane will be any better. Newman in league with the state have just blown maybe $15-20B or more on huge road projects. As was predicted (by yours truly and many others) this borrowing would have a consequence, and the first is now evident: the state government is in trouble and trying to sell the family silver (which I actually agree with, except they will probably just use it to build more roads or subsidize more desal plants.) The second flows directly: we cannot afford (or borrow) the big sums needed for the actual solution, so we are stuffed. My scenario for Brisbane (where I currently live) is that it will have to get much worse until enough people see where the only solution lies. Judging by Sydney, and the fact that there may well be a short-lived relief from the congestion for a year or two after the new tunnels and bridges open (or not, since it is not at all clear where all the extra cars sucked into them will eventually end up), it will take at least another decade maybe two.
    And actually the problem with your disaster scenario (and I say bring it on, if it leads to a conversion) is that the UK example shows that we manage to do just enough to avoid total meltdown. Not being prone to insurrection like the French, we will just grumble and bear it–and worst of all we use the worst of both British and American as our models!!!!!!!!!!! Of course they will vote out NSW Labor but is there a single person who thinks that will lead to better governance? This why I adopted a more aggressive approach to you in my recent posts. We have to rise up, especially those like you (& me) and scream from the rooftops about the real solutions.
    In the relatively short time since I (and you) left Oz to work o/s, these countries have built entire countrywide fast rail networks, and modest cities like Lyon and Lille and Toulouse have built entire (still ongoing of course) Metros. Even in the time I have been away from Paris, they have done the “impossible” and converted that city of aggressive car drivers into a city with an extensive and fairly safe cycleways. (Brisbane remains an utter joke but Newman still wants to install a Velib system even though it makes no sense without the bikepaths.) Honestly when I went through Bilbao 2 years ago, I felt humiliated and depressed to see that this quite small Spanish Basque city had a fully functional Metro, and a new tramway (not to mention the Guggenheim). That, and what the Spanish have done in quite short time, was the last straw for me. The arguments about budgets and affordability or economic viability are clearly just defeatist BS.

  33. james mcdonald

    A letter in Crikey’s comments from John Goldbaum on 3 June made a good point:

    “Kevin Rudd led his Opposition throughout 2007 talking about the need to lift productivity and the need to ease infrastructure bottle-necks. Labor should have had a list of infrastructure projects in mind before they won Government. They should have got them shovel-ready in 2008 instead of mucking around with talkfests. ”

    There’s another global economic crisis coming, and another and another, it’s just a matter of when. If big stimulus spending is to be the standard response to these, then we need to spend some time in the the intervening years doing the studies and planning so we’ve got some useful “shovel ready” projects good to go.

    Or do we just leave it until the last minute next time we’re standing here with a shovel in one hand and $40 billion in the other, and eyeing off some school buildings or perhaps some rocks and barrels of white paint?

    Do the studies for VFT and other rail projects, draw up the plans, the time to spend the (borrowed) money will come again before too long.

  34. james mcdonald

    And VFT just has so many advantages over the VLA proposal:
    – Run it off electric power stations, so it benefits from every incremental improvement in efficiency and sustainability
    – Switch to carbon-neutral algae-fuelled engines if and when the stuff becomes widely available
    – Train stations are far smaller and cheaper to site, build, and connect to, than airports
    – Faster than air for medium distances taking into account fixed time delays at terminals
    – Inspiration factor: Australians will feel proud of it even at a high cost
    – Scenery: passengers can have big windows and a panoramic view of Australian landscapes

    The incredible energy advantage of trains over other modes actually improves with the distance between stops and hills. Trains spend most of their energy accelerating up to travelling speed and climbing hills. Australia has lots of distance and not many hills. Once at travelling speed, the shape of a modern VFT creates very little air resistance. The nose breaks the air just once, and every carriage rides in the slipstream of the one in front–the same reason why cyclists cluster together in the Tour de France. Friction of the wheels on the rails is very low compared to the friction of tyres on a road.

    What that means, is that the energy cost of a 100km leg between stops is only a little bit more than that of a 50km leg, as long as there aren’t too many hills to climb. (And modern trains, if they climb hills, are able to reclaim some of that energy on the way back down by electromagnetic induction.)

    If ever there was a country made for rail, Australia is it. Most of the cities are arranged in a line close to the east coast, the distances are large, the hills few.

  35. Venise Alstergren

    MICHAEL JAMES: FWIW, I totally agree with what you’ve been saying. I don’t know where you live, but take everything you’ve been saying about Brisbane and Sydney, multiply by ten and voila! Melbourne.

    I’m too tired to go into it but the Premier of Victoria is one of the most deplorable premiers of Oz, and just now he has had his piccy taken, with the head of the VRC, having boosted the Melbourne Cup winnings for next year by half a million dollars.
    Just in case you can’t bear all the fun things about Melbourne; apparently the English queen is coming to Oz-or is it the other way around? And Brumby has yet made it known if he will entertain her or not. Can you put up with the mad excitement of it all? I am suffused with what? I wont say it I’ll only get edited.


  36. Ben Sandilands


    The Toulouse metro is more like the Docklands Light Rail, charming in a way but I wonder if a NSW rail planner was involved as some of the stations were made with platforms too short for more than two cars and this first line has outgrown its designed capacity very quickly.

    The second riot I ever saw in Paris was a huge demonstration over the poor quality of railway food. I felt for a moment that I have arrived in the bosom of a grand civilisation. But only for a moment, because the first riot had been one of the street insurrections inspired by Daniel Cohn-Bendit and they were bloody affairs.


    The A380 has an astonishing wing, which allows it to take off and land slower than other jets, and use less runway, even on a long haul flight. If the current version was fitted with 800+ economy seats and flown on domestic routes it could climb to any altitude up to its limit of 43,000 feet very promptly.

    One of things about larger aircraft is that when you divide the structural weight and fuel burn by the number of seats the efficiency of scale drives both metrics sharply lower. Such jets will be used by low fare carriers, and will tend to keep fares very low even if fuel costs go sky high in the years between the onset of peak oil scarcity and the validation of algal fuels , as some analysts predict.

    If private capital will fund a Sydney-Melbourne high speed rail, let it roll. But at the moment a privately funded airline can provide departures as close as 15 minutes apart for a tiny fraction of that investment, as they do today.

  37. Malcolm Street

    Recently I read (forget reference) that in comparing the energy consumption of high-speed long distance rail vs. airlines the lower energy consumption of rail is partly offset by the maintenance required on the rail system itself. IOW, for an aircraft while the airports are huge infrastructure and energy investments they are only needed at the destinations each end, while for rail you have a continuous ribbon of infrastructure the whole way that needs construction and maintenance.

    Personally I can’t see, to my regret, where high-speed rail would be viable in Australia, at least not unless energy prices are dramatically higher than now. (ie it might be viable in 20-30 years’ time). We simply don’t have the number of population centres close enough to make it viable. Sydney-Canberra has the distance, but not the population at the Canberra end. Melbourne-Sydney has the traffic, but the distance is too great for the train to be competitive in time with the airlines.

    Meski – agreed, far too little has been done with virtual meeting technology. Or telecommuting for that matter. This use of lots of energy for moving big lumps of meat around when what we’re moving around is ideas and communications contained in said meat is pretty silly :-). See what’s available in ten years’ time.

    James McDonald – climbing hills doesn’t matter as much as you’d think with energy consumption of electric trains because they can use regenerative braking on the way back down to convert some of the potential energy they’ve acquired climbing back into electricity. IIRC the TGV routes actually use some pretty steep gradients as it’s a higher priority to minimise the route distance by making it as direct as possible. Also with a high-speed train the proportion of energy use going to aerodynamic drag compared with hill climbing is going to be lot higher (remember drag goes up with the square of the speed, energy spent climbing stays constant)

  38. Michael James

    At this late stage, and for what it is worth, my final words.
    Ben, I have no real idea what your point about the Toulouse Metro or the comparison with the DLR was. The DLR, even if a typical short-sighted Brit penny-pinching decision (to avoid committing to full Underground line which finally came in the hyper-expensive Jubilee line extension), carries a lot of people. Like the Sydney monorail it cops a lot of criticism but it beats me why exactly. The monorail has 4M passengers per year, a success in any terms, and a very strong case for extending it to Circular Quay. Anyway, so Toulouse could not afford (in an uncharacteristic French budgetary constraint) to build the full deal and compromised on 2-car stations in the CBD–it is now upgrading those. So what? And did you notice that these trains can run as little as 65 seconds apart–anyone who has used Paris Metro knows that is not an idle or theoretical boast; equally anyone who uses London Underground, especially the busy Central, Circle and District lines knows that 65 seconds is more likely to be 650 seconds. Bottom line: so smaller cities have to start small and build, upgrade etc over time. The British way is to remain paralyzed (literally the case in the two towns I lived in, Oxford and Brighton) and do nothing.
    Malcolm Street and Ben and other naysayers. The economics arguments have been used endlessly by Australians to do nothing. They are false, just like Ben’s insistence that any TGV line must be built by private funds. Why? The problem is it is always cheaper to build any single road project (though some of these tunnels…) but after a decade of road/tunnel building in Sydney and now Brisbane, funny the congestion is still getting worse. The congestion cost to the economy and untold difficult-to-measure effects make the economic argument utterly empty. Ask California whether its neglect of public transport combined with its continuous growth, is sustainable. The real question is whether we can afford not to build such things.

  39. Ben Sandilands


    I’m not arguing against public transport. I’m arguing about the incompetent provision of public transport in Australia. It could have been an order of magnitude better for the same money had it been managed competently. Let’s get that right, and then move forward.

  40. Venise Alstergren

    BEN SANDILANDS: Thank you very much indeed for answering my question. I had just about given up.

    This very minute I’m going to print your comment.

    🙂 🙂 Cheers V 🙂 🙂

  41. Roger Clifton

    You guys didn’t give a reference to how the energy is collected for algal aviation fuel. By my rough calculations each GW of Australian aircraft would need something of the order of 100 km² of algal ponds. Are you for real?

  42. meski

    @Roger: Not a pond, more an ocean.

  43. Ben Sandilands


    Too rough. In an unguarded moment Billie Glover, the Boeing algal guru told a conference in Sydney that it would only be necessary to bury Belgium in algal ponds. Starting with Brussels.

    Mind you, if the reports about the chemical richness of the Gulf of Mexico or the aptly named Black Sea are correct, half the chemical feedstocks required are already conveniently in one place, where there are longer any other forms of marine life left to worry about.

  44. Roger Clifton

    About algal fuel….

    There is no doubt that photosynthesis is the most efficient means of harvesting CO2 from the atmosphere. However it is one of the least efficient methods of harvesting energy from the sun.

    For one thing, biomass as n[CH2O] has a lower energy content than transport fuel, n[CH2] . For another, the harvested material is composed of 90-99% water, which consumes energy to remove. Without outside power, an algal fuel farm returns most of its carbon as CO2 to the atmosphere and a minority of the carbon is sold as fuel. Considering that diesel is also used on the farm, the environmental value is questionable.

    If however, a (probably remote) algae farm were combined with a solar farm, the intermittent solar supplier would be provided with an intermittent consumer and the biomass n[CH2O] could be upgraded to aviation fuel n[CH2], or at least, dried refinery feedstock.

    When fuel refineries use nuclear sources of chemical hydrogen, the algal fuel would be partly energised by nuclear, but the carbon would be wholly sourced from the atmosphere.

  45. Robert Merkel

    A couple of comments:

    1) there is a lot of hype, and not yet a lot of substance, surrounding algal fuels. Until that substance is delivered it would be prudent not to get too excited about it.
    2) even if you run your aircraft on biofuel (or hydrogen), there is also concern that aircraft contrails cause significant additional warming effects. This can be avoided if you run your aircraft below the altitudes at which contrails form, but as you know that will increase aircraft fuel consumption.

    Taking those two factors into account, I wouldn’t be so certain that it will be possible to use aircraft in an environmentally benign way.

  46. Ben Sandilands


    Caution is a prerequisite in these things.

    Contrails however are widely misunderstood, especially some 40 years after methanol water injection was variously banned or phased out because of far more economical engine designs.

    The contrails you see from anything made in the past 20 years are caused by existing water vapour condensing on the nuclei provided by fine particles of soot. That is why they often appear to be discontinuous. No pre-existing water vapour, no contrail. Contrails do not appear at all in the intermediate technology tests of gas to liquid fuels…which are in themselves a dead end but useful as a preparation for algal fuels. The reason they no longer appear is that there is no soot produced by them.

    But there are still issues with the generation of nitrous oxides by jet engines. These emissions have been reduced in the latest designs but much more needs to be done, especially as they may continue to be a problem with algal blends and ultimately pure algal fuels. The difficulty is that really hot combustion processes can’t avoid burning nitrogen, hence emitting two types of nitrogen by products.

    It is important to engage public opinion enough to force the engine makers to lay off the green rhetoric and disclose the green metrics. Yes, the results are pretty impressive. But are we entitled to be ‘happy.’ Not yet.

  47. Purkaeus

    We are quickly running out of cheap oil and people still want to launch stinking oil-burning aircraft. Algal-grown octanes? Well, good luck with that. Twenty-plus billion barrels per year wouldn’t hurt… Hang on: actually, it would.

    And something to add to comments about the XPT: it’s not a VFT as such, but it is a locally-built variant of the fastest diesel train in the world, the British HST. Yes, this 200 km/h machine spends most of its time idling around the less than complementary colonial infrastructure of NSW.

  48. Christian Ryan

    The truth of the matter is this. The last time Australia properly in it’s railway infrastructure (i’m not talking about hard arsed extensions and spurs to suburban lines or poxy amounts of resleepering or double tracking) was back during the railway boom (~1870-1890) before the 1890’s depression.

    Sure we “over invested” and had a bit of debt to pay off. Sure there was a bit of wastage and a lack of prudent behavior by government, but what resulted from this killer amount of investment was lasting infrastructure that gave the impetus to help continue Australia’s growth.

    Railways aren’t known for the profitability. Heck, just about every private railway operator from the era went broke from competition from the sea. Nor are they known for their ability to be delivered on-time and on-budget. However the positive impact of railways in immeasurable. Sure Qantas, Tiger and the likes would be able cram 800 or so people into one of these giant flying walruses and make a profit. Compared to a railway line that costs ~$30/40bn or so, on the pure sum’s, railway doesn’t look like a good idea.

    The potential here as many people have addressed is to start to de-clog our cities. As the French did, create a cultural shift towards rail that will take time. The environment benefits are immense. Ben it doesn’t matter if your burning carbon from the ground or carbon from some algae, it’s still more carbon into the atmosphere – your only benefit is more price stability. At least with electrified rail, it can benefit from a (here’s hoping for) change in base load generation or at least a cleaning up of.

    Another point that might make all those feeling embarrassed at the current situation. Canada, the country that is so very similar to Australia is also stuck in the same time warp. Toronto + Montreal are closer than Sydney – Melbourne, have larger populations and both have very good metros (particularly Montreal…maybe its a french thing). They are still yet to build a VFT connection these two cities, all is a mid speed service

  49. Ben Sandilands


    Read the actual science. Starting with the GISS. The liberation of fossilised carbon through power generation is 80% of the problem according to James Hansen.

    Carbon that is harvested from the atmosphere is taken out and put back in short term carbon exchange cycles. Carbon liberated from coal and oil overwhelms the natural carbon exchange cycles, and adds to the thermal opacity of the natural greenhouse gas effect.

    Blurring the distinctions between the regular short term natural carbon exchanges and the abrupt and massive release of fossilised carbon by industry has provided the escape hatch for the government and its dishonest carbon reduction targets by allowing it to count reductions that mean zip, while ignoring the need to curb coal.

    When, or if, the history of this massive screw up is written, those who failed to make a careful distinction about where the excess of carbon is coming from will be exposed as populist fools, easily taken for a ride by the vested interests in fossil fuels.

  50. Ben Sandilands


    Explain to us the bit about declogging the cities of France. Or indeed any cities.

    Efficient public transport facilitates the dense settlement of cities. There has been no declogging in terms of density of habitation of any major city on earth I can think of which has integrated layers of public transport services.

    Not that I mind the consequences of this in my much loved Paris.

    Cities without adequate public transport, such as Los Angeles or Dallas, have dramatically unclogged in very sense except on the freeways. That is, the density of population has fallen to fractions of the levels of Paris, London or Tokyo through the sprawl we call urban decentralisation .

    If we look at LA or Dallas or even Kansas City it becomes apparent that the human response to the inconvenience caused by obnoxious driving conditions is to change the concepts of centralised work places. LA is more a collection of internet connected ‘silicon villages’ than ever before. No-one has a reference point in LA that equates to lower Manhattan.

    Melbourne and Brisbane can imitate LA or Kansas City, although I hope they don’t do so on a massive scale. Sydney cannot. The limits of the Sydney basin are now turning into urban prison walls, and it will decline until or unless it seriously addresses in metropolitan transport needs.

  51. Christian Ryan

    Thanks Ben for explaining the short term carbon cycles, I clearly hadn’t spent enough time researching it.

    On the point of de-clogging out cities (which i must admit sounds a bit ambiguous at face value). The fundamental design of all the Australian cities is “hub and spoke”. One principle CBD, one airport, one port and one central train station etc etc. From that all of the punters tend to generally live on out the burbs and the essential design is one where all roads tend to link to the city or the piece of critical infrastructure with few ring roads.

    For as long cities have this design, they are destined to grid-lock as LA does so famously. Government’s can respond by building more roads, they result is even more congestion, Braess Paxadox ensures this (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=removing-roads-and-traffic-lights).

    If we build rail efficiently with appropriate ring loops and trunk lines to feed a VFT system that is where the potential lies to reduce congestion. Sure more people might drive to their local train station, but that is a lot better than all those same people all heading for the airport. Even in insolvent California they have started to build a system (Google: California High Speed Rail) because the realization has occurred that the old model of more people, then more freeways and centralized infrastructure cannot continue to work.

  52. Ben Sandilands

    The really easy way to spare Sydney this effect in relation to Sydney Airport is to build another airport at Badgerys Creek, which is easily integrated into the motorway system given the proximity of the M7 and M4, and offers a low cost, that is predominantly surface option for a very useful new western suburbs heavy rail line either to connections at Parramatta or the likes, or best of all, leading directly into the unfinished portion of the Chatswood-Parramatta line.

    Ultimately, this route from the far western suburbs to Chatswood could be continued to the western side of the Sydney CBD via a much needed second harbour rail crossing.

    These opportunities are so comparatively inexpensive, and so easy to implement, that they will of course, never happen.

  53. Jennifer Hutchings

    This discussion is rather disappointing. It is just confirmation of the negative, and self deprecating and confidence sapping attitude prevelent here. Is there any mention of the body of knowledge that would be available after the construction of the first section; the stimulation of the trades and engineering professions here in Australia; the moving of goods and produce between the major ports by TGV style trains, removing so many heavy goods vehicles from the roads; the reinvigoration of country centres, putting their inhabitants within commuting distance of the major cities, and delivery of produce for retail outlets at a convenient time.
    Singapore Mass Rapid Transport, the equivalent in Hong Kong, Delhi and South Korea, market themselves as managers for the development of metros throughout the Asian market. It is so disappointing to note that any such enterprise never entered into the minds of our managerial classes here. Similarly the French are pushing themselves into a similar position for the building of TGV and light rail systems. It would be good to offer them some competition in this growing market.

  54. Ben Sandilands


    Very little freight travels by TGV. It is mostly on the autoroutes, or tollways.

    In part this is a function of lack of very fast trains across larger distances between countries in Europe. Going from say France to Poland or Belarus or southern Italy by rail remains an epic, and about ten times as costly as flying on Ryanair or Wizz or similar low fare carriers.

    Changing modes on large freight consignments is a costly business, and when it comes to more time sensitive consignments European air freight carriers like Cargolux similarly do it profitably for a fraction of the taxpayer underwritten rail networks.

    It is no good berating people for lack of vision when there is a functioning service which is in many instances faster, and always cheaper, and involves no public monies.

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