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.

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

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.

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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.

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