This article belongs to And That's the Way It Is column.

While there currently is a lot of talk in Australia and even more waffle from the Australian Greens Party, proposals to construct a high-speed rail system between Melbourne-Sydney-Brisbane are not new. They are in fact about thirty years old and they certainly did not come from the Australian environmental lobby or the Greens. The drivers of HST in Australia and the associated research were in fact the then Australian Transport Study Group (ATSG), a group of transport researchers, planners and other interested and forward-thinking people.

At that time, Australian Governments thought such proposals and other ATSG initiatives were much too advanced for Australia and, apart from one fairly basic study, nothing was ever contemplated any further. The ATSG members took their expertise overseas with the result that Europe and some Asian countries, including China, reaped the benefits of some very advanced research that was done both in Australia as well as in France and Germany. The estimated cost lack of Australian HST and other more advanced rail initiatives in the early 1980s can be estimated to be in the the region of about $87billion in both lost productivity as well as wasted resources in terms of wasted fuel and time considerations.

The Australian ATSG HST research revolved around an advanced version of the French TGV concept which was making its initial entry impact in France turning the notion of the country's rail system into a whole new concept in terms of savings and fuel consumption reduction levels. The early TGV system, a bit crude in its initial form this given the then available French technology, has since progressed into an advanced high-speed rail network spread across France and other parts of Europe. The Japanese and the Chinese have also since developed their own versions of high-speed rail and a number of other, less developed countries are also now looking at implementing such systems, one of the reasons being that the technology, including the ATSG technology, has now advanced to a level whereby constructing high-speed rail corridors is now a fairly simple science.

In Australia, the introduction of high-speed rail would have to be based on the notion of connecting Brisbane-Sydney and Melbourne in two or three sets of developments being the basic Sydney-Canberra-Melbourne corridor, Sydney-Newcastle-Brisbane corridor and then the associated interlinking system between the various airports and other main traffic collection and generating points. An Australian version would cater for both passenger as well as freight traffic with passenger trains running at 350kph and freight running at 220kph on separated but interconnecting track systems. The Sydney-Canberra-Melbourne system would run along the path that was established during the initial ATSG research except for the Brindabella corridor which would instead of going around the Brindabellas would go through the region, mainly by tunneling underneath. Regional centres such as Goulburn-Wagga Wagga-Albury/Wodonga and Seymour would be served along the way. The Brisbane-Newcastle-Sydney route would use similar technology and route structures and would serve main coastal regional centres along the way. In the longer term, the Australian HST would interlink with greatly improved non-HST corridors as to improve passage to and from regional centres in terms of time as well as infrastructure provision both for freight as well as passenger facilities. All power generation to run these systems would come from advanced sources of energy collection.

Systems such as the HST are not cheap and the technology, while simple these days, is expensive to implement. However, in terms of economic cost/benefit aspects the total break-even point between construction and breaking-even in total financial costs would be 15 years in passenger terms. If the freight benefits are added in terms of fuel savings alone, let alone point to point time savings then one will be able to cut the break-even point by 50%.

So, in total terms, Australian high-speed rail proposals are not new and they are certainly not a new invention by any political entity including the Australian Greens. The only difference being between the 1980′s ATSGs proposals and the current ones is that countries other than Australia have since developed high-speed rail into an art form mainly based on French, German, Japanese and now Chinese planning and development work that often still includes planning and design work carried out by the then ATSG members.

In all, Australia has a clear choice. It can maintain its current resources-wasting and underdeveloped rail-trends which, in the longer term will cost the country billions, or it can get the transport system it needs and is certainly capable of producing.

My name is Henk Luf.

That's The Way It Is.