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Travelling the World part 5 - High Speed Trains a Possibility for Australia

 article about Travelling the World part 5 - High Speed Trains a Possibility for Australia

This article belongs to Travelwise column.

This article belongs to Technology (in 50 years) theme.

Australia must be one of the world's few economically developed countries that has not as yet seen the development of a high-speed railway network; the reason for the lack of such a system being a lack of Government initiatives, a lack of vision in terms of what is possible in railway development, a large country with a reasonably small population and last but not least, entrenched vested interest by those making the decisions.

However, the Australian overall complacency may well be about to come to an end as fuel costs rise and as economic realities begin to take their effect.

In order look at the prospects of HS rail in Australia one must first look at how Australian railway systems have developed over the years.
Australia is a large country and until not all that long ago, the country had numerous railway systems, all with different gauges and all developed first along British lines and subsequently, along US lines.
While this may have been sufficient in years past, modern realities dictated that the country needed a one-gauge system to move people and freight around the place, an objective that has only partially been achieved.
Most of Australia's main railway lines are either old, badly redeveloped, or totally inadequate in terms of being able to cope with modern requirements.
Australia has also developed a highly sophisticated road transport industry that has major influence in political circles.

Hence, Australians now have a totally inadequate rail system, a totally inadequate road and highway system and an airline system that is a long way from perfect.

So, let us now look at the options in terms of the first HS rail proposal the two biggest Australian cities Sydney and Melbourne with Canberra, Australia's capitol more or less in between the two.
The current, steam-era, railway line between Sydney and Melbourne is about 1,000 kilometres long twisting and curving through both flat and elevated country touching main regional centres such as Goulburn, Wagga Wagga, Albury and Seymour along the way.
High speed is not possible and the maximum speed able to be run is 160 kph and that only by a train called the XPT which is more or less the same as the the British HS125. The train runs at 160kph only on very short sections of line.
Freight traffic along the lone has a maximum speed of 120kph.
The branch off the main line that goes to Canberra is single track and on some sections the maximum speed is 30 kph, a disgrace considering that Canberra is Australia's capitol.
Travel times between Sydney and Melbourne is about 10 hours or a bit less on an XPT train while freight trains, with a clear path take about 12 hours to run between the two cities.

The new thinking is to construct a high-speed line between Sydney and Melbourne via Canberra and the various major regional centres along the way. Sydney-Canberra would take 1 hour 20 minutes, Sydney to Melbourne would take just under 4 hours. Passenger trains would run at 300kph while freight trains would run at 200kph which is more than within modern design capacity of current railway design capabilities.
The difference between Australia and other countries is that in Australia, some of the track would be at slight elevated levels in order to keep the wildlife off the track.
Some tunnelling would be required, some major bridge structures would have to be constructed and some 'cut-and-cover' would be required.

Commercially, the line running with both passenger as well as freight train would be more than viable and would be more than able to compete with both air as well as road transport.
In fact, there would not be too much time difference between air and HST modes when one takes the 'on the ground' and to and from factors into account.
In Australia's case, the problem with the proposal is one of the usual bungling of major projects and lack of vision in both the bureaucracy and Government circles.
Some within Australia, mainly those who make the political and technical decisions, would rather patch up bits of an old out-of-date network that will cost large amounts of money rather than construct a new one at a portion of the total funds required.
The other problem in Australia is one of a total lack of creative thinking in design terms leaving the country well behind comparative countries in design, construction and implementation terms.

Perhaps that might now all change. We hope so.

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