High Speed Rail – A vision for NOW!

Imagine having the opportunity to board a train at a station in Taree and one short hour later, arriving at Central Station in the heart of Sydney. 

Remarkable? Transformational? Well this is what a High Speed Rail line from Melbourne through Sydney and on to Brisbane would deliver. 

A fast train moving at the slower speed of 300km per hour would create so many traveling and transportation opportunities that it would transform the entire eastern seaboard. It would connect regional centres to the cities, in an unparalleled way, stimulate decentralisation, and rapidly grow regional economies.

Imagine the choices for work, recreation, and tourism that would result from being able to move about the country in such a rapid, safe and convenient, way.  

One Hour to Sydney

People could travel to and from work in Sydney on a daily one hour commute, (something which happens now in many parts of the world). This would encourage many to escape our congested capital cities for a better lifestyle, freeing up housing and lowering prices.

The tourism opportunities would be extraordinary.

As a child of the 1960’s and a product of the 70’s living in Sydney, I grew up within the spectre of public transport. From the age of nine, I became familiar with independently travelling on Sydney’s red rattlers and from the age of twelve, in 1966, I was initiated into the daily commute of travelling on a train to and from High school for the next six years of my life, as did so many other students. 

So perhaps it is little wonder that I am a keen supporter and an advocate for public transport, as it can be a simple, highly efficient and pleasant means of mass transportation in a very cost effective way.

So it surprises and disappoints me when the rest of the civilised world has so rapidly and overwhelmingly embraced High Speed Rail (HSR)  while we in Australia still do not have an HSR system to connect our major capital cities, not even on the eastern seaboard, nor is the subject being considered seriously on the national agenda. 

Late last year the NSW Government did raise the prospect of High Speed Rail to connect some of the nearby regional centres, which is a step in the right direction, but the commercial realities of their proposal are very limiting. Only a HSR line from Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane would really be commercially viable and offer necessary travelling options. 

There was a time before cars became so much cheaper to buy in Australia, that the only reasonable way of getting around was by rail. Now air and road transport have not only superseded rail, but they have made it a far less fashionable form of transport. Yet the irony is, that all around the world, rail continues to grow, and has had a massive revival through the introduction of High Speed Rail to efficiently connect major, regional and even remote centres to cities.

High Speed Rail is not just the technological plaything of the European countries of Germany, France and Spain, there are now more than twenty countries around the world that are using High Speed Rail for mass transportation, including Turkey and China, which may have come to the party late, but now in a short span of 10 years is leading the world. 

China has by far the longest HSR network of over 25,000 kms, consisting of four major vertical HSR lines and four horizontal lines that dissect the country into a chess board. China is now the clear world leader in the application of High Speed Rail.

Even those gas guzzling Yanks have now embraced High Speed Rail, spending in excess of $1 billion investigating a route from Los Angeles to San Francisco, a distance of 560Km which is suggested to have at least a ratio of 4 to 1 economic benefit on investment.

And before the knockers and cynics jump in, consider that most first world governments around the world have High Speed Rail set high on their agendas; even the dear old UK is planning high-speed train connections between Manchester-Birmingham-Leeds and London.

And before the cynics bring out the population card, smaller countries like Ireland (4.7M), Finland (5.5M), Austria (9M), Sweden (10M), Portugal (11M), Belgium (12M) and Netherlands (17M) all have High Speed Rail.

Whether it was our isolation from the world, or our geography, our climate, our genealogy or something magic in the pristine air that we breathe, but historically Australians have been extraordinary pioneers, inventors, creators,  innovators and adaptors of exceptional circumstances and harsh conditions, and we have also been particularly good at embracing technological innovation. Yet when it comes to High Speed Rail we are not even on the starting blocks. 

It seems that in the past 30 years in Australia there has been a philosophy, perhaps promoted by governments that continually disappoint and make excuses why things can’t get done, that we have become so disillusioned, so cynical and despondent that the natural response to High Speed Rail has been to look at the negatives – why it can’t be done, rather than how we can get it done!

High Speed Rail is essentially a steel train track and a bunch of carriages (cars) being pulled or moved by a fast prime mover – or what used to be called a locomotive.  Fundamentality the High Speed Rail concept is the same. It is just the technology to operate at high speeds that has changed. 

The Chinese managed to build and operate the Shanghai to Beijing High Speed Rail line within in three years, a distance of over 1300km with trains running at speeds well in excess of 300km per hour.

Japan’s ‘Shinkansen’ or the ‘Bullet Train’  between Tokyo and Osaka, a distance of 515km has been operating since 1964. Over these 54 years the Shinkansen has now built up speed to over 300Km per hour and covers the distance in 2 hours and 22 minutes (including the stops).

Once ,whilst on a business trip to Japan, I had to travel from Osaka back to Tokyo after having flown from Tokyo to Osaka several days earlier. I found the train trip very pleasant, fast, safe and far more comfortable than being squashed on a domestic airflight. 

All up the Shinkansen was much faster than travelling by plane, as the trip to the airport took over one hour, we had to wait to board for 40 minutes, and the flight took 70 minutes,  then we had disembark and wait for our luggage for a further 30 minutes followed by an expensive taxi trip from the airport to our hotel which also took over one hour. All up 4 hrs and 20 minutes. Whereas travelling on the Shinkansen and the subway, from hotel to hotel was only 3 hours. The interesting thing was we didn’t even have to book, as trains were running practically every 15 minutes from Osaka to Tokyo. You just had to show up and buy a ticket and there was no price gouging as in the airline industry where the price of a ticket can fluctuate from hour to hour.

What is truly amazing looking back now, is that I made this trip in 1986.

These days the more modern high speed trains are all travelling well over 320 km per hour.  Which would mean that where a trip on the XPT from Taree to Sydney which currently takes 5hrs and 20 minutes, would take one hour (including several stops) on a High Speed Rail train. 

High Speed Rail Study

In 2013 at a cost of over $10M, the Australian Government published a study for a High Speed Rail line between Melbourne and Brisbane. This study was quite detailed and it nominated all the stations along the proposed route. This proposal included a Station in the MidCoast Council area just outside of Taree.

A high speed rail system linking Melbourne through Sydney and onto Brisbane would be transformational to Australia. It could be the 21st century nation building project, that not only reinvigorates our economy; facilitate the decentralisation of our capital cities thus releasing the pressure on housing (and prices)  but it would also transform our regional centres and the allied local industries.

Tourism would dramatically change and we could forget about marketing that weird name ‘Barrington Coast’,  as the name of the local railway station would quickly become the dominant brand name.

People from Melbourne could come up to Forster, or the Manning Valley for the weekend as it would only take four hours on a fast train. People from the MidCoast area could travel down to Sydney to see a show or a football match and be back home it time to watch the replay.

Several years ago, I was invited by some relatives living in Melbourne to join them over Easter for a family camping holiday along the banks of the Murray River near Albury.  We left the Manning Valley in temperatures of 28 C and arrived after a 9 hour trip in darkness at the nominated meeting spot. 

The next morning when we woke we were shocked to see that we were surrounded by over 15,000 Victorians who had driven over four hours to escape Melbourne, for the warmth of the Murray River, where the maximum daily temperature never exceeded 20 C for the four days that we were there. 

In that same four hours of travel by High Speed Rail these Victorians could have been enjoying the warmth of the MidCoast area and our pristine camping locations.

High Speed Rail would totally revolutionise tourism on the Eastern seaboard, and the regional towns and cities along the rail line would all benefit and prosper. 

According to the World Economic forum,  at 350 km/h, China’s new Fuxing trains have become the world’s fastest bullet trains, shaving an hour off the 1318 km journey between Shanghai and Beijing.

These new trains put China back in the lead for the fastest trains in operation. 

However, while such speeds are no doubt impressive, Japan still holds the world record. With a top speed of 603 km/h in testing, Japan’s SCMaglev train puts others in the shade. Its standard maximum operating speed is however slower than the Fuxing trains at 320 km/h.

France’s TGV also has the capacity to hit greater speeds (575 km/h), but is likewise limited to 320 km/h in normal operation.

India has also announced plans to join the bullet train game. Work has started on the high-speed line between Gujarat to Mumbai, which is expected to open by 2022.

At speeds of up to 350 km/h, it will cut journey times from eight to just three hours.

The $19 billion project will be partly funded by a Japanese loan.

Condé Nast’s List of the 10
Fastest Trains in the World

Traveling in Europe by train is already faster than by plane right now, and Japan is testing a “Supreme” version of its popular high-speed trains, set for a 2020 debut ahead of the next Winter Olympics.

1. Shanghai Maglev: 431 kph

The world’s fastest train isn’t the newest, the shiniest, the Maglev runs the nearly 19 miles from Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport to the Longyang metro station on the outskirts of Shanghai. 

2. Fuxing Hao CR400AF/BF: 400 kph

China wins again, also serving as home to the world’s fastest non-maglev train currently in service. The name “Fuxing Hao” translates to mean “rejuvenation,” and each of the two trains have been branded with nicknames: CR400AF is “Dolphin Blue,” and the CR400BF is “Golden Phoenix.” The “CR” stands for China Railway. Both take just under five hours to zip up to 556 passengers each between Beijing South and Shanghai Hongqiao Station, 

3. Shinkansen H5 and E5: 360 kph

Japan is celebrating the 54th anniversary of high speed rail his year, since it was way back in 1964 that the Hikari high-speed train launched service between Tokyo and Osaka, cutting travel time between the country’s two largest cities from seven hours to a mere four by rail. The H5 and E5 series Shinkansen, respectively running the Tohoku and Hokkaido services, are two of the newer bullet trains on Japan’s tracks, and so far the fastest in regular commercial service in the country.

4. The Italo and Frecciarossa: 354 kph

Italy’s duelling train operators, NTV and Trenitalia, each flaunt a high-speed train that tie as Europe’s fastest, capable of shuttling passengers from Milan to Florence or Rome in under three hours. The Frecciarossa, or “red arrow,” was unveiled during Expo 2015, held in Milan, and the train is remarkable as much for its speed as for its construction; its components are nearly 100 percent renewable and sustainable.

5. Renfe AVE: 349 kph

Spain’s fastest train is the Velaro E by Siemens, and it is used for long-distance services to major Spanish cities and beyond: traveling from Barcelona can now be accomplished on high-speed rail in six hours.

6. Haramain Western Railway: 349 kph

The Mecca-Medina high-speed link stretches the 450 miles between Saudi Arabia’s most holy cities. Traveling the length of the route takes two and a half hours, compared to five hours by car. Speed isn’t the entire justification for the construction of this railway, however; the Haramain is expected to carry three million passengers a year, including many Hajj and Umrah pilgrims, relieving traffic congestion.

7. DeutscheBahn ICE: 330 kph

The distinctively futuristic white and silver of the Inter-City Express, or ICE, combined with its sharp red cheatline, makes an impressive sight speeding through scenic German countryside. Similar to Spain’s Renfe AVE train, Germany’s fastest train is another Siemens design, the Velaro, and was built to fit through the Channel Tunnel. That’s a serious asset for DeutscheBahn’s long-term plans to operate these trains from Frankfurt to London.

8. Korail KTX: 330mph

South Korea’s high-speed rail network is far from the newest (the KTX debuted in 2004), but it does hold its rank among the fastest. The latest route, opened for the 2018 Winter Olympics, connects Incheon to the coastal town of Gangneung in the east, stopping in Seoul along the way. The KTX cuts the transport time to reach the ski slopes of from six hours by conventional train to under two hours.

9. Eurostar e320 and TGV: 322 kph

Both the TGV and Eurostar e320 trains are tied for next on the list, but the latter underwent a redesign in 2015. Named for its top speed of 320 km/hr, the e320 series is the first tip-to-tail redesign of a Eurostar train in the company’s 22-year history. The speedier trains—20 km/hr faster than the earlier, e300 series—are capable of trimming another 15 minutes off the already zippy Eurostar trips of around two hours between Brussels, Paris, London and Amsterdam. Since Eurostar delivers its passengers right to the centre of each city and fares are available with Rail Europe from $70 one-way, it’s a wonder anyone still flies between the cities.

10. Thalys: 300 mph

Connecting  Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, and Cologne with multiple daily services, the Thalys is one of Europe’s most important train lines for both leisure and business travellers; in fact, its ridership is almost an even split between the two categories.

Benefits of High-Speed Rail

According to the American Public Transportation Association implementing high-speed rail (HSR) will provide Americans with more transportation choices. 

It will also make sure that America remains an economic engine, and meets the environmental and energy challenges of this century.

Investing in high-speed rail:

Creates Jobs:

Building high-speed rail will create hundreds of thousands of jobs. Every $1 billion in investment creates 24,000 jobs. These are highly skilled jobs that will revitalize the domestic rail industries supplying transportation products and services. Many additional jobs are created through the commerce fostered through the economic activity and development which they spark.

Increases Economic Activity:

Every $1 invested creates $4 in economic benefits. Upgrading passenger operations on newly revitalized tracks, bridges and rights of way is spurring

business productivity along corridors. The rail services will connects economically vital regions and helps to keep them mobile, productive,

efficient and internationally competitive. HSR also expands visitor markets and tourism while increasing visitor spending.

Reduces Congestion and Boosts Productivity:

Congestion on our nation’s roads costs billions in lost time and productivity. The Australian population is projected to grow to 49M, nearly doubling by 2066.

The population growth is creating mega cities that will not prosper unless they can be freed from the stranglehold of highway and airport congestion. At the same time, on the Eastern Seaboard we cannot build enough highway capacity or airport runways to meet demand.

Reduces the Nation’s Dependence on Foreign Oil:

Implementing high-speed rail will keep billions of dollars in the Australian economy by decreasing the amount of foreign oil that we consume. 

According to the International Association of Railways (UIC), high-speed rail is eight times more energy efficient than airplanes and four times more efficient than automobile use. It will also decrease greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality.

Expands Travel Choices and Improves Mobility:

High-speed rail can deliver people from one downtown to another as fast as or faster than air travel. The addition of HSR as an integrated part of Australia’s

transportation system will help airports work better and highways work better. 

It will also expand options for residents in rural and small urban communities

with increased transfer points and feeder services that connect with new HSR corridors.

New Urbanisation

The opening of high-speed rail lead to a new type of urbanisation. With the increase of the passenger flow on many high-speed railway lines, small and medium-sized towns, which are previously unknown or well-known, have become the hot spots to attract people.

Life Changing

In addition, high speed rail enables people’s radius of life and scope of activity to be expanded and broadened, and gradually changes their life style and rhythm, creating new careers and opportunities.

With an aging population, high speed rail opens up opportunities in retirement and makes life far more enjoyable as it provides easier access for travel to major centers for recreation, tourism, family access and things such as medical treatments. 

How to make it happen.

What is necessary is a collegiate approach between the Commonwealth Government, the Victorian Government, the  NSW Government and the Queensland Government as well as a number of Councils to jointly address this nation building opportunity.

It is time these Governments all got their act together on a project of real substance and national significance to reinvigorate our regional area and one that would transform our economy and our way of life.

Peter Epov.

Peter Epov with his son Nicholas about to board the Shanghai Maglev in 2014.

Peter Epov on the Shanghai Maglev in 2014 pointing to the current speed 430km

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We asked our train aficionado friend, Tim Fischer for his thoughts. . . Ed.

The Bulge of Greater Sydney could be easily solved.
Two 800 kms corridors in Eastern Australia await the arrival of High Speed Rail (HSR) with impatience, namely Newcastle to Beaudeset QLD and Bowral to Seymour VIC via Greater Wagga Wagga.

So long as strong planning orders are maintained, eg around Taree and a hub station near the Taree Airport, allowing clusters of well planned medium density housing but no ribbon sprawl, HSR is a very real environmentally friendly solution.

Most likely the HSR route would run direct from Hexham near Newcastle to East Taree, then east of the great underrated Comboyne Plateau to a super hub station near Port Macquarie Airport. Logically the hub Station at East Taree would be called the Co after Bruce Cowan ex MP but also other Cowans who have done so much to boost goals for the Manning Region!

Shinkansen in Japan has been operating safely and successfully for over five decades, around the 240 kph average and new lines even faster. TGV in France has been operating since 1971, also ICE Germany, AVE Spain and Harmony China are now all performing very well this century. Many key routes are operationally profitable, others subsidised for regional growth purposes.

Australia could have had HSR before the Sydney Olympics but instead has stuffed around with the result that a choke point of epic proportions exists for rail and road between Sydney and Newcastle. Further, the convoluted Sydney-Newcastle-Brisbane standard gauge mainline still gets lost around Dungog and Gloucester with horrific curves and steep grades, even though a transport corridor direct Taree-to-Hexham exists.

Timings

On any careful assessment, Taree Newcastle would be 28 minutes by HSR, on to the Sydney Super Hub at Homebush or Central, another 55 minutes, so less than 90 minutes Taree-Sydney. Heading north there would only be four stops to the QLD border and less than two hours into South Brisbane if not to a revamped Roma street station.

Imagine the commute and extra business plus tourism that would flow to the Manning region from such fast HSR rail connections! No longer flights that on occasions were scheduled as triangle agony efforts via Port and so forth.

For want of a better term the corridor could be called the Akubra corridor as a salute to the Kier family and the Kempsey factory. Still it’s positive impact would be enjoyed right along the full length of the corridor.

Full steam ahead and indeed as my book Steam Australia, out now, shows what was good in the past, the many HSR books today show what can be done on the modern rail front, in the future, and the sooner the better!

Tim Fischer AC 

(Author – “Steam Australia; Locomotives that Galvanised the Nation” National Library of Australia.) 

One Response to High Speed Rail – A vision for NOW!

  1. Michael says:

    Its never going to happen in Australia. Never. We are a corrupt hill billy backwater. Look at the F3 / M1. 4 years to add 20 odd kms of 1 extra lane.
    2 years to add a set of traffic lights at Beresfield and its still a dogs breakfast with the by pass project running now for 20 years with hundreds of millions spent. With still no plan.
    Look what Russia did in 2.5 years.
    https://www.rferl.org/a/aerial-images-show-extent-of-kerch-strait-bridge-construction-updated/28675651.html

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