The Null Device

Melbourne-Sydney in 3 hours by rail?

A new study has raised the possibility of a high-speed railway connecting Melbourne and Sydney in three hours The study, commissioned by a lobby group named Infrastructure Partnerships Australia (not connected with the right-wing thinktank of the same initials) and undertaken by the consultancy also involved in France's TGV network and Britain's HS2 plans* claims that the train link, built with state-of-the-art technology, could achieve the time by running at 350km/h, at which it would become competitive with airlines (Melbourne/Sydney is one of the world's busiest air routes), and forecasts an 86% chance that such a link would be needed by 2030 (presumably the end of cheap oil would make $60 Virgin Blue flights a thing of the past). While such a route would take a while to build, starting with a line from Sydney to Canberra would be immediately economical, as it would save the $15 billion cost of building a new airport for Sydney.

The government has made noises about being supportive of a high-speed rail link, having committed $20m to a study. The question is whether any action will emerge from it. The report strongly suggests safeguarding land corridors now before the price of the land rises.

In any case, I can't say I'm confident anyone alive today will see a high-speed rail link between Melbourne and Sydney; Australian politicians and planners have a tendency to take a lackadaisical, short-term view and muddle through with band-aid fixes, so it wouldn't surprise me if nothing happens until it's too expensive to build the link, and when air travel becomes unaffordable, the bulk of Melbourne-Sydney traffic is taken up by convoys of 11-hour trains saturating the current (low-speed) rail link. But hey, perhaps they'll at least install power points and WiFi on the trains once they're used by business travellers and not just backpackers and the rural elderly.

* Presumably they mean the New Labour HS2 plans, which have now been scrapped, to be replaced by an as yet undrafted plan which doesn't adversely affect wealthy Tory boroughs and which terminates at Heathrow.

There are 4 comments on "Melbourne-Sydney in 3 hours by rail?":

Posted by: Greg Sun Sep 19 13:28:06 2010

This is the kind of infrastructure project Australia used to engage in fairly regularly: examples include the Snowy scheme, the phone network, and Depression-era economic stimuli such as the Great Ocean Road.

Starting with a Sydney-to-Canberra link is a clever idea for another reason: a lot of passengers on that commute are politicians, lobbyists, and executives from private enterprise who have links to the federal government. If these people utilized the first Australian fast train, it might increase the likelihood of subsequent rollouts.

Posted by: richard k Mon Sep 20 08:18:26 2010

Having spent quite a bit of time travelling around Europe, I hope this will aid the decentralisation of Victoria, in particular. Otherwise, my choking city will be suffocated with urban sprawl (moreso) from here to Geelong in the west, to Coldstream in the east. Aside from the obvious benefits of being able to travel between Melbourne and our dingy northern neighbour, the decentralisation is a far more exciting possibility and one more crucial for the 'sustainability' of Austraya.

Posted by: acb Mon Sep 20 08:40:52 2010

If Australia had TGV-style fast rail, towns within an hour or so of Sydney and Melbourne would become commuter towns, in the way that French towns that distance from Paris have. Which would lead to developers buying land in Seymour and Goulburn and building developments intended to attract professional commuters from Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra.

Posted by: Greg Tue Sep 21 12:15:44 2010

I wonder what it would be like to move to a future commuter-town? It would be similar in some ways to living in, say, Coburg or Preston, which are commuter suburbs. Some Victorian regional towns are pretty nice - Bendigo and Kyneton for example. With a decent cafe, broadband Internet and all that fresh air and lack of traffic, the move sounds pretty appealing. I wonder if this is the same seductive but flawed reasoning that led my parents' generation to move from the inner city to the suburbs?