The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'infrastructure'
High-speed rail projects may be facing controversy in the UK and US, but have gotten a boost in two unlikely countries. Iceland, a country with no railways, is looking at building a high-speed railway line from Keflavík airport to downtown Reykjavík; the line would either be conventional high-speed rail or a maglev line (as seen in China), would cost ISK100bn (about £500 million), and would get passengers from the international airport in Keflavík to the BSÍ bus terminal in 20 minutes or less.
Meanwhile in Australia, the conservative federal government has committed to safeguarding a corridor for a Melbourne-Canberra-Sydney-Brisbane high-speed railway network, and raising the priority of the project (first proposed by the Gillard Labor government, after pressure from the Greens). This was somewhat surprising, given the Australian Right's hostility to public transport, passenger rail , infrastructure spending (it's socialism, you know, and if there's demand, the free market will step in; besides, the money would be better spent on lowering petrol taxes or given to voters in marginal seats to buy plasma-screen TVs with) and anything with a whiff of the latte-sipping inner-city trendy-left's concern about carbon emissions (because, you know, once you acknowledge the problem, it's only a matter of time before ordinary Aussie battlers may find their 4WDs and cheap flights to Bali taken away from them, and before long their diet of rump steaks is replaced with organic lentil stew and they find themselves being lectured on checking their privilege by a woman named Rainbow with dreadlocks and a nose ring or something).
Anyway, credit where credit's due; I tentatively laud the Abbott government's maturity at being able to get behind something like that, despite its un-Australian pedigree and the massive concession in the culture war it must have been, though, of course, the proof will be in what actually gets built and when.
Meanwhile in Australia, the right-wing opposition (and, at this point, almost inevitably the next government come September) has launched its alternative to the Labor government's National Broadband Network policy. It's an improvement on their previous policy (“rip it out, fill in the trenches and let the free market provide”), but nonetheless still falls well short. While Labor's network would bring high-speed fibre-optic connections straight to the home, giving 100 megabits per second (increasing to gigabit speeds), the Coalition's cut-rate plan would extend fibre only to boxes on the kerb, relying on a largely deteriorating copper infrastructure for the “last mile”, topping out at a theoretical 25 megabits per second (though that would be in ideal conditions; as with ADSL, distance from the node and cable condition would affect this). It would achieve this at about 2/3 of the cost of the all-fibre NBN. Or, the Pareto Principle: You're Doing It Wrong.
And while 25Mbps is an improvement on what we have now, and good enough for the sorts of things people do today (watching videos, shopping online, playing games), to say it will be good enough betrays a lack of imagination, or a deliberate narrowing of horizons that is all too familiar in Australian politics. Australia has always been the lucky country, borne at first on the sheep's back and now on Chinese demand for iron ore, which has led to a sclerotic apathy in terms of any sort of forward planning, in particular infrastructure and development. Combined with the stultifying conservatism of the Australian Right from Howard onwards, with its quasi-edenic visions of the conformistic white-picket-fenced utopia of the golden age of Menzies, the implicit message is clear: we are not Korea or Finland. We don't have a Nokia or a Samsung. We're a simple country. Our place in the world is to dig stuff up, put it on big ships and send it to China, and then to go home and relax in front of our big-screen TVs with a tinny of VB. That is all. It's a comfortable life, but we shouldn't get ideas beyond our station. All we need from the internet is to be able to shop online, pay the odd bill and download last week's episode of Jersey Shore a bit faster, and two rusty tin cans and a length of barbed wire fence is good enough for that. Well, that coupled with the sort of facile, nihilistically short-sighted anti-government rhetoric (infrastructure investment is “waste”; you can't prove it's not, so there) that the Abbott government-in-waiting has been borrowing from the US Tea Party.
The Coalition's policy has been roundly criticised by experts and mocked online as “fraudband”. However, all that means zip to the average outer-suburban swinging voters who get 100% of their information from the Murdoch press, right-wing shock jocks and/or 30-minute TV news programmes which are mostly sport, celebrity gossip and wacky human-interest stories, and who actually decide elections. So it looks like Australia, a country which coined the term “tyranny of distance” and was an early adopter of everything from telegraphy to mobile phones, will be stuck behind, paying off a 20th-century system and living much as the generation before them did, just because the bogans hate Julia Gillard.
British architect Lord Norman Foster has just posited plans for a huge new airport and transport development on an artificial island in the Thames Estuary. The development, to be named the Thames Hub, will include the aforementioned airport, high-speed and standard-speed rail links to London, the Channel Tunnel and the North, a container port, an industrial zone and a new Thames flood barrier and tidal energy generator.
Foster (who, among other commissions, worked on Hong Kong's decade-old airport, which is also built on an artificial island), chided Britain for having lost its taste for ambitious projects:
"We need to recapture the foresight and political courage of our 19th-century forebears, " said Foster on Wednesday, "if we are to establish a modern transport and energy infrastructure in Britain for this century and beyond."The plan has won a number of high-profile backers: industrial designer Sir James Dyson, of vacuum-cleaner fame, has backed it, and Boris Johnson (who proposed an island airport in the Thames to replace Heathrow) is in favour. However, not everyone is convinced; there are concerns that the Isle of Grain, which is to be subsumed beneath the artificial island, is both a fragile bird habitat (which would be annihilated by the airport), and a huge natural gas depot (which would pose a hazard), with additional threats posed by a sunken US warship, laden with high explosives. Also, while plans for a new airport are partly motivated by London's airports being close to capacity, some are saying that this can be better mitigated by replacing short-haul flights with high-speed rail; if there aren't all those flights departing from Heathrow for Manchester or Amsterdam, there'll be plenty of capacity for places like New York and Hong Kong. (Of course, high-speed rail suffers from all the Anglo-Saxon aversion to big projects even more than an airport would, given that one would have to placate or defeat the NIMBYs at every step of the way.)
The Russian government has approved plans to build a railway link to Alaska via a tunnel under the Bering Strait. The tunnel would be twice as long as the Channel Tunnel, and is also expected to run electric cables. Once it is completed, it is predicted that 3% of the world's freight would take the route.
Of course, there are many unanswered questions. The question of funding for the massive project remains unresolved, and there is the small matter of building a railway link all the way to the easternmost extent of Russia's isolated Far East, over thousands of kilometres of tundra. (The Trans-Siberian Railway does not come anywhere near the sparsely populated region, though a branch line to Yakutsk, a fraction of the way, is due for completion by 2013.) And, of course, US approval for a railway tunnel into its territory is still an open question.
The Australian federal government has published its phase 1 report (which may be found here) on possible routes for a high-speed rail line in the eastern states, connecting Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane. The report evaluates several possible corridors joining the cities, as well as the locations of stations, taking into account growth predictions, construction costs, challenging or environmentally sensitive terrain and proximity to facilities such as universities, hospitals and tourist areas and came up with a (somewhat broadly drafted) potential route, or rather a short-list of route segments.
The route will go up from Melbourne along a path similar to the existing Countrylink line and the Hume Highway, passing through Albury, Wagga Wagga, Canberra. From Canberra, it will either follow the Hume Highway or diverge via Wollongong and the coast, on its way to Sydney. From Sydney, the line will follow a fairly straight line to Newcastle, whence it will go either along the coast or slightly inland, with a recommended route taking in the Gold Coast on the way to Brisbane. The journey will take one hour between Sydney and Canberra, 1:50 between Canberra and Melbourne, and 3 hours between Sydney and Brisbane. Journeys are expected to cost between AUD99 and AUD197 for Melbourne-Sydney (in 2011 dollars) or slightly less for Sydney-Brisbane.
As far as stations go, some likely sites have been identified. In Sydney, the obvious one is Central, though pressure from wealthy NIMBYs in the northern suburbs may necessitate moving the terminus to Parramatta (which, despite being talked up as "Sydney's second CBD", would negate some of the advantage that high-speed rail has over air travel, i.e., directly connecting city centres). In Melbourne, the trains would either terminate at Southern Cross or at a new terminus in North Melbourne, with Southern Cross looking better. In Brisbane, the likely terminus is Roma St., whereas in Canberra, there is likely to be a through station, either in the centre or by the airport. For what it's worth, the report assumes that the system would be built to European specifications, and consist of trains running at 350km/h on lines capable of a theoretical maximum of 400km/h.
For what it's worth, there is a history of Australian high-speed rail proposals here. So far, no true high-speed services have been built in Australia, though systems linking the eastern capitals have been proposed in the past. The current proposal was commissioned by the Labor minority government, under pressure from their Green coalition partners, though now has nominally bipartisan support.
Sydney's status as one of the world's most liveable cities has recently been threatened by spiralling rents and property prices. In an attempt to turn this about, the New South Wales government has announced that it will pay Sydneysiders to leave, with eligible residents standing to get AU$7,000 to move to the countryside:
The one-off grants to move to country areas will be payable to individuals or families provided they sell their Sydney home and buy one in the country. The country home must be worth less than $600,000 (£390,000), something that won't be hard in most rural areas. It will cost the taxpayer up to $47m (£30m) a year.
As much as boosting regional areas, the scheme is also about making Sydney more liveable. The city's population is 4.5m and predicted to grow by 40% over the next 30 years, putting unprecedented pressure on infrastructure and housing.The government reportedly considered increasing the building density in Sydney to something approaching European levels for almost five minutes, before it was pointed out that doing so would be fundamentally un-Australian, and would violate Australians' rights to a house on a quarter-acre block with a two-car garage, which, much like Americans' right to bear arms, is sacrosanct and not negotiable.
It's not clear whether Melbourne (which is about as expensive as Sydney these days, making up for its lack of a spectacular harbour with a thousand funky laneway bars) will follow this lead and offer people money to move to Geelong or Moe or somewhere.
A few London transport map links: here there is a detailed, zoomable map of the London Underground and surface railways, showing the locations of stations (both operational and closed) and tracks.
Meanwhile, the Green Party's candidate for Mayor of London has an interactive map showing how far London's bicycle hire system would reach if it were the size of Paris's; which is to say, quite a bit further, particularly to the north and south. Perhaps it'd even be possible to live near a Boris Bike station without being made of money.
Obama Replaces Costly High-Speed Rail Plan With High-Speed Bus Plan. The buses will cost a lot less than high-speed trains and will rocket arong highways at speeds up to 165mph.
The problems of maintaining infrastructure in a country where carrying guns is considered a fundamental, God-given right: Google have had to invest in building expensive cable tunnels to an Oregon data centre after their fibre links kept getting shot down by idiots exercising their rights, by means of shooting at the white ceramic targets that have been conveniently placed for their benefit on overhead lines:
"Every November when hunting season starts invariably we know that the fibre will be shot down, so much so that we are now building an underground path [for it]."Google aren't by any means the only target of this kind of destructive stupidity: every New Year's Day and Fourth of July, US utility companies find themselves having to replace transformers which had been shot by idiots wanting to see cool sparks, and owners of roof-mounted antennas in rural parts of the US have a choice between to providing and maintaining alternative targets for trigger-happy passers-by, or having their (expensive) antennas get it. Still, that's the price one pays for liberty.
Of course, it may well be that the vast majority of hunters are responsible and law-abiding and never vandalise private property in this way, but that's irrelevant. As long as there's a minority, even a tiny one, of belligerent assholes who just like fucking shit up, and another minority of mostly responsible people who do dumb things from time to time after sinking a few Buds, and there's no way of taking these individuals' guns away if they misbehave because firearm ownership is an inalienable human right, the onus is going to be on data centres to bury their cables, property owners to provide targets for these assholes to shoot at, and electricity companies to keep replacing prematurely perforated transformers (and passing the cost on to the consumer).
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.
Under the new Tory/LibDem coalition government, Britain has become the first country to clamp down on airport expansion because of climate considerations; the government scrapped the third runway at Heathrow, and has committed to refusing Gatwick and Stansted new runways.
“The emissions were a significant factor” in the decision to cancel the runway-building plans, Teresa Villiers, Britain’s minister of state for transport, said in an interview. “The 220,000 or so flights that might well come with a third runway would make it difficult to meet the targets we’d set for ourselves.” She said that local environmental concerns like noise and pollution around Heathrow also weighed into the decision.The air travel industry is, expectedly, crying betrayal, while environmental activists are pleased, though uncomfortable with the decision coming from the despised Tories.
From what I understand it, the opposition to airport expansion was actually driven by the Tories, rather than having been grudgingly ceded to the Lib Dems. Could there be a Nixon-in-China thing happening here? New Labour, keen to not be mistaken for Old Labour, were anxious to avoid anything that seemed left-wing, such as opposing air travel. (It may not just have been Blairite triangulation; perhaps there was also a calculation that an ongoing age of cheap flights to credit-bought second homes in the Essex end of Spain, stag weekends in Estonia and Ecstasy-fuelled raves in the Balearics would keep the public's cool-Britannia love affair with New Labour burning, at least until the oil ran out.) The Tories, however, have less to prove as far as being pro-business goes, and can afford to pass by some of the more short-termist decisions.
A high-speed railway network is planned to replace domestic flights across Britain; it should be ready in about 20 years.
Here come flying cars; only a decade or so late:
The two-seater Transition can use its front-wheel drive on roads at ordinary highway speeds, with wings folded, at a respectable 30 miles per gallon. Once it has arrived at a suitable take-off spot - an airport, or adequately sized piece of flat private land - it can fold down the wings, engage its rear-facing propellor, and take off. The folding wings are electrically powered.Robot housemaids and three-course meals in pill form are still nowhere to be seen.
In other news, airships could soon be used for transporting freight, being faster than oceanic ships and cheaper than powered aircraft. While they're only talking about freight so far, I imagine that if you outfitted them with comfortable cabins, observation decks and satellite internet access, they'd be good for recreational travel as well.
As China expands its high-speed railway network and even the US, ideological home of the automobile, starts planning its own, people are once again talking about the prospect of high-speed rail in Australia. This article, for example, points out that the distances between Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney are comparable to distances in Spain, whose high-speed rail system has been spectacularly successful, and that the costs of building such a system would be a lot lower than the intimidating figures tossed around by naysayers:
But the best model for Australia to follow is Spain's, which has built two HST lines of 1161 kilometres linking Madrid to Seville (540 kilometres, opened 18 years ago) and Barcelona (630 kilometres). These distances, and as it happens the total population, served by the trains is quite comparable to the Australian SCM axis (see graphic). Based on the current French estimate of Euro 10 million/km ($A15 million/km) to build those lines today would be about $A17.4 billion; even allowing several billions more for stations and train sets it would be a struggle to spend even half the fictional $60 billion, perhaps $20-25 billion.
Contrary to misinformation concerning high speed rail in Australia, it is logistically, economically and even politically feasible. Australians are now receptive to such nation-building infrastructure, if only our politicians had the courage to sell the vision and could think beyond one or two electoral cycles. Economically it stacks up against continued spending on highway projects or hugely expensive airport upgrades, or the interminable wrangling over Sydney's phantom second airport. Dismissing the strategy of an expanded Canberra airport or a new one shifted closer to Sydney served by a 30-50 minute HST journey to the heart of Sydney and Canberra, is the same tired defeatism we have had for decades.The high-speed rail route would follow the existing Melbourne-Sydney route from Melbourne through to Albury, thence diverging eastward, passing through Canberra and Goulburn. A one-way trip between Melbourne and Sydney would take under five hours. (An eventual extension to Brisbane would theoretically take another five hours to traverse, though I imagine that they'd have to straighten the route out considerably from the existing one to achieve this; part of the high-speed rail formula is straighter tracks than conventional railways have.)
One interesting effect of high-speed rail in Australia would probably be the development of a commuter belt outside of the major cities, and corresponding relief for housing shortages (which are particularly acute in Melbourne these days). If Albury is 90 minutes away from Melbourne by train, it is just about conceivable that people might commute in from there. (The town of Seymour, on the existing Melbourne-Albury line, would be a mere 30-40 minutes from Melbourne by high-speed rail, and would be well poised to become a base for commuting to Melbourne.) Goulburn (and, eventually, Newcastle) could do the same for Sydney. There are precedents; one effect of the TGV lines in France is that towns on lines going to Paris have become parts of Paris' commuter belt.
Australia is probably better poised to develop large infrastructure projects than recession-hit Europe, currently floating on the (largely Chinese-fuelled) resources boom. Of course, knowing Australia (a place where short-termism and apathy rule even more than elsewhere), chances are high-speed rail will remain in the too-hard basket until the price of oil suddenly puts and end to $65 Virgin Blue flights, taking everybody by surprise because, while they might have known that oil prices were going to rise, they didn't expect it to actually affect them.