Imagine the rail trip from Canberra Train Station to Sydney Central taking just two and half hours? Point to point, and for sheer comfort, rail would be competitive with air travel.
Of course, as things stand the current train time from Sydney to Canberra takes over four hours – considerably longer than the time to drive by car or coach. Many in the Canberra community and along the train route have expressed to me their concern that this is disadvantaging those who would prefer to travel by train, and leads to additional congestion on the roads.
Following a strong campaign from Canberrans, Guillermo Martinez Acero, from Spanish rail company Talgo, travelled to Australia last week to meet with me and community members. Senor Martinez Acero brought with him an intriguing and exciting proposal – Talgo is prepared to pay for one of their trains to be brought to Australia and tested on the existing tracks.
Talgo was making this offer, he said, because they are very confident that their product can almost halve the journey time. Their confidence is based on having worked with several other jurisdictions, including the United States and India, to provide an option which upgrades the rolling stock, without needing to spend significant sums on track upgrades.
We’d all love a high speed rail line, which would upgrade the track and reduce the journey time to an hour or so. But if that isn’t feasible, then we shouldn’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good. Now is also a good time to upgrade because the current rolling stock, purchased by the New South Wales government in 1983, will likely need to be replaced in the coming decade or two. If we can’t have a super-fast bullet train on new tracks, let’s at least cut the journey time down by using a higher-speed train on the existing tracks.
Although it is early days, Talgo’s visit to Canberra highlights the range of affordable options available for the NSW government to shorten rail travel time between Sydney and Canberra. Naturally, any investment of this kind would need to be accompanied by an open tender and a proper cost-benefit study. However, it seems to me that Talgo has provided a unique and valuable opportunity to NSW Berejiklian government to get some useful data about the possibilities for rail travel in the state, at no cost to the taxpayer.
A modern, electric high-speed train would bring more people to Canberra from Sydney and reduce road traffic on the Hume and Federal highways. Remember, in the early years of Canberra, most federal members of parliament arrived in Canberra by train. Now, as far as I’m aware, none do.
Andrew Leigh is the Member for Fenner. His website is www.andrewleigh.com.