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The spectre of the VFT rises again

By johnboy 15 July 2009 51

[First filed: July 14, 2009 @ 10:16]

The Canberra Times brings word that dreamers on the North Canberra Community Council and the Canberra Business Council are optimistically trying to kick start a national debate on a high speed inland rail line linking Sydney, Canberra, and Melbourne.

Apparently they’ve got some un-named local business people muttering about maybe providing some sort of support in future. Not that the combined investment power of the entire Canberra business community could come within 400 miles of funding such a project even if they were inclined to do so, which they are not. They’d just really like to make some money from the taxpayers paying for it.

Canberra’s market for rail transport doesn’t even justify electrified rail services, something most of the rest of the developed world knocked over forty years ago. (yes I realise that if there was a faster service people might choose not to fly or drive)

It should, however, be noted that the Chief Minister is making encouraging noises:

    ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope says a very fast train linking Canberra to other major cities on the eastern seaboard is not a pipe dream but inevitable.

But check out this statement for an idea just how blue sky this lot is:

    Other interests such as the North Canberra Community Council have suggested the airport should be kept out of the equation and a very fast train taken into the heart of the city.

So they want to cut Canberra in half and build an overpass for every single road crossing this sucker? You can’t do level crossings for very fast rail lines.

It’s well worth noting that countries with successful high speed rail services already had extensive rail networks and all share high population densities.

Very Fast Train

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The spectre of the VFT rises again
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arescarti42 8:39 pm 15 Jul 09

Skidd Marx said :

The bottom line is we don’t have the population to sustain such a radical and astronomically costly undertaking.

The viability of train services is less about the population of cities along the route, and more about how many people use the route. I seem to remember reading (in perhaps the last feasibility study?) that the Sydney to Melbourne route has the third busiest air corridor in terms of passenger volume world wide. I’m sure a lot of those people choose to fly not because it is their preferred choice, but because they have no choice.

I arrived back from Japan recently, and I couldn’t believe what an excellent mode of transport the Shinkansen (bullet train) is. Quiet, roomy, comfortable, and very quick to board, I’d take it over flying any day.

jackthemartin 5:38 pm 15 Jul 09

More responses to piratemonkey’s ten points. Overall there would be some significant benefits to a high-speed railway, but not nearly enough to justify the costs (for a small place like Canberra.)

1) Trains are more convenient then planes. You can get on and off much faster being a big plus
Agree. Most particularly, trains don’t involve a trip to the airport (but it’s worth remembering that not many people want to travel from CBD to CBD either)

2) Trains can run on electricity while planes need jet fuel. Jet fuel keeps getting more expensive due to oil getting more scarce and harder to extract.
Agree.

3) Electric trains can be run greener. Through use of renewable energy.
Agree – while electricity and jet fuel are both very polluting now, there is more of a prospect of electricity becoming cleaner

4) Trains are cheaper and quicker to build (once tracks are in place)
Once the tracks are in place? Maybe, depending on the technology… but the fact that the tracks are prohibitively expensive should kill the proposal, despite all the benefits.

5) Trains scale in size much better for both people and freight.
Planes scale OK for people – it is possible to Qantas to run full flights off-peak just by using a smaller plane.

6) Trains are much more reliable then planes.
Agree – with a dedicated track the problems afflicting Cityrail would be avoided

7) Trains are much quiter then planes
Doubtful, except near airports (the noise made by the Maglev train pictured has raised significant community ire in China)

8) One might even argue trains are safer then planes with fewer things to go wrong.
One might, but without looking at stats it’s futile to argue either way I think

9) Luggage isn’t as big a problem with trains
Probably true

ant 12:21 pm 15 Jul 09

housebound said :

But that’s all just some wild view that public investment should have social and environmental as well as economic benefits.

You radical, you.

It would be refreshing if this kind of thinking could be added to teh current rampant economic rationalist thinking.

housebound 10:23 am 15 Jul 09

I reckon, with all my (zero) years of expertise in this area, that they should focus on Brisbane-Sydney-Melbourne, and aim to recapture the freight traffic on that line. The resulting efficiencies could then be used to boost passenger services as well.

The next step would be for NSW to start looking at an active decentralisation policy, to take the pressure off the Sydney region, by investing in the regional towns along the line (some of these towns are already groth centres in their own right).

At this point, investment in the Canberra-Goulburn/Yass/Sydney link starts to look rational.

But that’s all just some wild view that public investment should have social and environmental as well as economic benefits.

Ozpuck 9:55 am 15 Jul 09

Probably the best way for any VFT proposal to have any chance of success would be if Goulburn or Canberra were to be designated the second airport for Sydney. A second airport outside the Sydney basin is going to have viability issues if there isn’t complementary infrastructures to support the transport of goods/passengers into Sydney (or on to Melbourne).

Of course given that they’ve been talking about Badgery’s Creek for 20 years, and exploring other options for 10, so I don’t think there will be very fast approval…

harvyk1 11:03 pm 14 Jul 09

Wraith said :

Half of the world is doing it now, why not.

That doesn’t make it a good idea…

Also just to comment on your points Piratemonkey

1 – True, at suburban stops, it’s quicker, but without checked baggage, you can get off a plane very quickly, and getting onto a train (for example sitting in CBR when travelling up to SYD or vice versa) can take quite some time, and whilst it’s not as long as what is required for air transport, keep in mind that air transport is much quicker even against the VFT once your moving.

2 – We’re still burning fossil fuels to make electricity, also they are currently finding ways to run planes on bio fuels. Whilst green power exists, it’d need to be a far greater percentage to power the VFT and call the VFT a green project.

3 – See point two

4 – An individual train may be cheaper than a plane, but don’t forget maintenance of both the train itself and the track it runs on.

5 – To a degree yes, but Australia also has a love obsession with trucks, so if a load of freight takes 4 hours rather than 2 hours I doubt it’ll have a major enough difference (not to mention the triple handling required) to justify the cost. Besides airfreight is still an option when speed is the key.

6 – Tell that to the average city rail traveller…

7 – For whom? Those sitting in the vehicle or those sitting outside it? Once a plane is in the air (and at a high enough altitude) they are virtually silent to the outside world. I’m not sure that the farmers between here and Sydney would feel the same way about a train.

8 – I’m calling BS on this one, Planes are held to extremely high safety margines, also whilst I don’t have the figures on me, I’m pretty sure that more people have been injured or killed in Australia on commercial train transport than commercial air transport.

9 – True, but if your commuting the luggage allowance isn’t an overly big concern. I myself have done 50 commuting flights in the last couple of years, having loads of luggage would have been a hindrance be it plane or train.

I’m not against the idea, it’s just it is both a large amount of money required, the cost vs advantages do not necessary outweigh the current transport options, and again you need to get two (or three) states to all agree on it, and then have numerous councils put in their input, otherwise you’ll end up with GDE mark 2.

Pandy 9:23 pm 14 Jul 09

40-60 billion? Think not.

Wraith 9:17 pm 14 Jul 09

Build the train, leave out the airport, I’m for that. Train is a far more entertaining way to travel, unless someone else is paying, why fly to Sydney, or even Melbourne, train travel would be infinitely better.

Half of the world is doing it now, why not.

But I love trains too.

Piratemonkey 9:11 pm 14 Jul 09

While I too am believe such a train is unlikely i really don’t see how people think its a bad idea.

1) Trains are more convenient then planes. You can get on and off much faster being a big plus
2) Trains can run on electricity while planes need jet fuel. Jet fuel keeps getting more expensive due to oil getting more scarce and harder to extract.
3) Electric trains can be run greener. Through use of renewable energy.
4) Trains are cheaper and quicker to build (once tracks are in place)
5) Trains scale in size much better for both people and freight.
6) Trains are much more reliable then planes.
7) Trains are much quiter then planes
8) One might even argue trains are safer then planes with fewer things to go wrong.
9) Luggage isn’t as big a problem with trains

Hell let the airport build it. Throw in a light rail link to civic and you have the perfect solution. While noise is a bitch canberra being sydneys second airport has huge economic bonuses for canberra.

farnarkler 8:14 pm 14 Jul 09

It is amusing when Thalys, the Belgian VFT crosses international borders and yet Vic, NSW and ACT can’t get their act together.

Problem is that the gov’t is shelling out money for troops fighting overseas, building comfy new jails, bearing the ever increasing cost of keeping asylum seekers and giving money away to Indonesia, PNG, etc. There just isn’t enough money to go around. Is this VFT a priority? If so then money has to be diverted from elsewhere.

harvyk1 8:02 pm 14 Jul 09

Canberra to Melbourne or Canberra to Sydney return in a day is already very possible using planes, at an extremely cheap price, the example you give of high paying contractors being willing to part with $150 to $200 per day in commuting costs would still be few and far between (and some of those would still catch planes just because). What needs to happen is the infrastructure be upgraded at either end which would make it more than possible to commute on a daily basis between these 3 cities (aka no long taxi lines, and whilst Sydney has got something going with it’s airport link, Melbourne is lacking big time, and Skybus doesn’t hack it, as for Canberra…). The problem isn’t the bit in the middle between the various cities themselves, it’s the bit between the airports and the city centres which need a good overhaul. (I know it’s not what train buffs want to hear).

If you want to convince me otherwise show me one other country which is the same size as Australia (ok lets shorten that to the eastern corridor) with a similar population which has been able to get a maglev system up and running efficiently?

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