Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Rail and broadband in place of second Sydney airport

A very high speed train from Sydney, through Canberra, to Melbourne would replace about 75% of flights on one of the worlds busiest air corridors. This is not a new or unexplored idea, from a high speed rail line proposed in 1981, to a "East Coast Very High Speed Train Scoping Study" in 2008. But the mass production of very high speed trains in Asia, combined with advances in broadband and environmental pressures, makes it more feasible.

The Federal and New South Wales Governments are to conduct a joint study of options for additional airport capacity for Sydney. This follows a "National Aviation Policy White Paper" (16 December 2009). It should be noted that the paper is not just talking about an airport and mentions rail transport systems. I suggest that the study should look at a train in place of a second Sydney airport. A very high speed train from Sydney, through Canberra, to Melbourne would replace about 75% of flights on one of the worlds busiest air corridors. Provision of wireless broadband on the train would allow the passengers to do useful work and be entertained. In addition to passengers, a high speed train can also carry high high value freight, such as priority mail, currently sent by air.

Sydney airport already has two underground stations in place and a direct underground line to the Sydney CBD. Work would be needed on the rail corridor out of Sydney, but this is relatively minor, with work already underway for a rail freight corridor.

Very fast trains are now a proven technology, with China and Korea mass producing adaptions of proven European designs.

The cost of the line from Sydney to Melbourne could be covered by the sale of land in new greenfield environmentally efficient towns in inland Australia. These towns would also reduce the growth pressure on Sydney (politically the new towns would be attractive to the current NSW and Federal governments as it would shift the voting trends to the ALP in previously conservative rural electorates). Integration of the National Broadband Network in the new towns would allow rapid provision of services and jobs to the new towns and reduce the cost of infrastructure.

New towns could be built along the VFT route incorporating high environmental and planning standards. Buildings could be designed to use the minimum of water and power, then assembled from mass produced modules. Homes could be designed to accommodate the elderly. Broadband could bring jobs, education and services to the towns quickly. Both government and commercial telecommuting offices could be provided allowing office works to telecommute most days and perhaps have to catch the train only once every few weeks. Each town could have a university campus, as well as a hospital with advanced medical facilities, linked by broadband to specalists.

The pressure on Sydney airport will also be reduced in coming years due to changes in the aircraft used and environmental pressures. The introduction of larger aircraft, specifically the Airbus A380, will reduce the number of international aircraft movements needed. Added to this the Boeing 787 (and Airbus A350) will allow more direct international flights from other Australian airports, reducing the need for Sydney to act as a hub. Added to this, the need for reduction in greenhouse gas emissions will increase pressure on airlines to have aircraft loaded to capacity to increase fuel efficiency. The requirement for passengers to pay the environmental cost of their travel will also dampen demand for flights.
Sydney is Australia’s biggest and busiest city and Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport is Australia’s busiest airport, with over 32 million passengers in 2008–09. To ensure the future aviation needs of Sydney meet the expectations of the community and are fully integrated into long-term growth strategies, the Government, in partnership with the New South Wales Government, will work together to plan for the Sydney region’s future airport infrastructure, including how it links to Sydney’s growth centres and its road and rail transport systems. This is the first time that the two governments are aligning their planning and investment strategies. ...

From: National Aviation Policy White Paper, Department of Infrastructure,Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, 16 December 2009

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Copenhagen Climate Change Train

The International Union of Railways (UIC) and DB (German Railways) cashed in on the in on the COP15 Copenhagen climate change talks with a "Train to Copenhagen" in conjunctions with UNEP and WWF.

The train left from Brussels on 5 December, travelling through Cologne and Hamburg (a route I have travelled) then Copenhagen for the conference. The usual train from Brussels to Cologne is the Thalys (using French TGV trains) From there through Berlin to Hamburg , using DB's ICE train.

It was claimed the rain ran on electricity from renewable sources. The renewable claim would be hard to prove and it is likely that at least part of the journey would be made using French nuclear generated power. This is not to say this is not a much more environmentally friendly means of transport that by aircraft, overall.

ps: Models of the Thalys and ICE are popular.

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sydney to Canberra Hybrid Fast Train

On 12 February 2009, the UK Government announced that Hitachi trains from the Agility Trains consortium would replace the InterCity 125 trains used between UK cities. This is of relevance to Australia, as the XPT trains used between Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne are derived from the old UK trains. The new Agility Trains may therefore be suitable for use in Australia

Agility Trains will run at 201 km/h and one version will be a hybrid, capable of operating on electricity and diesel. This could be very useful for Australia: the train could run on the electrical supply in Sydney, then change to diesel for the country run to Canberra. While not as fast as Very High Speed trains, such as the TGV (320 km/h) the Angel trains would not require new track or overhead wiring. It should be noted that Queensland's electric tilt train is also partly made by Hitachi.

Very high speed is not needed to make the train trip from Sydney to Canberra by train feasable. At present the rail journey takes more than four hours, at an average speed of about 65 km/h. The new trains could be run from Sydney central station, stopping at Sydney airport and on to Canberra in under three hours. If the trains were equipped with power points beside each seat for laptop computers, as is being done on the refurbished Thalys and WiFi access, as on the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway, it would be attractive to business and private travellers.

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Sunday, January 04, 2009

Sydney to Canberra High Speed Train

The Canberra Business Council made a submission on "High Speed Rail for Australia: An opportunity for the 21st century" in April 2008. They also light rail for Canberra in an Infrastructure Australia submission. However, it should be noted that the Sydney to Canberra route at 270km could be serviced in under three hours by conventional railways already in service in Australia, with a modest supplement to the upgrade to the track already under way.
1. A High Speed Rail Link between Canberra and Sydney
High speed rail refers to passenger trains travelling at 250km/h or more, on purpose-built tracks. Among the best known examples are the Japanese Shinkansen or bullet trains, the French TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) and the German ICE (Inter-City Express). The typical operating speed of high speed trains has increased to 300km/h, and speeds of 350-360km/h are in prospect.

The energy required for operation at such speeds means that high speed trains are invariably powered by electricity. Although high speed rail systems are focused primarily on the movement of people, they are being used increasingly for freight, and this will grow in the future. ...

Previously, a journey time of three hours by rail was considered
the upper limit in competitive terms. Now, experience in France is that, of rail and air travel, high speed rail captures 90% market share for rail journeys of two hours; 66% at three hours; and 45% at four hours. For leisure travel, high speed rail attracts a significant market share on journeys up to six hours. ...

Sydney - Melbourne has the fourth busiest air service in the world, with some 70 flights each way per day between the two cities. The only busier routes are between Madrid and Barcelona, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, and Jeju and Seoul. ...

A route which linked Melbourne and Sydney via Canberra, and Sydney and
Brisbane via Newcastle and the Gold Coast; would link these major cities but further, through the provision of additional ‗stopping‘ trains, would serve regional centres such as Benalla, Albury/Wodonga, Wagga Wagga, Goulburn, the NSW Central Coast, Taree, Coffs Harbour and Grafton. ...

High Speed Rail travel will provide Australians with a more cost effective intercity rail service. Trains are becoming faster, making routes such as Melbourne to Sydney via Canberra, and Sydney to Brisbane via Newcastle and the Gold Coast, each with three hour travel times, well within the competitive distance for high speed rail. More suppliers of high speed train technology have entered the market, adding to competition and lowering costs. ...

Use for freight
As indicated above, high speed rail systems are focused on the movement of people. However they are also being used increasingly for freight. This ranges from use of the high speed tracks by conventional freight trains, where gradients permit (in Germany and Italy, for example), to the operation of dedicated freight trains at the same speed as passenger trains. The latter is the case with the postal TGV trains in France. This activity is soon to be substantially increased as the first step in an initiative entitled Cargo Rail Express which will see a major expansion of
high speed freight services in Europe. Partners in this project, which is included in the European Union Logistics Action Plan, include Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, Amsterdam Schipol airport, FedEx, TNT and the French National railways; see,1518,534978,00.html

An Australian high speed rail network could carry freight on either of these two bases (i.e. use of the tracks by conventional freight trains or by high speed freight trains); or the high speed alignment could provide, again where gradients permit, a route for an independent freight track, improving existing main lines by reducing their length and curvature.

Environmental sustainability and reduced greenhouse gas emissions

High speed rail is a more climate-friendly way of travelling that greatly reduces carbon dioxide emissions compared with alternative modes. It is much more energy-efficient and, being electrically powered, has the potential to draw energy from renewable sources. High speed trains are enjoying success around the world because they compete very effectively with air travel for journeys up to about 1000km, and with car travel for trips longer than about 250km. ...

Given the situation, what should be done first?
... The Council believes that Sydney–Canberra (with a terminal at Canberra airport) remains the logical first step in a larger network. The distance, 270km, is suitable for high speed rail. A Sydney–Canberra high speed rail would effectively make Canberra International Airport a second airport for Sydney. ...

2. Light Rail for Canberra
Canberra Business Council has partnered with the Conservation Council to make the case for a Light Rail network in Canberra. The partnering of these two organisations demonstrates the wide-spread support that Light Rail receives across the entire spectrum of community interest groups. A proposal to introduce Light Rail to Canberra is opportune. ...

It would be considerably cheaper to provide Light Rail in Canberra than in any other Australian city, as the Griffin Plan provides the planning infrastructure such as wide roadways, to support its installation. There are open space corridors across the city and major arterial roads have medians or parallel corridors that allow for rail development. ...

The ACT Government‘s Canberra Spatial Plan identifies a potential need for between 58,000 and 90,000 additional dwellings, of which 90% would be contained within 15km of the city centre, and 50% concentrated within 7.5km of the centre within the next 15 years. The development of areas in and around Civic will require additional transport services. Higher densities of residents and places of employment will reduce the cost of providing public transport to these areas. ...

From: Infrastructure Australia submission, Canberra Business Council, 20 October 2008

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Sydney to Canberra by Train

In 2005 I wrote about a trip from Sydney to Canberra on a Swedish X2000 high speed Tilt Train, being tried. While very comfortable, the tilt trains were not that fast, due to the poor track and were not purchased. The regular run from Sydney to Canberra is carried out by Countrylink's XPLORER trains. Having some time on my hands, after a Sydney workshop on energy saving, I thought I would try the service. It happens that in the press today there is a proposal to look again at a high speed Sydney Canberra Melbourne train. New technology and a new government now make this more feasible.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Australian Fast Train Proposal

Colin Butcher has produced a series of articles in Railway Digest on the feasibility of running high speed trains between Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane. He argues that a mixed service of passenger and freight is financially feasible. The latest is "Fast Trains - Profit or Loss" (Railway Digest, December 2007). This uses figures from the abortive Speedrail proposal, for a Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney TGV style very fast train, but updated with new costs and an additional freight service. This is similar, but using updated figures from his previous proposal for a "Newcastle, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne Fats Freight and Passenger Train Options" (Railway Technical Society of Australasia, February 2003).

The Australian Parliamentary Library produced a very useful set of background papers on the VFT proposal, including a Australian Very Fast Trains-A Chronology (Background Paper 16 1997-98, Paula Williams,6 April 1998) and High Speed Trains between Canberra and Sydney (Current Issues Brief 17 1996-97, Matthew James, Denis James). The chronology says "proposals are exceptionally costly compared to conventional rail systems, with the cost increasing substantially for the fastest train technologies". However, as Mr. Butcher points out, the technology has become more affordable and more certain since then.

Mr. Butcher argues that fast trains would be economically viable. However, the difficulty is likely to be the politics and business model for such a proposal, rather than the engineering or economics. The politics of the time demanded that the project be privately funded and it was then impossible for the private sector to capture enough of the benefits from the project to make it commercially viable. The project would have benefited the community by getting trucks off the roads and allowing residential development along the route. But the commercial companies involved were not able to profit from this. Any new proposal has to either find a way to compensate the commercial partners or have a direct government contribution.

Also the VFT suffered from being a "big bang" project. The whole project had to be implemented to obtain a benefit. Mr. Butler's proposals are similar in that they require a lot of investment to be made before anything is gained. This makes the proposals commercially and politically difficult. It would be possible to produce more modest proposals for building on the current upgrading of the current railway infrastructure enough to make some passenger services viable. This would not achieve as large benefits, but would be much easier decisions. These proposals could also exploit new technology which removes the need to electrify the entire track.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

London to Paris Faster

Tom Worthington at Waterloo InternationalIn 2000 Eurostar gave me a free trip from London to Paris first class, with a quick visit to the UNESCO's Observatory on the Information Society. I posted a report "live" from the train at more than 200 kph using my GSM phone and laptop. Since then I have made a trip from London to Brussels on the same train.

I was reminded of this hearing a Eurostar publicist on the radio in Australia to talk up the opening of St Pancras International station in London. The refurbished St Pancras, opposite the New British Library, replaces Waterloo International as the terminus for the Eurostar high speed train in the UK. Also for the first time this really will be a high speed train in the UK, as the track to the coast has been upgraded, cutting about 20 minutes from the journey as of 14 November. This required track work and upgrading the electric power supply to allow the Eurostar to run faster. Just to keep it in perspective, even the slow UK trains are a lot quicker than Sydney to Brisbane even though the XPT used in NSW is a version of the UK's high speed train (it is slower due to poor Australian track).

The Eurostar plans originally included the trains at high speed beyond London across the UK (called the
Regional Eurostar and Nightstar) but that was never implemented. The rail cars purchased for the UK leg were refurbished and some used in Canada, the UK and France. For the 2012 London Olympics, some of these trains will form the "Olympic Javelin", to shuttle people from St. Pancras to the Olympic site near Stratford International station.

St Pancras was in need of an upgrade. On my visit in 2000 it looked run down, next to the relatively new (but ugly) British Library. Now all we need is somewhere to hire an electric car near the station: electric cars such as the G-Wiz (as the Indian Reva electric car is known in the UK) are not subject to the London congestion tax and have free parking.

ps: If visiting St Pancras, then take time for a walk along the towpath by Regent's Canal from
Thornhill Bridge Community Gardens in Caledonian Road, to the London Canal Museum in New Wharf Road.

Further Information

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