THE GUARDIAN – Labor should pursue its high-speed rail ambition by progressively upgrading sections of the existing train corridor, starting between Sydney and Canberra as the cheapest and quickest way to deliver fast trains by the end of the decade, transport planning veterans argue.
Committing to an inaugural section of track that is relatively straightforward to build – as opposed to the tunnelling megaproject required for the Sydney to Newcastle corridor earmarked as a priority by the Albanese government – will prove high-speed rail as a concept in Australia after decades of inertia, according to advocacy group Fastrack Australia.
Once Australians have been able to see the fruits of faster rail, as well as the tangible benefits to regional development and housing accessibility, governments will be better positioned to invest more money on building costlier sections of the task of ultimately connecting Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane by one high-speed rail line.
Fastrack Australia’s will present a plan to the Rail Futures Institute on Friday, which is framed as an essential path to decentralise population away from existing capital cities and help alleviate pressure on housing and infrastructure in already densely populated areas.
“This is how we make it more attractive as a lifestyle choice to live regionally,” said Garry Glazebrook, an associate professor at the University of Technology Sydney who leads Fastrack Australia together with Ross Lowrey, a former consultant and member of the Town and Country Planning Association in Victoria, and Syd Herron, a retired aviation consultant.
“Australians shouldn’t feel chained to a city because of a medical specialist or for family and friends, and they won’t if they know they can still go in once a week and it will be fast and easy,” Glazebrook said.
Fastrack’s plan differentiates itself from previous proposals in one key way. Instead of building a complete high-speed only line from scratch, it advocates gradually duplicating sections within the existing Sydney-Melbourne corridor used by passenger and freight services.
This means initial faster rail services running within a decade would rely on some sections of the old track, with the first upgrades targeted at the most cumbersome and time consuming steam-age stretches of alignment along the corridor that reduce the current Sydney-Melbourne train service to an 11-hour crawl.
Faster rail services would get quicker as different stages were completed and electrification and new rolling stock was introduced – initially tilting trains that can negotiate curves more quickly, and then high speed trains to exceed 250kmh and up to 300kmh.
Throughout the decades-long construction process, regional, suburban and freight services would all also accrue progressive speed benefits as new stages of the high speed rail plan are completed.
By the time a full Sydney-Melbourne high-speed service was operating by 2050, an entirely new electrified high speed alignment would exist alongside the current track.
“High speed rail needs to be considered as an extension of the existing rail network, and not as a separate standalone system,” the proposal states.
Fastrack envisages that by 2050, a government operator would run 24 express passenger services between Sydney and Melbourne each day, with a four-hour trip time. The same number could be run between Sydney and Canberra, while 80 commuter services could be run between Goulburn and Canberra.
Private operators could also be invited to run sleeper-only services, which are experiencing a boom in popularity in Europe but but are set to be discontinued on the current Sydney-Melbourne trains when the NSW government’s new rolling stock arrives. So-called “fast freight” could also be explored to use the high-speed line at night.
The first stage of high-speed rail construction proposed by Fastrack is the so-called Wentworth deviation on the existing corridor between Glenfield and Mittagong – a windy stretch that has long been a bugbear of rail planners.
This could cut the travel time for Sydney-Melbourne down to nine hours from 11. Trains that currently run at an average of 70km/h on the roughly four and a half hour service from Sydney-Canberra would be able to make the trip in three hours. It would also shave about half an hour off New South Wales south coast train services.
Stage two involves track between Goulburn and Yass, and a new track branching from Gunning down to a new station near Canberra airport. With tilting trains, this stage would allow the Sydney-Canberra service to run at just over two hours, while Sydney-Melbourne would run at eight hours and Melbourne-Canberra at seven.
Glazebrook believes the first two stages could be completed within six years if carried out simultaneously. He estimates stage one and two would cost about $5bn and $6-7bn respectively.
“It’s got to be started now otherwise we’ll go nowhere and could lose the opportunity to build a track that can get out of Sydney fast,” Glazebrook said. “We’ll have to spend the same money or more on airports and freeways and we’ll just end up with more cars and trucks on roads and more emissions.”
The Fastrack proposal is in part remodelled on the government-commissioned plan released by Anthony Albanese in 2013 as then transport minister, however that plan advocated for a passenger-only entirely new track from scratch. It also offered a Sydney-Melbourne trip time of just under three hours, while Fastrack conservatively proposes a four hour journey.
Fastrack Australia have sent their proposal to the Prime Minister and transport minister Catherine King. When contacted by Guardian Australia, spokespeople for King did not address criticisms about prioritising the Newcastle to Sydney corridor, nor the suggested approach of Fastrack’s proposal.
Fuente: The Guardian, Jueves 23 de Febrero de 2023