The latest re-energised idea to emerge, again, as a part of the federal government’s National Innovation Awareness Strategy is the Very Fast Train idea.
Electric trains with steel wheels, on steel tracks, rocketing along at 300 klicks. The idea has been aired a few times previously and basically shelved because of cost. Very little of existing rail infrastructure could be utilised as a part of any VFT enterprise.
As the linked article states, the Japanese & European versions all run on purpose built-lines, using purpose-built rolling stock travelling long, straight runs. Consider Australia’s topography, where our major population centres are and the distances involved. Then compare to Japan and Europe. Japan’s Osaka to Fukuoka route covers some 450 kilometres with some 18 stations along the way and takes some 5 to 6 hours. Not really all that fast, although no doubt the train itself exceeds 250 klicks between stations. There are doubtless the usual pros and cons for the technology, but my major concern would be the inevitable requirement of government to utilise as much existing infrastructure as possible. Now recall Queensland’s Tilt Train off-track excursions over recent years, all due to human inattention to speed limits on existing infrastructure which requires the train and driver to slow down.
Still, the VFT concept has merit, IF it can be pulled off in a safe, exclusive infrastructure environment. The chatter I heard pointed to Brisbane-Newcastle-Sydney-Canberra-Melbourne as a possible route. 1,500 kilometres and mostly on the eastern side of the Great Divide, until the line leaves Sydney. I really don’t see any steel_wheel_on_steel_track train managing 250 kph-plus in any reasonable stretch between Brisbane-Newcastle-Sydney as any viable alternative to air travel. Lots of hills and valleys in that part of the country. Many, many bridges and tunnels required to give a VFT the straight runs it needs to make the experiment worthwhile.
If a specific line were to be built from, say, Brisbane to Canberra, or Adelaide to Perth or Sydney to Melbourne using inland routes where the topography is flatter, the experiment might have more validity, but then there’s the cost-benefit offset. Bugger all stations along the way to make the line pay its way. I’m sure there’s a place for the technology in this country, but I don’t see it as being a major people-mover.