You know, way back in 1901 the parties in the first Federal election ran on the creation of a transcontinental railway and a uniform gauge throughout Australia. Rail was a big thing. And yet somewhere along the way Australia has completely lost sight of rail and focused with an all-consuming intensity on cars – in a mystifying policy vacuum that shows no signs of changing even in the face of global warming.
I just don’t get our national obsession with cars over rail. No matter how you look at it rail, and especially high-speed rail, makes a lot of sense. And it’s an area that Australia does not even rate a blip on the map. Our fastest ever train barely made it over the line that defines high-speed rail; and that was on a test run, not in service.
And. yes, Kazakhstan has faster trains than us. Over the last few decades most of Europe and much of Asia has invested in their rail networks. China continues to pour money into a high-speed rail network that expands demonstrably in the time it took you to read those words.
When Sydney-Melbourne is one of the most trafficked airline routes in the World you would think it would make sense to everyone to put in a train that could cover the route in the same or less time. In fact you would think that would have made sense for years.
But when you consider that some of the greatest contributors to global warming are airline travel and cars – it starts moving from a perplexing decision to a simply unsustainable decision.
At the moment trains are not a favoured form of transport in Australia – and that’s hardly a surprise. If you go out of Sydney to the South Coast, to the West, or to the North, a three- or four-hour drive in a car will mean five to eight hours on a train that’s a long way from comfortable. In 2018 doesn’t that seem ridiculous? Our trains are slower than our cars. Therefore no one uses them. So, say the politicians, if the demand is not there why invest?
The answer is that train travel, done properly, for distances under 1000km is simply the faster, most efficient, and least damaging form of transport. It is the only one that’s sustainable into the future. And many other countries have clearly demonstrated that comfortable, high-speed trains will draw people in. The demand to get from A to B, Sydney to Melbourne, and back is demonstrable – so there’s no question a modern high-speed train service would work.
Now I know I’m a long way from saying anything new here. People have been tilting at this particular windmill for a long time – since Federation in one sense. But if Kazakhstan can get this sorted, surely we can too?