Thursday, November 5, 2009

~Proximate Mega-Destinations

An article by Ben Sandilands in today's Crikey argues that Very Large Airplanes will still be better than Very Fast Trains over the short distances between mega-destinations such as Melbourne-Sydney.

The logic appears to be: in Australia's car-based sprawling cities, door-to-door travel times are still quicker with a plane since a taxi to inner-city Southern Cross Railway Station is as long a drive as a taxi to Melbourne Airport. Since we don't have a good public transport system, it's better for private money to go into planes than public money (which could be spent building hospitals, says Mr. Sandilands in an attempt at moral high ground) spent building inter- and intra-city train lines.

There are so many things wrong with this argument. For a start, I want to invest my private money in train lines. And then the government can lower taxes and keep spending on hospitals steady. Nor do I accept a car-based sprawling city. However environmentally friendly the planes become, there is far too much car-generated air pollution in our cities as it is. Not to mention the environmental effects of urban sprawl- lost habitat, disrupted water catchments, lost farmland and so on.

The spurious claim that trains run on electricity- in Australia generated by coal- and that trains therefore also operate on fossil-fuels is also unfair. This neglects the hope- as with planes and algae fuel- that in the future this will change. Solar panels on train-station rooves, anyone?

Finally, the VLA thesis does not allow for people living between Sydney and Melbourne. (Nor outside their boundaries, which presumably would require either air connections or a car- requiring further airports or more fossil-fueled driving.) They're big cities, but they don't run into each other, and people between them also need transport options. If all the take-off slots are being sold to Syd-Mel runs, there'll be no time left for Canberra, Newcastle, Albury-Wodonga, and a thousand other little towns and villages which could get train service but for whom an airport simply will never be viable.

I'm still for trains.

Friday, October 30, 2009

A First Class Rail Service Needs First Class Carriages

I have just read a report by the Centre for Independent Studies which defends First-Class ("Business Class") sections as necessary to encourage longer-distance travel by train. As you can see by the title of this post, they convinced me.
My personal memories of the NSW rail system date to 2000 and can be considered "outliers", since that was the Olympics and we were staying at our cousins' house in the Blue Mountains. Thus I claim no personal expertise on that side of this issue.

But I do know Western Europe's rail well. For a long time, travelling on weekends and suburban routes, I had often asked myself why German Rail spent so much time and energy on first class carriages: they have separate ticketing windows and lounges at big stations, they have much more space when things are quite crowded in cattle-class, they have newspapers and are served at their seats. It's even the little things: the first class carriage is always positioned to be right next to where you're standing if you've just got onto the platform. It's always me who walks kilometres to a free seat at the far ends of the train. But I suppose, for them to keep doing it for so many years, it's obviously paying off.

Maybe it's an egalitarian thing we have in Australia. But let's be honest: if I am sitting in traffic in my un-airconditioned Mazda 121 (older than I am) and my father is next to me in his late-model Holden which is so modern it doesn't even have a tape deck, is that really equal? Perhaps that is why first class was abolished in 1974, a time when it became clear that in the future, everyone would have a car and trains would become superfluous. HA! They didn't think that one through, did they?

Most importantly, and a way for the company to generate carbon-credits is: it is obviously better for the environment if we're whipping through towns at villages on an electric train at 70km/h than if we're both sitting in traffic. And the inequality of the road is just mirrored while he's sitting in first class sipping his complimentary coffee and I'm cramped in second-class.

One final thing. My favourite quote from that paper, given what I read daily in Crikey about the start of NSW politics, is this: "High-speed rail connections may well be desirable but are beyond the scope of this paper. Nor do we seek to explore better organisational structures for delivering rail transport services in NSW."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Maybe I'm NOT Alone?

There has been much debate in Crikey over the last couple of days about how to encourage high-speed trains in Australia, and their necessity or not for climate change prevention.
Guy Rundle, in particular, enjoys throwing out absolutely crazy plans with no hope of having them realised in his lifetime.

But what if he weren't the only one?
What if, enough of us wanted the crazy plan to happen?
Would it happen?

Michael James thought he was against Mr. Rundle's theory, but in fact I can join them together. Mr. Rundle is only against trains because they were badly represented in the interview to which he is reacting, and Mr. James is only against more cities because he doesn't understand Mr. Rundle is correct about exburbs.

In any case, I think it might be time to dust this off and start taking note of developments in field again.