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.