John Tierney writes: If the plan is to start work on a Newcastle-Sydney area, it will never reach the critical mass of passengers to make it viable | Newcastle Herald

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Our parliamentary delegation to the European Union in 2004 was authorized to board a French Very Fast TVG (VFT) train at the front. We watched in amazement as two trains pass each other, traveling at 320 km / h between Paris and regional France. I tried to photograph this, but in the pre-iPhone era, trains were too fast. I later traveled on Japanese and Chinese VFTs, but the French TVG is the best example of affordable VFT technology. This network covers 2,800 kilometers of regional France and carries 110 million passengers per year at high speed. It opened in 1981. Perhaps this type of VFT could suit Australian conditions? Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese last week announced a $ 500 million campaign pledge to acquire land as a first step towards building a VFT between Sydney and Newcastle. It would be the first step in a high-speed rail network on the east coast. However, the response from Hunter’s voters was not encouraging, if the mocking comments in the pages of Newcastle Herald letters the following week are any guide. The level of cynicism is due to the number of times political parties on both sides have made this promise over the past 40 years. Then, once elected, they began the preliminary planning work for the high-speed train project, only to drop out after a few years. Why? The economics of a VFT project add up in high population and densely populated countries like Japan, China and France. And maybe such VFTs on a new high speed network, between Brisbane and Melbourne via Newcastle, Sydney Wollongong and Canberra could have the combined population to be viable. However, if the plan is to start work on a Newcastle-Sydney area, it will never reach the critical mass of passengers to make it viable. Why? IN THE NEWS: When I was a Hunter-based Senator for all of New South Wales, much of my job was in Sydney. I had three options for traveling from Newcastle: drive, fly, or take the train. I noted that the journey time taken was roughly the same with each mode of transportation – two to three hours. The plane is surely the fastest? Even faster than a VFT? But not if you count the total time it takes to get to your destination from departure to arrival, including the wait at the airport. In the Herald (6/1/22), a writer noted that in an earlier version of a VFT from Sydney to Brisbane, the Newcastle stop was scheduled for Killingsworth, west of the city. So by the time you get to this station, wait for the arrival of the VFT (it wouldn’t be every 10 minutes like in Toyoko), travel and arrive at Sydney station, and finally, end your trip by Uber, the weather would be in the same range just like my flight example. Private transportation continues to trump public transportation as our roads improve and rail is neglected. For example, last week I drove from Newcastle to Homebush Olympic Park. The car ride was faster than noted above, but only because the recently completed NorthConnex tunnel under Pennant Hills Road cut the ride by 15 minutes. The way forward for rapid public transport is for politicians to have a vision for the entire VFT rail network on Australia’s east coast. The first step should be planning and procuring the entire transport corridor as soon as possible. A route that follows the M1 motorway and the tunnels under Sydney should speed up the planning phase and reduce costs. Work should then begin on several sections of the track simultaneously, between Brisbane and Melbourne via Sydney. Australian governments have already executed such visionary projects at several sites in a bipartisan fashion. For example, the original Snowy hydropower project of the Chifley government was later extended by the Menzies government. A visionary Australian VFT project was proposed between Sydney and Melbourne by CSIRO in 1984. It was taken over by a private sector joint venture comprising Kumagai Gumi (Japan) and Australian companies BHP, TNT and Elders IXL. Several important studies were undertaken in the 1980s showing that the proposal was technically and financially feasible. In 1991, the Hawke government refused the tax breaks necessary to make the project viable. Had the go-ahead been given 30 years ago, the Melbourne-Sydney VFT would now be over, with a possible extension of Newcastle as the first leg of a Sydney-Brisbane VFT also completed. A vision for a VFT network is now urgently needed for Eastern Australia. However, this is missing from both sides of politics, who seem to have a blind view of what is necessary and possible if Australian intercity public transport is to enter the 21st century. IN THE NEWS: Our reporters work hard to provide local and up-to-date news to the community. Here’s how you can continue to access our trusted content:



Maria D. Ervin