Faster Rail & Road - An ambition for new policies

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For the last two years or so we have been trying to educate planners and politicians that our capital cities cannot build their way out of traffic congestion by prioritising roads over fixing our historic (and no longer fit for purpose) rail systems. Slower rail actually leads to slower roads, as people shift their mode preferences and the induced demand then clogs the road arteries more. Two UTS experts Garry Glazebrook and Michelle Zeibots had commented long ago on this in the following linked article from 2012, "Tunnel Vision". In the USA the team associated with California's new HSR system have produced many visual aids to assist people to understand the problem, and we especially like their road traffic cartoon (we think it is so true) in the US HSR web page on:  Endless Congestion.

We have used the catchcry: "So long as trains are planned not to compete with roads, we'll keep building roads. The only way trains can compete over distance is with raw speed. If we do this we not only save money on roads but we increase GDP over and above what can be achieved with slow trains like metros".  

Yet we are certainly not against metros - they serve a different purpose and are very appropriate where there is a density of people living close to rail corridors who do not have to take long trips to work. In Sydney's case especially, being approximately 60 kms across both east-west and north-south, the slow speeds of metros (averaging c. 60 km/h allowing for all-station stops) would achieve a worse than 60 minute city rather than PM Malcolm Turnbull's ambition of a "30 minute city". We feel this is inadequate when people have to take long trips for work, education or leisure. Those in the western sector of Sydney would agree.

By speeding up the rail network, people will shift out of their cars and as people shift modes, the traffic conditions on major arterials will improve - so faster rail also leads to faster main roads (especially motorways). We therefore need to invest in faster rail!

Just taking the case of Sydney, the challenge is how to do this - because it does require very large investment. Our engineering advice (from several independent, experienced, consulting engineers) shows that it can be done with installation of a fast east-west link (suitable for Western Sydney Airport requirements) and an improved and extended north-south link, the key nexus (that is, an intersection/interchange of these two axes) being Parramatta, because of its central location within the Sydney basin.


Over the last 2 years especially we have endeavoured to promote major ideas for improving the state of transport infrastructure in our home city of Sydney and in the key eastern States, where transport congestion is costing the community billions of Dollars annually.

This has involved a mainly pro bono contribution of ideas for improving the use of rail (and faster rail in particular) versus past reliance on roads. We have spent years modelling toll roads but it is frustrating that they are never able to solve the congestion conundrum for cities like Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Hence our different emphasis nowadays, having reasoned that we need to take up the community challenge of working out better ways to devise/design projects, to make them more effective long term, as we owe this to future generations.  Of course, we still do seek a commercial outcome for this...ultimately, that is.

The notion of orienting our spare time work to inter-generational aspects of transport costs does actually fit quite well with the long termism that the basic actuarial training of Ian & Leo imbued us with. This is very important in today's political scene, as too many significant financial decisions are taken with a short term emphasis.


Left: SC-Maglev  Right: Shinkansen N700


We can build faster rail

with overseas help

[like the Snowy scheme]


Our future population growth will support this and makes it essential


Government can fund this and make it viable

[with new policy settings]

What would suit is a concept something like that overlaid on the map at right, which is taken from the Western Sydney Rail Needs Study and where:

* The east-west axis is Options 5 & E conjoined, to service WSA, and

* The north-south access is a modernised, segregated and speeded up version of the T5 corridor (really Campbelltown to Liverpool to Fairfield to Parramatta) which we call the New Cumberland Line, and which can then be extended north to join up with the North West Metro.

This arrangement provides quick trips to many parts of Sydney, if fast train sets are used on the 2 axes and interchange is smooth (with high frequency) at the Parramatta Nexus. This plan would give significant mode shift to rail.


We presently favour the Japanese technologies for HSR for a variety of reasons, most notably that in planning ahead over a decade or two within Australia, it is our expectation that they will retain a lead in both safe, reliable operation whilst in speed, acceleration and braking they are currently ahead, which the performance curves shown at the right indicate [noting that this is from a Japanese source, yet we have also compared the Transrapid curve with data from Seimens and it does seem to broadly coincide]. Based on the data we've seen, Japan's N700 Shinkansen trains are also lighter, wider, more energy-efficient and hold more passengers than their current competitors.

That said, we expect that all suppliers in the HSR space will be able to improve their offerings in the decades ahead with some other than Japan and Germany now also researching further technical Maglev developments [China is starting to use Maglev for lower speed urban requirements, also]. Australia does not need to make technology decisions yet though, and we say that all we need to do as a priority is establish the best, straightest corridors which are feasible given settlement patterns and land acquisition budgets, and effectively take out a call option on future HSR by being well prepared, starting the detail studies and preparing the framework (eg Anthony Albanese's HSR Planning Authority Bill, or similar).

TOP PRIORITY, therefore : Define and reserve/acquire HSR corridor lands. Start the planning.

SC-Maglev leads the current field, technically

Computations by consulting engineers of feasible transit times, assuming  optimised interchange transfer times, are shown on this following map by Russel Lunney:

© Central Japan Railway Company.

All rights reserved

©Central Japan Railway Company.

All rights Reserved


We have also spent considerable time liaising with Central Japan Railways, Japan's premier high-speed rail operator, about their technology. Ian Bell was invited by them to attend the International High Speed Rail Association Forum in Kyoto in October, 2016 and enjoy riding Shinkansen trains throughout Japan - time was taken also to inspect the Maglev exhibition centre in Yamanashi prefecture and see the Super Conducting Maglev technology in operation. This is the newest HSR technology, approved for 505 km/h operation and feasibly able to run even faster [It set the world speed record of 603 km/h in April, 2015 and theoretically we understand might eventually be able to go faster].

Prior to this relationship Ian Bell had also ridden China's Maglev in Shanghai (which operates under an alternative Maglev design principle; see this simple explanation: EMS v EDS).

© Copyright Financial-Architects.Asia, Financial-Architects.Asia Pty Ltd, 2017

Train, road images attribution Wikimedia Commons, except where otherwise shown

That didn't work

Let's widen the road


AGV & now