The federal opposition has said it backs a quick-fix plan to upgrade the existing train track from Sydney to Melbourne that will cut travel times to just six hours.
Victorian Senator Bridget McKenzie said the proposal, which would cost less than $10 billion and be delivered within four years, would be “transformative” for regional areas.
The plan would likely have major consequences for domestic aviation with the ‘golden triangle’ between the capitals of NSW, Victoria and Queensland regarded as one of the most lucrative globally. Qantas’ service between Sydney and Melbourne alone is thought to be the world’s second-highest revenue generator, bringing in more than $1 billion annually pre-COVID.
Previously, attention has focused on a high-speed train link between Australia’s two biggest cities, but the idea muted by Wollongong University associate professor Philip Laird would instead focus on cheaper and quicker upgrades.
The six-hour train journey would be quicker than the current nine-hour drive, but still slower than the 90 minute flight.
The plan would see just 200km of new, straighter track laid, three new track deviations and a reduction of the number of stops.
Upgraded tracks could also allow ‘tilting trains’ to travel through bends far quicker than the current XPT models. Laird believes the plan would mean carriages would move at 170kmh.
Laird told The Guardian, “If you can deliver something faster than the car trip, people will come to it. It doesn’t only have to be high-speed rail costing tens of billions of dollars and taking decades to complete.”
McKenzie backed the proposal and said the ambition for high-speed rail should not come at the cost of investment into the existing network.
“While very fast trains has great appeal, the reality is that it is decades away from being built – even if governments were to get serious about it. In the meantime, there is so much we can be doing to improve existing lines that could decrease journey times significantly,” she said.
Laird’s plan carries weight as he is a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport and was also the first national chairman of the Railway Technical Society of Australasia.
A fast rail service in Australia has been muted for decades. In 2013, the Rudd Labor government calculated the cost of a Brisbane–Melbourne–Sydney high-speed rail link at $114 billion.
In Japan, the latest N700s bullet trains have an operating speed capped at 285 kilometres per hour. With the current distance between Sydney and Melbourne via rail clocking in at just over 700km, high-speed trains could theoretically reduce rail times to just two and a half hours.