By 2013 Australia will be in the embarrassing position of being left behind by Africa and South America as the only inhabited continent on this planet without any true high speed 200 km/hr+ rail services.
Europe has the best network of high speed trains in the world. On the London-Paris route, Eurostar boasted 70 per cent of traffic last year and this is climbing fast.
At speeds of up to 320 kilometres/hour, high-speed trains are often the fastest way to travel between city centres in Europe. If the distance travelled is less than 1000 kilometres, a train travelling at 300 km/hr has the edge over flying, city centre to city centre.
As an example, Air France has watched over the past decade as SNCF’s Train a Grande Vitesse (TGV) has eroded its domestic business. Air services between Paris and Lyons and between Paris and Brussels have been suspended. The train is dominating traffic to Marseilles and Geneva and the new line east to Strasbourg will quickly extinguish air links.
Furthermore the new Railteam consortium will make travelling on the European rail network easier and more seamless.
Railteam is a collaboration between Europe’s leading high-speed rail operators, currently DB (Germany), SNCF (France), Eurostar UK LTD (UK), NS Hispeed (Netherlands), ÖBB (Austria), SBB (Switzerland) and SNCB (Belgium), as well as their high-speed subsidiaries Thalys, Lyria and the DB/SNCF cooperation between France and Germany, with more train operators possibly joining in the future.
TGV high speed train photo credit: Sebastian Terfloth
The Acela Express is Amtrak’s high speed tilt train for north-eastern USA. It is a distant relative of the French TGV high speed trains, because TGV builder Alstom participated in the consortium that designed and built the Acela Express. However, despite its appearance it is misleading to describe the Acela Express as a type of TGV. While the two may look similar at first sight, they have very few components in common.
Outside of stations, Acela runs at speeds between 120 km/hr (75 mph) and 241 km/hr (150 mph), depending on track conditions. On average this makes the Acela Express significantly slower than most other high-speed trains elsewhere in the world.
In Africa the trendsetter is Morocco which has signed up to build a high-speed TGV train link between Tangiers & Casablanca, with the first stage open for use by 2013.
Argentina will be the first country in South America to operate 300 kilometre/hour high speed trains.
The new Argentinean fast trains will be based on the French TGV and they’ll operate on a dedicated 710km high speed line between Buenos Aires and Córdoba.
Next Generation TGV: AGV
Meanwhile the creators of the TGV, the French engineering company Alstom have built the prototype for the next generation TGV, one that will be even faster.
Called the AGV (Automotrice à Grande Vitesse), this new train will have a cruising speed of 360 kilometres/hour which is 40 km/hr faster than the current TGV
With very dense city centres such as Tokyo and a huge population, Japan was one of the first countries to realise the problems of mass transport via cars.
The Shinkansen aka “Bullet train” could be thought of as the worlds first high speed train. Services started in 1964 with speeds of 210 km/hr, the fastest trains went at the time, and many countries eg: Australia still don’t have any trains running at this speed.
Shinkansen photo credit: randomidea
At the time the concept of “high speed” wasn’t really established as it is now. Indeed many say it was the success of the bullet trains which lead to Europe taking interest in making trains go fast. Since then the trains have been going faster and faster.
Korea Train eXpress (KTX) is South Korea’s high-speed rail system. It is operated by Korail. The train’s technology is largely based on the French TGV system, and has a top speed of 350 km/h, limited to 300 km/h during regular service for safety.
China has realised the importance of high-speed train travel and is investing huge amounts to increase its high speed rail network. In the 10 years from April 1997 when speeds of 40-50km/h were the norm to April 2007, Chinese railway authority has raised the maximum speed six times.
By 2020 China aims to construct 12,000 km of special high speed train lines running at 200 km/hr or more.
Meanwhile, the 1,318-km Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway, on which construction began in January, is expected to be finished by 2013.
With an estimated investment of 160 billion yuan (23.3 billion U.S. dollars), it’s the largest and most expensive engineering project China has ever embarked upon and will cut travel time between China’s capital and the country’s leading financial hub in 1/2 to five hours while doubling the existing passenger capacity to 160 million passengers annually.
Australia’s Ancient & Abysmally Slow Train/Rail System
In contrast Australian trains are abysmally slow. The iconic Indian-Pacific takes 18.5 hours to travel between Sydney and Broken Hill, a distance of 1100 kilometres (at an average speed, including stops of 60 km/hr).
Australia’s fastest train, the Electric Queensland Rail Tilt Train from Brisbane to Cairns only has a top operational speed of 160 km/h.
Since the early 1980s, when high speed rail services in France received considerable publicity, there have been many failed plans to introduce high speed train services to Australia.
The largest of these schemes was a plan to construct and operate a line between Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne. This scheme was backed by BHP, Elders IXL, Kumagai Gumi, and TNT – the Very Fast Train ‘Joint Venture’ but was abandoned in 1991, primarily because it failed to secure tax changes from the Federal Government that the consortium claimed would have made it financially viable.
The TGV design was supposed to be used for the later Australian Speedrail project, an ambitious plan to operate 320 km/hour trains between Sydney and Canberra.
Before being derailed by the federal government, it was to be the first stage of a visionary project designed to link Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney, Newcastle, the Gold Coast and Brisbane via high speed rail.
Sadly dreams of a new high-speed Shinkansen or TGV style rail network for Australia look like a fantastic pipe dream and Australia seems doomed to be the laughing stock of industrialised countries in the future when the price of petrol reaches a level where flying and driving between big cities become untenable.