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SYDNEY — French companies are keen to build a high-speed rail network in Australia, France's Transport Minister Thierry Mariani said, despite the prospect still being in the early stages.
The idea of a very fast train system linking the major cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra has been debated for years, but gained momentum last year after the government announced a study into a network.
Canberra has costed the project at between Aus$61 billion (US$63.6 billion) and Aus$108 billion, and Mariani said French transport companies were keen to be involved.
"Of course we are interested by this opportunity, but as your (New South Wales state transport) ministers told me this morning, I think you are in the first steps," Mariani told journalists in Sydney.
"And after that your government will decide whether you do it or not."
The matter is expected to be on the agenda when Mariani meets Federal Transport and Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese on Tuesday.
"If the government decided to go ahead with a high speed train line then we can bring our experience and expertise which is actually found all over the world," Mariani said.
The French minister, on a four-day visit, said while there were vast distances to cover in continent-sized Australia, a high speed railway would bring economic, employment and environmental benefits.
He said that after 30 years, France's high speed TGV network, which now runs on some 2,000 kilometres (1,240 miles) of lines across the country, was extremely safe.
"Of course, I'm sorry about what's happened in China," he said in reference to a July 23 collision of two high-speed trains near Wenzhou, in which 40 people were killed and nearly 200 injured.
"But this accident just reminds everybody that sometimes it's better to put a little bit more, to have 100 (percent) security," Mariani said.
Jean de la Chapelle, head of transport for Australia and New Zealand at French infrastructure firm ALSTOM, said his company had worked on high-speed trains for decades and wanted to be involved in Australia.
He said Australia, with its vast flat expanses, would be a suitable for trains reaching operating speeds of 360 kilometres (223 miles) an hour.
"From a technological point of view, our achievability to put a high speed train in Australia, my answer is straightforward: yes. It's possible, there's no doubt about that," he told AFP.
Copyright © 2011 AFP. All rights reserved
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