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Malcolm Turnbull has been talking fast rail so I got aboard one of the world’s fastest trains in Shanghai.
Watch the video and enjoy with me the 8 minute ride on Shanghai’s Maglev elevated train from downtown to the airport, a distance of about 30 kilometres. In contrast cars and trucks typically take about 40 minutes for the same journey.
The Maglev train uses magnetic levitation; the magnets raise and propel the train which travels at 300km/hr or 430km/hr depending on the time of day you catch it. Tickets cost about $A10.
Journalist Chris Griffith gets aboard Shanghai airport’s fast rail link.
It’s faster than what we experience in an aircraft when it speeds down the runway, just before takeoff. Being a levitation system, it’s incredibly smooth compared to the shake, rattle and roll of an accelerating plane.
One of the interesting asides is the impact of the Doppler effect. The relative speed of the train to the ground distorts the signal wavelength and makes mobile communications more difficult. The fast handover time needed between mobile phone towers further complicates it.
You may know of the Doppler effect; when a speeding train approaches at a level crossing, the train’s siren is higher pitched than after it passes and speeds away.
Wavelengths become shorter as the train approaches and longer as it disappears.
The distortion of sound frequencies is understandable at the speed of sound but I was surprised that it would impact on radio signals travelling at the speed of light.
In a paper about this issue, China telecommunications supplier Huawei cites the Doppler effect between fast trains and the ground as a problem.
The Shanghai airport fast rail is capable of speeds of up to 430km/hr.
As for fast trains in Australia, we’ve been talking the talk for 30 years without walking the walk or riding the ride. Our population density is too low; labour costs are too high, are common arguments.
Both major parties seem in favour of it, in theory at least; Mr Turnbull with his recent statements and in the previous government Transport Minister Anthony Albanese who set aside about 1700km of rail corridor for the eastern coast.
Much of the debate on rail in Australia has centred on a proposed Melbourne-Brisbane link. Google “Everald Compton rail” and you’ll see decades of visionary rail plans that have come to nought.
But there are opportunities for fast rail for smaller runs in densely population centres.
Melbourne airport cries out for a rail link. The last time I was there the Skybus took about 40 minutes to travel the 17km to the city, about double the advertised 20 minutes due to peak hour traffic. And Melbourne traffic is getting worse. (On other occasions I have done the trip in about 20 minutes outside peak hour.)
Shanghai fast train times and speeds
There’s been too discussion about a fast rail link from Newcastle to Sydney but the NSW government this year said such a plan would require massive upgrades to existing stations.
Badgerys Creek airport to be built in Sydney’s west is an opportunity for a rail link that shouldn’t be missed. Last year the Federal Government indicated it would build the western Sydney airport without the link but Mr Turnbull has now suggested he would work towards implementing rail there.
If a magnetic levitation system similar to Shanghai’s fast train was built, the journey of about 56km would take roughly 15 minutes. As the train is likely to use conventional Sydney Rail infrastructure, the commonly cited time for the Badgerys Creek link is about 35 minutes.
Funding remains an obstacle and whether rail to Badgerys Creek happens is anyone’s guess.
This article first appeared on www.theaustralian.com.au
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