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Spanish train maker Talgo is sending executives to Australia in June to pitch fast trains that could slash travel times between cities, including Sydney-Canberra, by around one-third on existing rail tracks.
Talgo wants to provide fast trains that travel at up to 200 kilometres per hour on regional Australian routes, arguing they could cut the travel time between Sydney and Canberra to less than three hours from the current travel time of around four-and-a-half hours.
The Spanish group has developed technology that allows trains to switch to tracks with different gauges without stopping. Some of its trains can also switch between diesel and electric power, which would suit Australian tracks that are only partially electrified.
Talgo, which makes its trains in Spain, the US and Kazakhstan, wanted to participate in a tender to replace the NSW regional rail fleet but didn't qualify, partially because it is not well-known in Australia, the company's Asia Pacific regional director Alejandro Gomez Perez told The Australian Financial Review in an interview at the company's headquarters on the outskirts of Madrid.
Talgo, which competes with Germany's Siemens, France's Alstom and rival Spanish manufacturer CAF – which is also pushing into the Australian market – does not have an office or permanent staff in Australia. But it wants to build up its profile, potentially by maintaining trains made by competitors, in the hope of finding partners to help it tender for future projects.
The federal government is providing $20 million to develop business cases for fast rail links on three routes: Sydney to Canberra, Melbourne to Greater Shepparton, and Brisbane to the Sunshine Coast.
However, Mr Perez said Talgo did not want to waste money tendering for contracts it was unlikely to win. "We don't know the market in Australia so we need to be cautious," he said.
Talgo executives are planning meetings with state governments next month in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth, where the WA government has started the tender process to acquire 246 new rail cars for its Metronet network.
Putting fast trains on existing regional rail tracks in Australia is complicated by the presence of thousands of level crossings. Trains need to slow down when they go over crossings to reduce the risk of accidents with cars driving across rail tracks.
Fast trains that run directly between cities with only a few stops would also need to co-ordinate with slower passenger trains and freight trains, unless new track infrastructure is built.
However, governments and infrastructure operators are investigating all options for improving transport links between cities to encourage economic development and affordable housing outside major urban centres.
Simon Ormsby, head of strategy at the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), said the rail group – which manages 8500 kilometres of track in Australia – was "very aware" of the demands that growing cities would place on freight and passenger rail services.
"We're keen to explore innovative solutions that will enable better use of the rail system to meet freight and passenger customer needs," Mr Ormsby said.
Talgo wants local governments to become familiar with its brand so that it is positioned to bid for very high speed trains, which can reach up to 350 kilometres per hour, if Australia ever decides to build high-speed rail links.
But the company does not believe high-speed trains will be adopted in the near term in Australia, Mr Perez said.
Talgo is leading a project backed by the European Union to examine how composite materials used in the aerospace industry could be used to reduce the weight of trains, lowering energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions.
The writer was a guest of the Spain Australia Council Foundation
This article first appeared on www.afr.com
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