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You know there's an election coming up when politicians start talking about high-speed rail. But will it ever get off the ground — and would it be worth the cost?
He had just experienced the thrill of riding the Shinkansen, an ultra-fast inter-city bullet train that had already been in operation for two decades.
It was a ride that made his occasional commute from Canberra to Sydney, well over four hours long, feel particularly gloomy in comparison.
He conceived the idea of a high-speed railway between Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne, dubbed the Very Fast Train.
Dr Wild's vision became the first Australian high-speed rail proposal to fall over, but scores have followed in its footsteps.
And as the fast rail debate rears its titanium head in time for another election year, many are wondering if it's ever going to become a reality — or whether it should.
Can we afford it?According to rail transport professor John Preston from the University of Southampton, very few city pairs in the world can satisfy the necessary conditions for commercially viable high-speed rail network.
"Tokyo-Osaka is clearly one, and Paris-Lyon is another. Shanghai-Nanjing in China are possibilities, but they're facing relatively heavy levels of demand," he says.
"We're talking 20 million passengers per annum in the first year of operation, and then normally fairly substantial growth thereafter."
At home, despite of all the private sector interest — and there has been plenty over the years — no organisation has been prepared to build a network without government support.
"Tellingly, people are willing to design and build it, but no-one is saying they would be willing to run it," transport consultant Peter Thornton says.
This means that almost all proposals are reliant on governments throwing money in the kitty to get fast rail infrastructure off, onto, or under the ground.
In 2013 the Rudd government put the cost of a Brisbane to Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra route at an eye-watering $114 billion.
This would dwarf even Sydney's in-progress WestConnex, which at a possible $45 billion represents one of Australia's most expensive transport projects.
It is a number that alarms Marion Terrill, director of the Transport and Cities Program at the Grattan Institute.
"Just to put that in perspective, that's $5,000 for every person in Australia — it's a generation's worth of infrastructure funding," she says.
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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