A recent article in the New York Times illustrates the good sense in developing a high speed train along the Californian coast from San Dieago in the south to Sacramento in the north.
Kathleen Sharp detailed that her family have been in the railroad for 150 years when her grand-dad came to America from Ireland ending up in San Francisco and how their family has complained about the time it takes to drive anywhere in California with traffic jams and the like.
Sharp writes: "In 2008, California voters approved Proposition 1A, a $10 billion bond measure to build a bullet train. The Obama administration made high-speed rail a priority in 2009, and earmarked $8 billion for such projects around the country. Conservative governors in Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida returned their rail funds, which increased California's share to $3.2 billion. The idea that a sleek train running over 200 miles per hour could move us from San Diego to Sacramento in just two and a half hours seemed a dream come true."
After giving the pros and cons, detailing the politics of the situation and he first shovel into the turf to start the project, Sharp says: "But bigger than the train's cost and potential payoff is what it symbolises. Nowhere else in the country can you find such bold, stubborn faith in the idea that government can actually do something for its citizens. It's as if, after the long recession and a punishing drought, hope is stirring again in the Golden State."
Moreover what makes the project a possibility is that the population of California is greater than the entire population of Australia. A high speed train, as in Europe, Japan and China makes sense if you have the people to move.
In my November article on an Australian high speed train I made these points: the first instance, where very fast trains operate so too there is mammoth population. Take Japan – they have platform staff functioning as passenger pushes to ensure everyone gets on. This is not the place to be after enduring some surgery. Tokyo and Kobe have populations that dwarf Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane combined. Take Europe, we're talking millions of people being moved.
This leads me to the second issue, that of distances. Does anyone realise how small geographically Europe is and how large Australia is. Paris to Brussels is like Sydney to Wollongong. Brussels to Berlin is like Sydney to Moss Vale. Berlin to Warsaw is like Sydney to Gosford. Warsaw to Prague is like Sydney to Lithgow.
The third consideration is culture. I recall the MCC cricket chaplain the Reverend Andrew Wingfield-Digby in 1991 who came out to Australia with the English team for the Ashes series. We got together (Australian Team and MCC Team Chaplains) over a cuppa. It was his first trip to Australia and was dumbfounded that wherever he went from Perth in the West to Brisbane in the north, everyone spoke with the same tone and accent, whereas in Britain there is a different accent over the next hill.
So too air travel in Australia. The distances are vast and no one today either has the time or the intent to spend two days on a train whereby they can get from one city to another from anywhere from one hour to three hours. The culture is such that we all like air travel. The day of the overnight and quite possibly the all night sleeper, is long gone unless you're on a tourist train or live in regional and rural Australia along major rail routes.
Then there is the most crucial issue, that of money. The capital outlay of rail perway infrastructure is nothing but mind blowing.
So, herein lies the possible economic reasoning for a very fast train line. To make it revue raising, there needs to be freight and for freight from one capital city to another criss crossing the nation, big, long, fast freighters need to be running such trips such as Melbourne to Brisbane via a western line.
This however is no passenger train option. Forget the quick rail trip inland, take the plane. This could work. Whack on four or five huge donks on the front, get the bogie wheeled freighter up and running, no stops apart a crew change, and within 12 hours your container has travelled from Melbourne to Brisbane running at around 100k per hour.
As for the Sydney to Canberra to Melbourne Very Fast Train on new infrastructure super track, wait for the 2025 election campaign!
But as Kathleen Sharp points out: "But bigger than the train's cost and potential payoff is what it symbolises. Nowhere else in the country can you find such bold, stubborn faith in the idea that government can actually do something for its citizens. It's as if, after the long recession and a punishing drought, hope is stirring again in the Golden State."
There's the rub. This is equally the case for Australia and with the political will, the fiscal situation falls right and the public imagination behind it, then it may get the go ahead for what it symbolises. Such a bold faith step could do marvels for the spirit for the nation, like say when Australia won the America's Cup.
It kind of reminds me of the Acts of the Apostles. A dispirited group of men and women post the crucifixion of Jesus, turned into a mammoth turn-around of larger than life men and women on a mission post the resurrection. It turned the world upside down. We today are the beneficiaries.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html