High-speed trains could help create dream pocket cities

High-speed trains could help create dream pocket cities :It makes little sense to keep expanding Australia’s big metropolitan centres – especially when the Grattan Institute tells us more than half the employment growth in our five largest cities occurs less than 10 kilometres from the city centre. Nor when a new report by Ian Harper says the economic benefits of getting cities right are “many multiples” greater than the benefits of tax reform or the competition changes he recommended to the federal government.

Without a radical policy change, the projected near-doubling of Sydney and Melbourne’s population to about 8 million each by 2035 is likely to make congestion and social divisions much worse.

A couple of close-knit new “knowledge economy” clusters might arise within the continuing drab pattern of development in Sydney and Melbourne. Perhaps the clusters will boost productivity by encouraging people to “spark off one another”, as Harper envisages in his Deloitte Access Economics report.

But it’s hard to see what relevance this will have to the great majority of the 8 million extra people spread across an enlarged Sydney and Melbourne.

Malcolm Turnbull’s rejection of Tony Abbott’s ban on federal funding for urban rail should help. But current planning seems mainly focused on adding apartment blocks around stations.
high-speed-trains-could-help-create-dream-pocket-cities
Driverless vehicles

However, Turnbull’s support for capturing part of the increase in land values resulting from better transport links creates a chance to reduce pressures on Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane by developing distinctive new cities where people will want live and work.

New funding models, very high-speed trains, driverless vehicles and falling demand for car ownership among young people help make decentralisation far more appealing than previously.

Cities don’t need a population of 8 million to thrive. Designing cities for greenfields sites between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane could create the compact infrastructure suited to high-quality educational, research and cultural facilities interacting with high-tech industries and start-up ventures.

Urban sprawl is avoidable – purpose-built roads for driverless electric cars and buses take up less room than traditional freeways. High-speed trains greatly improve connectivity to other urban centres.

Overseas experience shows these trains generate large increases in land values in wide areas around stations. Public-private consortiums could construct the train tracks and recover much of the cost by developing cheap land for new cities and capturing part of the gains from metropolitan stations.

If new cities along the Melbourne to Brisbane corridor attracted 2 million or more people and associated businesses, this would make metropolitan population growth more manageable.

Maximising revenue from passengers and freight would require a mix of express trains between the big metropolitan cities and more frequent stops along the route.

Two competing train technologies exist. Advanced wheel-on-steel trains in Japan, France and China operate at up to 360 km/h. But the extra speed comes with steep increases in maintenance and energy costs from mechanical friction.

This doesn’t apply to the faster magnetic levitation, or maglev, technologies available from Japan and potentially China and Germany. However, they all suffer from air resistance at higher speeds.

Japan’s most profitable high-speed rail operator, JR Tokai, is building a maglev system between Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka without government subsidies. The system relies on superconducting magnets to lift, stabilise and propel trains at 500km/h within a guide-way. Because tunnels comprise more than 80 per cent of the route, construction costs are much higher than in Australia.

Sydney-Melbourne is the world’s fourth-busiest domestic air corridor. Almost all these passengers would choose to switch to a two-hour trip by maglev from city centre to city centre, compared with the three hours it would take by high-speed rail or air plus ground transport.

High-speed trains would remove the need for two airports in Sydney if Badgerys Creek was fully developed. Ideally, a joint venture could generate billions of dollars for new infrastructure by redeveloping land around a high-speed rail hub at a rezoned airport site at Mascot.

high-speed-trains-could-help-create-dream-pocket-cities

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