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High speed rail: Japanese bid to bring us into the game

Posted by on 16/06/2019

Living the dream: Japan has had high speed rail longer than Australia has been talking about it. Living the dream: Japan has had high speed rail longer than Australia has been talking about it.

Living the dream: Japan has had high speed rail longer than Australia has been talking about it.

Living the dream: Japan has had high speed rail longer than Australia has been talking about it.

In Tokyo this week for the 50th anniversary celebrations of the first of Japan’s remarkable high-speed rail lines, the Shinkansen, former deputy prime minister and noted train buff Tim Fischer drew a laugh with a spot of Australian self-deprecation.

“Australia invented 22 different railway gauges,” Fischer told a conference audience, referring to that notorious situation in which the colonies built rail tracks different widths apart, which for many years prevented proper interstate travel.

“We have some competence in this subject.”

The anniversary of the opening of the first Shinkansen from Tokyo to Osaka in October 1964, a few days before Tokyo hosted the Olympic Games, is a moment of immense national pride in Japan.

But the anniversary is also being used by the companies that operate Japan’s rail system as part of a new push to promote the export of their fast rail technology.

They are focusing on countries that have, at least, expressed an enthusiasm for high-speed rail – India, the US, Malaysia.

And, of course, Australia, which has been talking about building high speed rail almost as long as the Japanese have been riding on it.

“The Japanese government has told them to get on with it,” says Bryan Nye, the chief executive of the Australasian Railway Association and a board member of the International High Speed Railway Association, a Japanese-dominated group set up in April.

“They acknowledge that they are the world’s best, and I think they are a little surprised that the world hasn’t come to them,” says Nye.

For the Australian boosters of high-speed rail, the hope is that a new forwardness within the Japanese industry will push the technology on an Australian government which, like its predecessors, has expressed generic support for the concept but not been prepared to stump up the billions to make it happen.

The first serious high speed rail proposal in Australia emerged in 1984 – 20  years after the opening of the Tokyo to Osaka line.

The VFT, or Very Fast Train, concept originated in the CSIRO, according to Dale Budd, a former chief of staff to Malcolm Fraser who worked in a government relations role on the proposal.

This Melbourne to Sydney project was backed by TNT, Kumagai, Elders, and the miner – and then steel producer – BHP, who spent $15 million on studies into the line.

But the concept died when the Hawke government refused to offer the required tax concessions.

A second proposal – a fast train to link Sydney and Canberra and extend to Melbourne later – was pitched during the 1990s. This project – “Speedrail” – was proposed by French rail manufacturer Alstom construction giant Leighton Holdings, who spent about $25 million on the idea.

But the Howard government ruled it out in 2000, and the era of private companies initiating a high speed rail line in Australia appeared to be over.

At the conference organised this week to mark the anniversary of the world’s first high speed rail line, you could find evidence to support both the sceptics and the promotors of Australian high speed rail.

The Kyushu Railway Company runs high speed rail to the south-west tip of Japan. As such, it needs to attract riders to longer distance trips, comparable to a Sydney to Melbourne journey.

According to its president, Toshihiko Aoyagi, the great majority of travellers use high speed rail for journeys between 100 kilometres and 300 kilometres apart.

Between 300 kilometres and 750 kilometres, competition is fierce and the market tends to be split. But airlines have an advantage for trips longer than 750 kilometres.

Melbourne to Sydney is about 850 kilometres.

But the presentations also showed that there have been dramatic improvements to the speed, frequency and reliability of high speed trains in the past 50 years. There would surely be more in the decades it would take to build an Australian line.

When it opened in 1964, a trip between Tokyo and Osaka on the Tokaido Shinkansen took four hours. Next year the journey time will drop to about two hours and 20  minutes.

The Tokaido Shinkansen also demonstrates the stimulatory effects lauded by high speed rail advocates.

JR Central, which operates the Tokyo to Osaka route, and which makes so much money it is planning to self-fund the duplication of that route with a 500 km/h line using magnetic levitation technology, opened a new high speed rail station in Shinagawa in southern Tokyo in 2003.

There have since been huge increases in development near Shinagawa station, according to Shun-ichi Kosuge, the corporate executive officer of JR Central.

Property prices have increased at 1.5 times the rate of Tokyo prices in general. And real estate taxes for the local government have tripled since the station was opened. That would be some result for Campbelltown.

If there has not been a private sector proposal to build a fast rail line in Australia for 15 years, that is not for lack of interest.

Anthony Albanese commissioned  $20 million on a feasibility study into high speed rail on the Australian east coast when transport minister in the Rudd and Gillard governments. The study argued a line would be viable – you could travel between Sydney and Melbourne in under three hours – though that leg would cost in the order of $60 billion.

Albanese says he was lobbied multiple times by parties interested in helping to build and finance a project.

“Japan, China, France, Italy and Spain – they’d be five countries that have expressed interest to the point of sending out delegations to Australia,” says Albanese.

“While Australia has a pretty sparse population, the east coast is actually suited to do it – if you can get from door to door in three hours it’s very competitive.”

The Abbott government, however, has cut $54 million from funding for the preservation of that route, though a spokesman for Transport Minister, Warren Truss, says he will outline the government’s current position on high speed rail at a Canberra forum on Monday.

The Japanese, Truss might be aware, want to be involved.

“In 1964 Japan was still poor, we had no money,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told the 50th anniversary dinner on Wednesday.

“We had to borrow from the World Bank. It was not something we could do by ourselves,” he said.

“We have to repay the favour for all the help we’ve received.”

The reporter’s trip to Tokyo was paid for by the High-Speed Rail Shinkansen 50th Anniversary conference organisers.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on 苏州美甲美睫培训学校.

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