The post below was originally going to be a relatively brief response to a comment from Archivist on the Qantas Chairman’s Lounge Thread, but quickly grew in size as I tried to do justice to all the idiocy and fantastical thinking involved in building “a business case” for a VFT between Sydney and Melbourne. Some of the evidence below about travel logistics cites my personal experiences as an occasional air traveller on that route. Most cost figures cited are in 2020 dollars.
How quickly could a VFT cover the distance between Sydney to Melbourne? It’s around 880 kms, or more depending on detours that might enable it to stop in Canberra and various “major regional centres”.
I travel that route by air about four times a year for work. From door to door (i.e. leaving my house to arriving at whatever stupid bloody meeting I need to attend in Melbourne) it generally takes about three to three and half hours. The trip involves two taxi rides and can be subject to random infuriating delays, such as waiting for over 30 minutes to get a cab at Tullamarine, or the flight (Qantas) being delayed for various inexcusable reasons. The trip back to Sydney (and then home) almost always takes longer than the trip to the Melbourne meeting venue.
Then there’s cost of travel factors to consider. A return cattle class Qantas flight costs an average of around $1,200 (red eye and standard fare) and four cab fares around $240 (total cost $1,440). Therefore, any VFT would need to be capable of achieving similar or better travel times and costs.
The VFT would ideally need to traverse the distance between the cities in three hours or less (three hours would require an average speed of around 293 kms/hr) and cost significantly less for a return ticket (e.g. $800 return) before I would even remotely contemplate using it. That’s six hours travel on the VFT in one day, for starters, as opposed to around four hours on a plane. If the train departed from Central in Sydney, there would be additional travel time to and from there of about an hour for me. The next factor would be where does the train stop in Melbourne? If it stops at the CBD, I may still need to get a cab or tram etc, to the meeting venue, necessitating extra cost and time expended.
It’s entirely unsurprising to note that various media pieces and government press releases pushing the VFT concept invariably quote travel times of between two to three hours, which quite frankly, are ridiculous, given the distance involved and the fact that cutting edge technology is never employed in public infrastructure projects in this country (Hello, National Brontosaurus Network Network!). Readers are also encouraged not to believe the exhortations of the likes of Clive Palmer on this subject, either. “Safe Travelling Speeds” as demanded by greenfilth and decreed by bureaucratic numbskulls, would be another inevitable impediment to any VFT’s efficient operation.
Then you’d need to factor how many travellers on that route would forego flying and use the VFT instead, if it was ever constructed and met the minimum time and cost parameters identified above. According to the relevant federal government department, in November 2019, the Melbourne – Sydney route was travelled by 800,000 passengers. Multiply that by 12 and there are around 9.6 million passengers using that route per year. If 25% of them (an optimistic number, I’d argue) used the VFT at $400 per fare, the annual revenue for the VFT would be $960 million. Would this represent a sufficient revenue stream to justify the construction and ongoing operation costs of the VFT? There may also be a one off initial revenue “sugar hit” as an indeterminate number of people decide to take the VFT journey for the novelty value, before subsequently vowing never to do so again.
Most importantly, what would be the carrying capacity of each train and how many trains would complete the route each day? Would the line need to be duplicated? Presumably yes. The trains and track would presumably need to be manufactured locally for a “Jerbs for Ozzies” angle or would some or (possibly) all of the manufacturing be done in the glorious Peoples’ Republic of China?
Sadly, there’s not much point in speculating, because a VFT for that route will never be built in any of our lifetimes. The following, for example, would present almost insurmountable impediments:
- Feasibility and environmental impact studies, construction licenses, property resumptions, approvals etc – allow ten to 15 years at least (hell, we’ve already allowed a factor of many times that over the last 50 years or so)
- Previously unknown habitats of endangered blind earthworms/speckled eucalypt skinks/walnut crested drongos and “inadvertently discovered” indigenous sacred sites along the route – allow another ten to 15 years
- unionist blockheads taking two weeks to lay one kilometre of track (allow around 34 years – and OK, I might be being a tad cynical here)
The eventual cost of building the bloody thing would run into the trillions of dollars over the many decades it would no doubt take to finish. If it was a “Public Private Partnership” taxpayers would be right royally screwed into the bargain – as they have been on every major public infrastructure project in this stupid, stupid country in the last thirty years (thanks, corrupt pollies, unions and crony capitalists!).
While Maglev technology may excite various types, the concept of constructing a Maglev line 880kms long is science fantasy and any eventual cost beyond sensible consideration. Finally, monitoring the integrity and security of a line that long, not to mention maintaining it, would constitute a logistical nightmare.
The costs would be exorbitant, the benefits for the economy, taxpayers and travellers non-existent and the benefits for the environment marginal at best (although unlikely as we’ve speculated, to ever be an issue).
So, VFT proponents – there’s a free “business case” for you.
Now sod off, swampies. Move onto your next idiotic scheme, like building a toy train network in Sydney.
Oh, hang on …