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Australia's Transport Future: More of the Same or Something Different?

Bruce Upbin
VP Strategic Communications, Hyperloop One

The East Coast of Australia has two of the most beautiful and amenable cities in the world in Melbourne and Sydney. In 2016, Melbourne was once again rated as the world’s most livable city by the EIU, with Sydney just dropping out of the top 10.  The down side of livability is that increasing numbers of people want to live in both cities.

Projections by Infrastructure Australia suggest that, by 2031, the population of greater Melbourne is expected to nearly double and metropolitan Sydney’s is projected to increase by more than 35%. Urban areas around these cities, including the Hunter and Geelong regions and Canberra are also expected to experience significant population growth. Along with more people comes increasing demand for intra- and inter-city passenger as well as freight transport and associated worsening of congestion and longer journey times.

In the next 15 years, demand on many key urban transport corridors, especially in Melbourne and Sydney, is predicted to exceed current capacity. The result is increased congestion, with increased ‘crush loadings’, where peak demand exceeds capacity, occurring with ever greater frequency, with resulting cost of delays. In 2011 the cost of delays on roads in Australia’s six largest capital cities was estimated to be A$13.7 billion ($10.4 billion in US dollars).

Australia’s ports are also expecting significant increases in container movements. Both the Port of Melbourne and Sydney’s Port Botany, already suffering capacity constraints, are expected to struggle to handle the more than doubling of containers. This will only compound the volume of intra- and inter-city road and rail traffic and congestion levels.

Already one of the busiest air corridors in the world, demand for airport transport services is expected to approximately double over the next 15 years. This will require additional capacity in both Sydney and Melbourne’s airports.

The stress on Australia’s transport infrastructure is becoming evident in international comparisons, which suggest that the overall quality of our infrastructure lags behind comparable countries. For example, the 2016–2017 World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Index ranks the quality of Australia’s infrastructure 17th out of 138 countries. Within this, a number of the poorest scores were for the quality of Australia’s roads and of port, rail and air transport infrastructure.

These patterns suggest an increasingly substantive transport infrastructure challenge.  In answering this challenge, Australia faces an interesting choice: should it be more of the same, or is it time to consider something different.

Hyperloop is something different.

With cruising speeds of 1,000 kmh, a Hyperloop system offers the potential to transport both people and freight, and connect capitals and regional centers in minutes rather than hours.

A proposed Hyperloop route could connect the three state and territory capitals and regional centers in Victoria and New South Wales, such as Shepparton, Albury/Wodonga and Wagga Wagga. It could also provide links to Port of Melbourne and Port Botany as well as Melbourne. Canberra and Sydney airports. And all at 1,000 kmh.

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The high-speed mainline tube would branch off to existing centers of urban and transport infrastructure. By providing connectivity and speed, together with on-demand service access and high availability, Hyperloop offers the opportunity to create a super-regional economy along Australia’s East Coast.

In Sydney on Friday 28 October, representatives from Hyperloop One and Ultraspeed Australia, Hyperloop One’s official representative in Australia, will present the case for doing something different to the Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities’ inquiry into transport connectivity.

Hyperloop is something that can have a truly profound transformational effect on the Australian economy in terms of social and economic transformation (by linking existing regional centers and capitals and easing capital city growth and congestion pressures) and freight capability (with associated efficiency and productivity gains). It also offers the potential for industry, with short haul distribution opportunities combined with new inter-modal centers.

With no sunk investment in conventional wheel-on-steel, high-speed rail, Australia could benefit by leapfrogging a generation. Hyperloop is simply faster, better, cheaper and greener than any high speed transport alternative available, for both passengers and freight.Proof the Hyperloop technology works will come early next year, when Hyperloop One has its “Kitty Hawk” moment, or first full system test.  This will demonstrate that Hyperloop is something different.