4 December 2012 — I was interested to see that the Australian Greens have resurrected the proposal for an east coast high speed rail corridor.

Some of us are old enough to remember the Speedrail proposal of the early 1990s, which died off in the recession that followed. This was normal, as these ideas tend to bump around for a long time before commencement.

One only needs think of the Adelaide-Darwin railway, first mooted in 1910 and completed 94 years later, and Crossrail in London, currently under construction as part of a rail plan for London from 1965.

It is normal to moan about the rail service in Britain, but trains on the venerable East Coast Main Line regularly reach 200km/h, as do those on the upgraded West Coast Main Line.

This makes Edinburgh, 632 kilometres from London, an easy 4 1/4 hour journey from city centre to city centre. Modern high speed rail, like Eurostar, covers the 495 km from central London to central Paris in 2 1/4 hours and has captured 85 per cent of London to Paris traffic. It looks nothing like your image of a high speed railway, as I am sure you know.

These sorts of speeds and journey times show just how far Australia has let its railways decline.

With the country largely in denial until recently about its carbon footprint and international carbon reduction obligations, this was understandable.

But an Australia with ambitions to play its part in the international environmental scene will have to rethink its transport sector, among the most carbon intensive in the world, from the ground up.

This is where HSR comes in. If it can replace a significant proportion of both air and road trips, as Eurostar has done and as the report predicts Australian HSR would, it will make a significant contribution to reducing Australia’s dreadful CO2 emissions in future.

We must only hope that it does go ahead this time.

Matthew Hardy is a board member of the Council for European Urbanism based in London. He is originally from Adelaide.