Decentralising Australian cities via high speed rail

I lived in China for over 10 years and saw the transformation of cities through the building high-speed rail connections. The first weekend of my time in China in 2005,  I took a K-Train to Suzhou(about 100kms from Shanghai) to see the gardens, and it took about 55-60 minutes on the train and we passed through a couple of other cities along which I think were Anting and Kunshan.

Move forward to 2008 when High-Speed Rail started D-Train (“Dongche”, 动车) in China at 250km/h (155mph) and then later in 2010 the new G-Train (“Ggaotie”高铁) that can reach 400km/h (280mph) when the same trip between Shanghai and Suzhou now takes 23-32 minutes cutting the time in half.   HSR has been so transformative that some air routes in China no longer exist.

The high-speed rail(HSR) has transformed China and has been used to create new cities and relieve the transport stresses placed on major cities by decentralising the population of cities. Whilst we still continue the same work paradigm of working in offices in Central Activity/Business Districts we will require people to travel into “downtown” in the morning and then leave and return to their homes in the cities. Whilst we all still ponder the possibility of autonomous vehicle travel we have to look toward solutions including decentralising populations from major cities. Melbourne and Sydney have both now sprawled over large areas with populations of over 4 million, the density is low although increasing over the last decade there is still major stress on the transport system.

The has been an ongoing discussion for the last 30 years of a high-speed rail line between Melbourne and Sydney due to the number of flights between the cities (one of the busiest in the world) and also due to the fact that they are the largest populations in Australia. However, this discussion often doesn’t go beyond expensive feasibility studies. I think that the premise of connecting the two biggest cities is the wrong discussion around high-speed rail infrastructure but in fact, the discussion should be focusing more on connecting regional cities (Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo and Newcastle, Wollongong and the capital Canberra) to the main centres to decentralise the populations and increase business centres.

Through HSR we could see populations move and grow these regional centres with most populations being 70,000 to 400,000 people whilst the major cities have grown beyond 4 million.

For Melbourne, it would seem the best solution would be to first connect Geelong and Melbourne via Avalon Airport with a travel time of 18-24 minutes cutting the current travel time(1 hour) by over 60% and would connect Melbourne’s second airport to the city.

In Sydney, it would seem that connecting Canberra via the new airport at Baggerys Creek and Wooloongong would be the first route due to the amount of travel (car and air) that happens between the cities. Currently, the travel time is 4 hours 8 Minutes to travel 280-350km, which high-speed rail this could be cut to 1hr 30 – 1hr 45 based on two intermediate stops.

The financial benefits for regional cities are generated through increased population growth and tourism and reduced costs for major cities due to the reduction in the needs creating new housing and infrastructure.

Australian Governments have attempted to shift populations by moving departments or statutory authorities to regional cities, however, it is often hard to get people to relocate due to the distance from friends and family.

The issue with most planning studies and models we see from planners and architects show increased density in the central business district with higher towers. This is not the answer but will increase the current problems due to increase density and reduction in open space.

There are numerous issues around the current population growth in Melbourne and Sydney, each having grown by over 1 million people in the last decade, however, we constantly keep looking at the solution of increased density with new surburban rail stations on overcrowded lines as the silver bullet. However, there are numerous regional cities that have populations of less than 10% of major cities and by connecting these to the major business districts through rail and increasing the density of office buildings and mixed use in these centres rather than increasing residential populations through large towers.

These idea is only one of many but it is a large idea that could make the largest difference to Australia’s major cities.

Reading outside your field

Reading is an excellent way to stimulate your brain and gain new insights and generate new ideas. We often get stuck in a rut reading the same newspapers, books, authors, blogs, and other media that our field of vision becomes too focuses and narrow. It may be good for your job to be up to date on all the latest news and information in your field. However, you often find that people in your company or profession are reading the same material and often authored in your country of residence. If you want to get ahead and learn more the best thing you can do is look for reading material whether online or in hard copy form that is outside of your field and in something totally different. Why? because often our jobs and lives are about solving problems whether small or large we are all looking to create better ways of how we do our job.

Reading outside your profession opens you up to different ways of thinking and different approaches to problem solving. So, if your in finance maybe read an architectural journal; If your in engineering maybe read a logistics whitepaper; If your in architect read a biological science conference excerpts; Reading a wider range of material stimulates your brain and gives you more to think about but changes the way you may approach a problem next time or provide a solution for a problem you have been working on for months or years.

I am always interested to hear from people and read their blog or material so send me an email at if you wish to send me something you think I might find interesting.


Innovation through difference

Rapid innovation does not occur through persevering at one idea with the same people until you ‘crack’ the code.  You may get some innovation this way and many scientists, business people have gone this route however their progress is slow and I am sure they spoke to other people about their problems.

Creating difference in thinking and dialogue through bringing different people together will create innovation and solutions at a greater pace. Collaboration between people of different backgrounds, fields, age groups, nations can always create innovation.

Think of something basic – like building a wall or new type of house – if the architect tries to innovate by themselves it will not be as innovative as say in collaboration with an engineer, artist, builder or school children. The same thing could be said for something as complex as space exploration or the Large Hadron Collider where teams of engineers and scientists from different countries and fields came together to create innovative solutions to achieve one goal.

Innovation occurs when you have multiple influences that then create more stimulus for people to react to. Creating difference or indifference as the case maybe through can create new ideas and innovation through brainstorming, conversation, debate, analysis, whether working together in the same room or in different parts of the world connected through the internet. Now it could not be cheaper or easier to connect people around the world  in your company, university, profession, or areas of study.