Rail industry news (Australia, New Zealand)

Too many benefits to ignore

The advantages of high-speed rail are well-known: less commute time, potential to grow jobs and communities, and fewer emissions. So is the time right to bite the bullet train?

With all the signs pointing the right way, there’s no better time than the present to get started on high-speed rail in Australia.

The view is expressed by no less an authority than Head of Product Strategy and Development within the high-speed department of Siemens Mobility, Michael Kopp, who told Rail Express that if Australia were to go ahead with faster rail, procrastination would not be productive.

Also the Program Director for Siemens’ new high-speed train, the Velaro Novo, Kopp is eminently qualified to speak on the subject. With a degree in electrical engineering, he began his career at Siemens in the sales and project execution department for high-speed trains in 1993, just a couple of years after the first high-speed network was brought in to Germany.

“The decision to introduce high-speed rail in Australia has to be taken by the government, and by the people at the end of the day,” he said. 

“There is no point in waiting for technology to get better or more innovative, for example.  We already have the knowledge to build high-speed rail in a proper way. 

“There will continuously be innovation and we are always try to find new solutions, but nothing will be so completely different that we could have a different system for high-speed rail.

“We have the proven experience with high-speed rail all over the world, in different surroundings, and the benefits are already experienced by millions of people. We have it at Siemens, but the rail industry in general has that experience. 

“And because of that, I think there’s no need to wait.”

Kopp said the concept, of course, had to be looked at very carefully before making decisions, as, for example, high speed rail infrastructure is built to last for a lifetime of about 100 years, not for 10 or 20.

But acknowledging the high costs of building the necessary infrastructure, he said the ideal was to “start small”.

“First of all, find an initial part of a connection where you can link two cities not too far apart, so maybe, as has been proposed, along the eastern coast: one in which there is not too much investment, but which can show to the public the benefits,” he said.

“Once the benefits of reducing trip times are clear, more and more people will move to high-speed rail and use it, and then the government can develop additional projects and link up more cities. 

“Then it is a lot of detailed work to discuss, for example the basic standards and track gauge sizes for lines, to ensure that everything fits together and there is an interoperable solution for high-speed rail in Australia.

“It would be beneficial to use a standard gauge for high-speed, instead of specialised smaller or larger ones, for example, because then you can use all the standard equipment which already exists, including rolling stock.

“Then the line is set up as a separated network where high-speed trains can run on, similar to Japan.”

Problems would arise with a lack of harmonisation and interopability across the country that is already a key issue for the industry. Australia is particularly fragmented by the use of differing gauges in each state.

“If you have a standard gauge track and cannot use the conventional network, you have to find a way of getting into the cities and into the main stations,” he said.

“Do you have only the high-speed connection from the outskirts and not directly to the centre of town?”

Another key consideration is the alignment and land availability. 

“Is it running over state-owned land? Do you have to buy the land from private people? What are the restrictions?” Kopp said. 

Kopp said this aspect could delay the project by many years if not handled properly.

“In Germany, some high-speed projects have been delayed by acquiring the land, getting agreement with all landowners, setting up a landscape management plan to define ecological compensatory measures for land consumed,” he said.

“Then some people would go to court and make legal claims and so on.

“In other countries, regulations might be different so that land acquisition might be much easier.”

“Australia has its own rules, but land acquisition is another consideration of building high speed rail: how to get the land?”

Klopp said apart from connecting places over long distances and transporting commuters between them in a short space of time, the networks also provide opportunities to create new station precincts along the lines, thereby boosting jobs and the economy. 

“There will be benefits of having better connections, including on the surroundings. For example, in Germany we have a high-speed line between Frankfurt to Cologne, and two intermediate stops have been built along the way,” he said.

“The outcome was that a lot of people bought country there, built up houses and today use the train day by day to go from these towns to work in Frankfurt. 

“Normally they would hardly drive into Frankfurt city by car because the distance of 70 to 100 km is too great. But on the high-speed rail, it takes them only half an hour to get to Frankfurt to work.

Siemens’ ICE 4, the latest high-speed train for German operator Deutsche Bahn. IMAGE: SIEMENS

“It’s even faster compared to being in Frankfurt itself and using the subways or local public transport”.

“So that’s also something you have to take into consideration: giving people who live a greater distance away from the cities, better possibility to get into the cities, even if it’s only along the line.”

Another big benefit of high-speed rail is that once in operation, the fully electrified networks will reduce carbon emissions, compared to current car or bus transport.

“With climate change, there is no alternative but to look into modes of transport which are more sustainable at the end, because we can’t go on using cars and burning all that oil,” he said.

Kopp was aware of criticism that the building of the networks would in itself create a large carbon footprint, but said the long-term benefits would be worth pursuing.

“That’s always the discussion. You need to invest, and you need to build and it will cost money. It will have a CO2 footprint, but considering the long term impact, thinking of 50 to 100 years, you will see the benefit of that,” he said.

“And that’s the point behind why high-speed rail is discussed and implemented all over the world.”


Kopp said Siemens Mobility was widely experienced in high-speed rail, incorporating full turnkey services as well as its renowned fleet of fast trains.

He said lessons could be learned from a current high-speed rail build that Siemens Mobility was carrying out in Egypt: a significant project that comprised the largest order in the history of the company.

The 2000-kilometre state-of-the-art high-speed rail network will connect 60 cities throughout the country, with trains that can operate at up to 230km/h. 

This means that approximately 90 percent of Egyptians will have access to this modern, safe, and integrated rail system. 

“With a modal shift to train transport, the fully electrified network will cut carbon emissions, further supporting Egypt’s efforts in transforming its mobility to a more sustainable one,” Kopp said. 

“Together with civil works partners Orascom Construction and The Arab Contractors, Siemens Mobility is providing its comprehensive turnkey services to design, install, commission, and maintain the entire system for 15 years. 

“Not only will it promote economic growth, it will also enable Egypt to take a leap forward in rail transportation. With our latest technology in rolling stock, signalling, and maintenance services, Egypt will have the sixth largest and most modern high-speed rail network in the world,” Kopp said

Along with its partners, Siemens Mobility has developed from scratch a complete and state-of-the-art rail network that will offer a blueprint for the region on how to install an integrated, sustainable, and modern transportation system.

The Egyptian high-speed network will consist of three lines: 

The “Suez Canal on rails,” a 660km line connecting the port cities of Ain Sokhna on the Red Sea to Marsa Matrouh and Alexandria on the Mediterranean

A second line of about 1100km and run between Cairo and Abu Simbel near the Sudan border, linking the mega city to rising economic centres in the south, allowing for the development of communities up and down the Nile, which will subsequently provide additional opportunities for small and family-owned businesses to flourish

The third line of 225kms connecting the world heritage archaeological sites in Luxor with Hurghada by the Red Sea. In addition, this rail link will significantly improve the efficiency and sustainability of freight transport for goods and materials between Safaga harbor and inland locations. 

To support the installation of the rail network, the consortium has directly  created up to 40 thousand jobs in Egypt, with an additional 6700 at Egyptian suppliers and indirectly through the wider Egyptian economy. 

To equip the entire rail network, Siemens Mobility will deliver trains based on its proven product platforms. This includes 41 Velaro eight car high-speed trains, 94 Desiro high-capacity four car regional train sets, and 41 Vectron freight locomotives. 

On all three lines, Siemens Mobility will install a safe and reliable signalling system based on the European Train Control System (ETCS) Level 2 technology, as well as the power supply system that will deliver efficient and continuous energy. 

“Siemens Mobility will provide its latest digital products and platforms that will optimise operations throughout the network for the trains, rail infrastructure and sub-systems,” Kopp said. 

“The digital application Railigent will be used to provide comprehensive asset management and maintenance to guarantee the highest availability. 

“Digitalised depots will enable seamless processes from problem identification to correction. Automated ticketing, digital station and power management solutions will help to meet the challenges surrounding capacity and efficiency in stations.”