The concept of high-speed rail is one that has become popular in developed countries all over the world, with the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson having recently unveiled “controversial and difficult” plans to press ahead with the contentious HS2 project.
Johnson’s admission betrays the challenging and divisive nature of high-speed rail, however, which despite being increasingly commonplace remains a costly entity that often fails to serve communities outside of big city locations.
High-speed rail definitely poses significant challenges in terms of functionality and technology, which is arguably why Australia remains the only continent on the planet that doesn’t have this (apart from the Antarctica, of course).
Despite this, high-speed rail remains firmly in the plans of Australian politicians, who are looking to negate the underlying challenges and make this seemingly distant dream a reality.
What is High-speed Rail and Why is it Not Available in Australia?
In technical terms, high-speed rail is defined as a service that travels at a speed of 250km/h or above, while this type of service typically connects major cities along popular commuter routes (depending largely on demand and usage).
Of course, leading politicians in Australia have been talking about installing this type of rail service for years now, with an estimated $125 million having been spent on research and development in this field according to the academics at the University of Wollongong.
However, not a single kilometre of corridor has been reserved by the government for future projects, with cynics suggesting that high-speed rail is little more than an election campaign favourite that parties have no real intention of bringing to life.
At the heart of this inaction are concerns about the viability and affordability of high-speed rail in Australia, while a fundamental lack of political vision is also causing some to underestimate the importance of this type of service in the modern age.
More specifically, many consider high-speed rail to be little more than an alternative method of getting from Sydney to Melbourne, and ministers have suggested that the public money would be better spent creating affordable housing for locals in these regions.
What are the Tech Issues Facing High-speed Rail in Australia?
Despite this, we’re now seeing a renewed push amongst ministers to drive high-speed rail projects, with agencies at both state and federal level involved in this initiative.
While the desire to install high-speed rail routes in Australia may be growing, however, there are a number of technology challenges that the government must overcome to achieve this objective.
Take the efficient delivery of digital signals, for example, which are crucial to the successful and safe function of all rail services (and particularly high-speed lines).
These signals are created by rapid on-off electronic switching, which generate pulse trains and subsequently produce viable signals in real-time. However, investing in the right semiconductor technology can be both costly and challenging, particularly as part of a large, nationwide project.
This is where so-called MOSFETs can come into play, however, as these components conduct electrical current in one direction and are able to turn on and off rapidly in response to key triggers and voltage changes. They also have significantly faster switching speeds, making them an incredibly safe option when operating at high speeds.
Semiconductor technology of this type is also readily available in Australia and across the globe, creating an affordable and accessible option that can underpin any successful high-speed rail project.
It’s also capable of operating at both high and low voltages, which allows for superior design flexibility (and reliability) and minimises the risk of potentially damaging voltage spikes.
Utilising MOSFETs solves a clear technology issue associated with high-speed rail projects, but there are others that Australian ministers must concern themselves with if they’re going to make this is a key infrastructure staple.
However, the desire is clearly there at a state and government level, and this represents a major breakthrough for supports of high-speed rail down under.