Francis Vierboom's Blog

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Archive for August 2011

$100 billion for high speed rail? Or some law tweaks and cheaper, easier plane flights?

with 5 comments

High speed rail is brilliant. And as Albanese points out announcing the new report on the Brisbane-Sydney-Melbourne rail proposal, one of the great things about trains is how much less hassle catching a train is compared to a plane.

But with the prospect of spending $100 billion on fast rail, it crosses my mind that maybe we should try and just think of ways to make air travel less of a hassle.

The question that comes to mind is: what’s the minimum amount of security that could be required to operate a domestic aviation industry?

I know in a rural airport it means: show your ticket at the desk, throw your bag on a trolley to get put in the hold, and walk out to the plane on the tarmac.

Couldn’t this be done across the board?

Check in at the gate, throw your bag on a conveyor belt, and get on the plane. Skip the double check-in and security process. Straight away, air travel sounds a lot better. You just have to be at the airport fifteen minutes before takeoff.

It would lead to some slightly traumatic job losses and business shutdowns in the security industry. But not exactly enormous ones.

Planes are a bit more fragile than your average terrorist target – a smallish bomb can cause big problems – but really, if you’ve gone to the effort of making a bomb, you can use it on a plane or a train and you’ve made your point.

You could mount the argument that a plane is a different target to a train because there’s the September 11 scenario of using the plane as a weapon, but the thing about that attack is that it will never work again. Indeed it stopped working within an hour of it being used – United 93 crashed in a field when passengers stormed the cockpit. A planefull of people are never going to let terrorists fly the thing again.

Also consider that aviation Рeven in terms of hours spent Рis safer than riding a bicycle, which is in turn safer than sitting in a car Рsee for some slightly ancient but still probably roughly correct statistics. The security is all theatre.

What am I missing here?

I think it would be fair to ensure that anyone putting luggage on the plane has to board it – if you’re going to bomb a plane you have to be at least willing to go down with it. So that just means the luggage loading part is after the boarding gate process.

Possibly a better argument in favour of high speed rail is the prospect of peak oil price scenarios – if the rail line is built in thirty years time when the price of oil is twenty times higher, the government is going to look pretty wise. But as far as the comparison goes today, it seems like scaling back some of the crazy security red tape on aviation would be a good start on improving transport efficiency in Australia.

Sam Roggeveen makes the same point over at the Interpreter.


Written by Francis

August 4, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Posted in Uncategorized