Hyperloop looks to Australia

Hyperloop One, one of the tech companies attempting to develop the hyperloop high-speed transport system first conceived by Elon Musk, has said it is interested in testing the technology in Australia, as the first step towards producing a Sydney to Melbourne hyperloop link.

Conceptual designs for hyperloop systems project travel speeds of 1200 kilometres per hour, twice the speed of the fastest high-speed trains currently working in parts of Japan and China. It would consist of pods suspended by magnetic levitation inside of a tube line placed either underground or elevated above ground on columns.

Alan James, Hyperloop One’s vice president, told National Geographic that the company considered a link between Australia’s two largest cities to be a prime candidate for the new high-speed technology.

“Melbourne to Sydney is the third busiest air corridor in the world,” James said, “and we can give you Melbourne downtown to Sydney downtown in 55 minutes.”

Hyperloop One expects its initial test site at Nevada will be fully operational within the next six months, and is also looking towards Australia as another option for further testing.

“We would be looking, either in NSW or Victoria, or possibly in ACT, to develop the first section of that route [from Sydney to Melbourne], to prove the operation of Hyperloop, to get regulatory approval,” James was quoted as saying.

While some have questioned the viability of Hyperloop as a form of transport provision, James said that the company was confident that it wouldn’t be long before they could present a working example of the technology.

“This is not a ’10 years away story’, this is not a ‘five years away story’, and literally months from now the world will be able to touch, smell and see an operational Hyperloop.”

The company hopes to have three Hyperloop systems in service by 2021. Steve Artis, who is the chief executive of Hyperloop One’s partner company Ultraspeed Australia, was reported by the ABC as saying in May that they had been investigating the feasibility of constructing a link between Sydney and Melbourne.

“We are engaging with relevant stakeholders across Australia at the moment, and we have done for quite a number of months – we’re reasonably confident of building our case,” Artis was quoted as saying.

“In terms of the commercial availability of the system we hope to have a scoping study of business case developed over the next few months, and that would prove the commercial viability of it in Australia.”

At the beginning of this year, at the Hyperloop Challenge sponsored by Elon Musk, an RMIT University-based team VicHyper beat 1,700 teams to make it to the finals after presenting a test-run of their prototype hyperloop pod.

Zac McClelland, VicHyper’s chief executive, was quoted in The Herald Sun saying that the hyperloop technology could overtake standard fast rail technology as a cost-effective option for transport that dramatically shrinks the travel distance between major cities.

“If we really wanted to do it, we could do it now, and be built within three to five years,’’ Mr McLelland said.

‘Issues’ with Cross River Rail business case, says Turnbull

Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has called the federal government’s lack of funding commitment to the Cross River Rail project “extremely disappointing”, after a meeting with prime minister Malcolm Turnbull in Brisbane on Thursday.

The premier indicated that the prime minister had requested more work be done to iron-out several issues with the business case for the project before federal funds would be released.

“The prime minister has conveyed to me that Infrastructure Australia has a couple of issues [on which] they would like some more work done and I have said that I will progress that work as quickly as possible,” Palaszczuk said.

Indeed, while speaking at a later press conference, Turnbull said that Infrastructure Australia has raised issues of the integration of the Cross River Rail with other transport systems as well as land use opportunities.

“The submission or the proposal is inadequate in a number of respects; this is Infrastructure Australia’s view,” Turnbull said.

“It needs more work. I am not making a criticism of it, I am just stating a fact.”

While the premier stated that the meeting with the prime minister was “constructive”, she emphasised the state government’s disappointment with Canberra’s reticence in providing the required funds.

“The failure to make any specific funding for Cross River Rail in the federal budget was extremely disappointing. Despite receiving the business case and signing an MoU on the project last year, the federal government continues to refuse to contribute the funding needed,” she said.

“My government has committed $850 million for the project. Of all the projects nominated for the National Rail Program in the budget last week, only Cross River Rail has a completed business case.”

State transport minister Jackie Trad has also indicated that further issues were the concern of the federal government, telling The Courier-Mail that Canberra had requested financing plans to maximise value capture that would mean higher taxes for Queenslanders.

“[W]e don’t want unfair taxes imposed on Queensland that no other state has to pay,” she was quoted as saying.

It remains unclear how long the issues with the business case will take to resolve, and Trad was quoted in the Australian Financial Review saying that the project could be significantly delayed.

“The reality is that, under the Turnbull government’s overhyped $10 billion rail package, there will be no contribution for at least another two years,” she said.

The Transport and Infrastructure Council meeting will come together on Friday, during which Trad and other transport ministers will have the opportunity to put state government grievances over budget funding to their federal counterparts Darren Chester and Paul Fletcher.

Transport releases Opal data

Transport for NSW has made Opal data available for the public on its Open Data website, providing a detailed look into the ways passengers use the state’s rail and public transport network.

“Opal data has long been one of our most requested and most useful datasets,” Tony Braxton-Smith from Transport for NSW said.

“Now it’s available, it means researchers and developers can access and use the data like never before to innovate and gain insights for a huge variety of benefits for customers and organisations.”

Braxton-Smith said that one of the major benefits of the data release is that businesses and governments can now plan and organise on the basis of the empirical statistical evidence that provides, for instance, at what times and how often stations and trains are being used by the public.

“Let’s say someone plans to open a business near a train station and wants to establish the best times to be ready to serve customers from this source. What was once an anecdotal, trial-and-error process can now be backed up by hard data, which could help them succeed in their business,” he said.

The Opal dataset was developed in partnership with the research network Data61, which is part of the CSIRO, and with the University of Technology Sydney and the Data Analytics Centre.

Braxton-Smith made clear that while the open data provides detailed statistics of public transport use, it will not make public any personal data.

“[The data] been de-identified and processed in a way that protects the privacy of individual customers and has multiple levels of security to prevent misuse,” he said.

A small analysis of the data made by Mathew Hounsell, a senior researcher at UTS, indicates that that there is greater decrease in light rail usage on weekends compared with trains and buses, and, also, that there appears to be little increase in its use even when trains are not running.

Those interested can view the datasets on the Transport for NSW Open Data website.

Backlash over mobile project’s North East snub

Controversy hit Victoria’s regional rail mobile connectivity project after a state minister dubbed concerns from left out North East passengers as “parochialism”.

The Victorian government is partnering with the three largest mobile carriers in Australia — Telstra, Optus and Vodafone — to significantly improve mobile connectivity and coverage for commuters using the Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo, Traralgon and Seymour rail lines.

Promoting the new $18 million initiative on ABC radio, state small business, innovation and trade minister Philip Dalidakis was asked by host Joseph Thomsen why the upgrades in mobile coverage were not going to be extended beyond Seymour to Albury-Wodonga.

“How long is a piece of string?” Dalidakis answered. “You’re focusing on what’s not being done, I want to focus on what we are doing.”

Dalidakis continued, stating that only $18 million was available “to get the best outcome we can”, and that the government thought the money was best spent on the five rail lines chosen.

“I understand the parochialism about extending it beyond Seymour to Albury-Wodonga,” he concluded.

Opposition member for Euroa Steph Ryan was quoted the in local paper The Border Mail, saying the minister’s statements were “outrageous” and dismissive of the needs of North East commuters, while member for Ovens Tim McCurdy was quoted as saying that Dalidakis needed “to get out beyond the tram tracks of Melbourne and understand what’s happening in regional Victoria”.

“When he thinks about regional Victoria he thinks of Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong and that’s all,” McCurdy said.

Government member for Northern Victoria Jaclyn Symes defended Dalidakis, telling the The Border Mail that the minister was well aware of the problems facing the North East line, and that he was “prepared to look at considering funding to extend [coverage] to Shepparton and Albury-Wodonga lines down the track”.

The state’s regional trains have long had problems with mobile connectivity blackouts. Speaking to The Age, Paul Westcott, regional spokesman for the Public Transport Users Association, said that mobile connectivity problems have plagued the regional train line.

“I think travellers on all regional lines will be able to tell you there are spots depending on which telco you’re with that are a real problem,” he said.

The government’s partnership with Telstra, Optus and Vodafone means that the benefits of extended and improved coverage will be experienced by the customers of all three service providers.

At the time of the project’s announcement, minister Dalidakis called the project “a massive win for commuters on our five busiest regional rail corridors – no matter which network they use, they will see improvements”.  

Along with the construction of 35 new mobile towers, the project will implement in-train technology to improve the signal received by devices inside the train from outside mobile towers.

While such technology is already a feature of 30 European rail lines, Victoria’s will be the first to receive upgrades of this kind in Australia.

The new program’s pilot installation of the new mobile reception repeaters is reportedly already underway to boost coverage on the five regional lines from 50 to 95 percent. The government has stated that the repeaters, if successful, will be extended to the entire VLocity train fleet in 2018.

The government expects that the project, once complete, will boost productivity among regional business commuters and thus deliver an estimated $20 million per annum to the Victorian economy.

“Regular commuters spend up to 20 hours per week on regional trains and we need to keep them connected so they can keep in touch with their loved ones and use their travel time productively,” minister Dalidakis said.

Freight rail track - stock - credit Shutterstock (8)

Five Rail Express magazines in 2017

Rail Express will expand its offering in 2017 with five print editions, focusing on Women in Rail, Bulk & Freight, Urban Rail & Civil Contracting, and the AusRAIL PLUS annual conference in Brisbane.

The 2017 print schedule will include four Rail Express magazines, as well as the 6th annual Australasian Rail Directory.

All publications will be distributed throughout the year to thousands of readers in both print and digital formats. Plenty of opportunities are available for advertisers in both formats, and on our website.

Magazines will include up-to-date coverage of news and current affairs in the rail sector, and will also contain a special supplement, highlighting a key topic.


Rail Express, Issue 1; Supplement: Women in Rail

The first edition of Rail Express in 2017 will feature Women in Rail. The goal of gender equality is a key focus across all Australian and New Zealand industries, but rail lags behind many others, with women representing less than one fifth of the workforce from top to bottom. The Women in Rail feature will look at the politics, opportunities, barriers and initiatives present in the ongoing push for gender equality in the sector.


Rail Express, Issue 2; Supplement: Bulk & Freight

Hundreds of millions of tonnes of bulk and other freight is moved by rail in Australia and New Zealand every year. It is no surprise, then, that some of the great cutting-edge ideas, designs and operations come from the region. The Bulk & Freight feature, which will be included in the second issue of Rail Express in 2017, will cover the latest trends in bulk and freight rail, from operators, engineers, academics and more.


Rail Express, Issue 3; Supplement: Urban Rail & Civil Contracting

It’s almost impossible to find a major urban landscape in Australia or New Zealand that is without major ongoing or upcoming opportunities for engineers and civil contractors working in the rail space. Issue 3 of Rail Express will cover the region’s thriving urban landscapes, and the cornucopia of major and minor projects that are planned, ongoing, or recently completed in every major city.


Rail Express, Issue 4: AusRAIL Edition

To round out the year, Rail Express will return to produce its widely-read AusRAIL Edition. As the official partner magazine to AusRAIL PLUS, which takes place in Brisbane later this year, Rail Express will provide insight and analysis into the businesses, technologies and individuals on show during rail’s biggest annual event.


Australasian Rail Directory 2018

The Australasian Rail Directory, published once a year and launched at AusRAIL, is the definitive guide to who does what in the industry. In its 6th year, the directory is distributed to the project managers, engineers and decision makers across the rail sector.


To advertise in any Rail Express products, please contact Patrick Roberts at Patrick.Robert@mohimedia.com, or by calling (02) 9080 4015.

Newcastle light rail to be Australia’s first ‘wire-free’ system

The NSW government has announced that Newcastle’s light rail is to be a majority wire-free line.

Andrew Constance, transport and infrastructure minister, announced the removal of overhead wires as part of the upgrades accompanying the city’s new 2.7 kilometre light rail development.

“This is a game changer for the urban amenity and sustainability of Newcastle light rail, which has been the impetus for the complete revitalisation of the city,” the minister said.

The announced development will make Newcastle the only Australian city with a mostly wire-free light rail system.


In order to do away with the “spider-web” of overhead wires each vehicle on the line will be fitted with on-board energy storage and will use charge points at station stops.

“Removing the overhead wires will preserve the aesthetics of Newcastle’s heritage architecture and its unique character as light rail breathes new life into the city centre,” Constance said.

Catenary-free light rail is a developing space in the rail sector, with rollingstock manufacturers providing a variety of solutions to wireless transit.

CAF, which is providing vehicles for Newcastle Light Rail, has a number of catenary-free tram designs using an on-board power storage systems, including one design which recovers the kinetic energy used in braking.

Minister for Planning Anthony Roberts also stated that the proposed urban amenity upgrades will allow for more open space in the city, and will connect light rail passengers with new precincts including Darby Plaza and Civic Link.

“We’re improving the experience of being in and moving around this great city,” Roberts said.

Emphasising the role the suite of changes would have for the future of the city, Constance stated that this “world class” rail technology would help realise the government’s plan to make Newcastle into a “major university town and a city known for cutting-edge research and innovation”.

How do we restore the public’s faith in transport planning?

COMMENT: Politicised transport projects that flout proper process lead to hostility between residents and governments, and give planners a bad name, Crystal Legacy, Jan Scheurer, and Carey Curtis write.

The Conversation

Opposition to proposed road projects has become a feature of state and federal elections.

In Western Australia, protests against the Roe Highway Stage 8 escalated just before Christmas 2016. On the eve of the state election, Main Roads WA contractors (acting at the behest of the then Liberal-National government) pushed forward with the destruction of the environmentally significant Beeliar wetlands.

This happened despite considerable community opposition. The Labor opposition, now the newly elected government, declared it would halt the construction if elected.

Politics as usual puts planning under a cloud

In our recently published paper, we compared road projects in Melbourne (East West Link), Sydney (WestConnex) and Perth (Perth Freight Link). Based on observational, policy and media analysis, we found growing antagonism between the state governments and their residents.

Roe 8 is just the latest freeway battle in Australia, following those in Sydney and Melbourne, where the Labor government cancelled the East West Link.

To the casual observer, these protests, and promises by parties in opposition to scrap contracts if elected, could be seen simply as “politics as usual”.

However, normalising politics in transport can veil the deficiencies and shortcuts that undermine planners’ ability to act in the public interest. For this reason, it is critical that we examine what dynamics are at play, and how planning serves and/or exacerbates these.

Professional planning bypassed

In the case of Roe 8, good planning was circumvented.

Not only is this undermining efforts to reduce car dependency and invest in public transport – goals adopted in these three cities’ metropolitan strategic plans since at least the 1990s – it is undermining professional planning practice.

The evasion of due process in planning has recently come into sharp focus. Reports by the Australian Auditor-General on the WestConnex project in Sydney and by the Victorian Auditor-General on the East West Link in Melbourne are severely critical of processes taken. The report on the East West Link concluded that the Victorian government lacked “a sound basis for the government’s decision to commit to the investment”.

In the case of Roe 8, Main Roads WA documents provided to the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development were recently released under FOI after a two-year court battle to keep them secret. These show a rushed and partial assessment of the transport case for the road was put to Infrastructure Australia.

The latter, in its own assessment, alerts us to concerns about inadequate analysis:

A rapid BCR (benefit cost ratio) was completed for the preferred option only … [and] a rapid BCR was not completed for additional options to determine if the preferred option provided the greatest net benefits.

Traffic planning is only one part of the process. A Freight Network Review commenced in 2001 and concluded in 2003 found that Roe 8 was not needed. There is no publicly available report stating why this sound planning was set aside.

In addition, proper planning process has been bypassed. The previous WA government argued that the Roe Highway had been reserved in the Metropolitan Region Scheme (MRS) since the 1960s and that this was good long-term planning. However, the detailed road alignment falls outside this reserve at three locations.

This triggered the use by the WA Planning Commission of a “Planning Control Area” (PCA), the purpose of which is to protect land until “proper planning” can take place. After this, an MRS amendment must be initiated and advertised for public comment.

Construction began before any public consultation on the MRS amendment. Was this to avoid public scrutiny?

Public consultation is an important part of any good planning process. It was undertaken for other 1960s major road reserves. These were reviewed against current knowledge and policy, and in some cases deleted (the Stirling Highway, for example).

Public input into the planning process provides an opportunity for governments to bring the community with them through both owning the planning problem and arriving at a solution that the public can support.

Risks of politicisation are high

Large transport projects are likely to attract opposition from affected communities. Construction is disruptive and the visual, noise and amenity changes are significant.

These projects are also transformational. They lead to profound city-wide, and even region-wide, changes to the environment and the working of a city.

For these reasons, planning for transport projects must be a process of careful consideration. It requires sound professional planning based on reasoned justification drawing on the best available evidence. This process must be transparent to all.

When politicians choose a different course to planning advice, this must be on their own account and again transparent. We need a strong discussion on professional ethics and the need for clear separation of planners’ independent advice from elected politicians’ decisions.

In the case of Roe 8, are we to assume that the analysis and conduct of the planning process we see revealed reflects what planners at Main Roads WA and the Western Australian Planning Commission believe is sound professional practice? Or are they simply building a case for politicians?

Without clear and transparent documentation, planners leave themselves open to criticism and bring the profession into disrepute.

Room for improvement

Based on our research, we assert the need to recognise that the gap between strategic planning and project planning needs to be filled by a more community-oriented decision-making process.

We must challenge “urgency” – when governments aim to sign contracts before we have had sound planning analysis and community input.

Long-term planning does not mean that a project like Roe 8, which was first mooted more than 50 years ago, must be built today. We need to take into account new knowledge and current views on our future. We must place equality and environmental and economic sustainability in balance, as weighed by community values.

The political process is one place where those values must be considered holistically. This is immensely important, but it should not undermine transparent and sound planning.

This article draws on a research paper by the authors in a new special issue of the international journal, Urban Policy and Research, on critical urban infrastructure. You can read other published articles in our series here.

Crystal Legacy is Australian Research Council (DECRA) Fellow and Vice Chancellor’s Research Fellow, Centre for Urban Research, School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University; Carey Curtis is Professor of City Planning and Transport, Curtin University, and Jan Scheurer is Senior Research Fellow, Curtin UniversityThis article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article here.

From Smart Cities 1.0 to 2.0: it’s not (only) about the tech

Australia has lagged behind some other countries in its investment in smart cities, but in retrospect that may not have been such a bad thing, Sarah Barns, Donald McNeill, Ellie Cosgrave, and Michele Acuto write.The Conversation

Australia, one of the world’s most urbanised nations, is looking to up its investment in digital technologies to make our cities work better.

In coming months, tech companies, local governments and other eligible organisations will be teaming up to apply for round one of the federal government’s A$50 million Smart Cities and Suburbs Program. The program is seeking ideas for prototypes and platforms that can help solve a local urban challenge of some kind.

As the draft guidelines suggest, project funding could be used for anything from managing waste better, making local precincts more liveable, or helping citizens become more engaged with their councils, to developing systems that help planners better predict local development impacts.

Compared to other areas of federal infrastructure spending – like roads – $50 million for smart city investments may not sound like much. But it’s a bit of a windfall for an area that has struggled to get off the ground in Australia for the past few years.

Australia has been in no hurry to become smart. Overseas, many cities have put significant effort into building their profile as smart cities. They have invested in technology acceleration, data analytics, visualisation and instrumentation programs, and so on.

Before launching the federal program, Australia had made relatively few investments in smart city programs. Those investments remained relatively modest.

The benefits of not rushing in

In retrospect, perhaps this wasn’t such a bad thing. It’s now widely recognised that, despite the rhetoric of technology vendors, much of the early investment in smart cities failed to demonstrate significant benefits to cities and their citizens.

This period of “Smart Cities 1.0” investment was dominated by relatively small or experimental prototypes involving separate systems and infrastructures. Think a Cisco smart light trial, combined with a smart parking app. These have been small, interesting prototypes, but not necessarily generating the efficiencies and value sometimes claimed for smart cities.

Adelaide and Cisco have run a smart street lighting trial in the CBD.

The embrace of relatively small or experimental prototypes in Smart Cities 1.0 created vertical “data silos” and failed to scale or demonstrate real benefits. The emerging logic of “Smart Cities 2.0” is quite different. Smart Cities 2.0 investments focus on creating platforms for data access, sharing, re-use and inter-operability.

Part of the reason for this shift lies in the changing nature of the technologies themselves. Our urban environments are turning into landscapes populated by more and more connected “Things” equipped with many different sensors for data capture and analytics. This is driving a growing need for inter-operable platforms and standards that give more players wider access to city data.

A city that invests in these platforms can kick-start a wider technology ecosystem, enabling innovation in city services to thrive.

The emerging critical infrastructures for Smart Cities 2.0 are turning out to be city data markets, data exchanges, and data protocols, standards and specifications. These have been developed by groups like the Hypercat and LORA alliances.

It is becoming more clear that these infrastructures will require more strategic collaborations between governments, industry, communities, citizens and researchers.

Reinventing government as ‘a platform’?

For those of us who are happy to hear tech vendors talk about data sharing and open innovation, this all sounds great. We do hope some of this thinking makes its way into the funding of pilots and prototypes under the Smart Cities and Suburbs Program.

But we should be mindful here that what is perhaps most radical about this new phase is not the technologies themselves, but the way they are repositioning the role of government.

Governments are increasingly positioning themselves as the “platform” for wider innovation in data services. Australia’s Digital Transformation Office has embraced this idea of services “built on a shared (data) core”. Many other agencies are following suit.

But if cities “run on information” are going to make a real difference, we need to think about how these new platforms can be used to overcome the endemic governance challenges our cities face.

Major Australian cities are made up of a patchwork of local government areas overlaid with state and federal jurisdictions responsible for transport, education, health and so on. No single agency “runs” the city. Many of them even work against each other.

The result is that instruments for strategic planning, like the metropolitan strategy, have tended to remain relatively weak. Modelled on the Greater London Authority, the Greater Sydney Commission represents a shift towards metropolitan-scale governance. This creates an opportunity to scale up investments in data infrastructures, building scalable city-wide data architecture like the London Data Store.

Though we might not be able to solve the endemic challenges of patchwork municipal governance, we can encourage our city governments to invest in data-rich platforms to help foster data-driven collaborations and services that benefit our cities.

Responsive governance the key

The ingredients of a smart city include a raft of technology innovations, as well as a willingness to experiment with new ways of doing things.

Today’s Internet of Things technologies, data analytics platforms and sensor-enabled services are sure to deliver new ways to understand, visualise and analyse the nature and scale of many of our most pressing urban challenges.

But solving challenges such as waste management, urban liveability and land-use planning will require more than technology investments, data-capture services or digital prototypes. Solutions will also depend on effective long-term partnerships within and beyond government.

While the digital infrastructure is no doubt important, it will be the city governments that invest in new ways to collaborate and co-innovate that will ultimately lead the way in delivering the smarter, more responsive services our cities so desperately need.

This article draws on a research paper by the authors in a new special issue of the international journal, Urban Policy and Research, on critical urban infrastructure. You can read other published articles in the series here.

Sarah Barns is Urban Studies Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University; Donald McNeill is Professor of Urban and Cultural Geography, Western Sydney University; Ellie Cosgrave is Research Associate, UCL, and Michele Acuto is Professor of Diplomacy and Urban Theory, UCLThis article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Should we believe the hyperloop?

Public anticipation for a super-high-speed land transport system has been spurred on this month, with exciting announcements from a pair of key firms in the developing sector.

On March 7, Elon Musk-backed firm Hyperloop One revealed the first images from its 500-metre development site in the Nevada Desert.

A fortnight later, fellow research body Hyperloop Transportation Technologies said it had begun construction on its first full-scale passenger capsule, at its research facility in Toulouse.

Hyperloop One made its announcement at Middle East Rail in Dubai earlier this month.

Chief executive Rob Lloyd revealed new images of DevLoop, the company’s development site, where construction is underway on a 3.3-metre diameter, 500-metre-long test tube.

The company says it wants to perform a public trial in the first half of 2017.

“While technology is revolutionising many facets of our lives, we have not seen a radical change in transportation since the Wright brothers introduced air travel over 100 years ago,” Lloyd said during his keynote speech.

The company sees the Middle East as a potential hotbed for hyperloop development over coming years.

“Tying together the Middle East region would produce greater virtual density, without congestion and pollution, spurring innovation, productivity, job growth and more powerful sharing of knowledge, labour and investment,” Lloyd said.

The company’s president of engineering, Josh Giegel, spoke with the conference from DevLoop via video link.

“Our team of more than 150 engineers, technicians and fabricators have been transforming what was, just over five months ago, a barren stretch of desert, into a hive of activity and now home to the world’s first full-scale Hyperloop test site,” Giegel said.

Meanwhile, competitor Hyperloop Transportation Technologies says it’s just started work on the world’s first ever hyperloop capsule, at its Toulouse research and development site.

HTT’s capsule is 30 metres long, 2.7 metres in diameter, and would carry between 28 and 40 people.

“We are building the world’s first full-scale passenger hyperloop capsule,” chief executive Dirk Ahlborn said.

“We are taking a passenger-first approach to guarantee that safety is always our number one concern.”

HTT is working closely with fuselage and advanced material construction firm Carbures.

“This is a fascinating project utilising our expertise and technology around the world,” Carbures boss Rafael Contreras said.

“We are pleased to work in this innovative, global, and important project.”

HTT released the below video to accompany its announcement – although it doesn’t give too much away.



Related story: How we can make super fast Hyperloop a reality

Melbourne Tram. Photo: RailGallery.com.au

What a difference a month makes, but Victoria can still do more to get housing and planning right

To meet the needs of lower-income households, housing should be both affordable and located near public transport and other services, Katrina Raynor and Carolyn Whitzman write.

The need for more affordable housing close to public transport and services is acute in Melbourne. Inner Melbourne has experienced a 74% increase in rough sleeping in the past two years. This is perhaps the most visible outcome of the lack of affordable housing options. Only 1% of advertised rental properties in the metropolitan area are affordable for households reliant on government assistance. The Conversation

Buying or renting in the well-serviced inner and middle suburbs is increasingly out of reach for households on low and moderate incomes. A month ago, one of us wrote an article in The Conversation bemoaning the lack of government leadership on this issue. In the 15 months since its election, the Victorian government had not delivered promised revisions to the Plan Melbourne metropolitan strategy or an affordable housing strategy.

What a difference a month makes. It is almost as if some government leaders read the article. Every week (or to be more precise, weekend) since then has delivered a major policy announcement.

Now that Plan Melbourne and Homes For Victorians have been delivered, it is only fair that we provide a preliminary evaluation of how well these strategies meet the housing needs of Victorians on moderate, low and very low incomes.

These documents remain vague about the definition of “affordable housing”. They also do not designate various income groups. We have taken the liberty of defining these groups based on median income brackets.

Moderate-income households

We define moderate income as 80-120% of area median income – about A$68,500-$102,500 a year. In this group, first home buyers appear to be the biggest winners in Plan Melbourne and Homes For Victorians.

The Victorian government will waive stamp duty for first home buyers on homes worth up to $600,000 and taper stamp duty concessions on homes above that price. This is set to cost the government $851 million over four years and save the average buyer $8,000.

However, if previous first home buyer incentives have taught us anything, this is likely to inflate the cost of cheaper dwellings without delivering affordability benefits.

The government is also offering a shared equity program. This allows first home buyers to co-purchase their home with the government. The initiative is intended to support households that qualify for a bank loan but need help saving a deposit. Western Australia has a similar program, which has helped more than 1,500 households buy homes to date.

Low-income households

This group earns 50%-80% of area median income, in the range of $42,500-$68,500 a year.

As exciting as the above options are for some first home buyers, they are out of reach for low-income households that earn between $800 and $1,300 per week. These households are unlikely to qualify for social housing but struggle to afford market rent and purchase prices.

This group, which includes many service and trades workers and their families, need a steady stream of new, appropriately sized and affordable market rental options. However, neither the Housing for Victorians nor Plan Melbourne talks specifically about a new scheme to replace the National Rental Affordability Scheme, which the current federal government abandoned in 2013.

It is absolutely true, as the affordable housing strategy states, that federal policies like capital gains tax exemptions and negative gearing favour investors over first-time and other resident homebuyers. However, state government policies can have an impact on scaling up a rental housing market.

In other cities with similar housing affordability crises, such as Vancouver, New York and London, a combination of expedited approvals, development levy abatements, inclusionary zoning and other mechanisms have helped develop new below-market rental units. Located near public transport and services, these are usually provided at particular price points and kept affordable in perpetuity.

Very-low-income households

These households have income of less than 50% of the area median, or under $42,500. They are likely to be the primary beneficiaries of significant new social housing funding and development.

The Victorian government has set up a $1 billion fund to support new social housing. The government will work with community housing providers to deliver social housing through new construction and rental subsidies. This is estimated to deliver up to 2,200 new housing units over the next five years.

This funding injection is badly needed: Victoria has the lowest proportion of social housing stock in Australia.

The state government is also increasing funding, or providing new funding, for a Family Violence Housing Blitz, support for transitions out of homelessness, and rooming house renovation.

A new $1 billion loan guarantee fund for social housing providers will be linked to a shared social housing rent registry. This will make life a little easier for the 33,000 households on the public housing waiting list. They currently have to separately register with up to a dozen other community housing providers.

Plan Melbourne has identified a policy direction to use surplus government land to develop social and affordable housing. Launch Housing and VicRoad’s proposal for Ballarat Road in Maribyrnong offer an example of how these partnerships might work. Plan Melbourne also focuses on increasing the supply of social housing through regeneration and intensification of existing public housing sites.

However, the strategy does not recommend a level of social housing as a proportion of total existing and new housing stock. To provide for all households now eligible for social housing, Victoria would require 76,000 more social housing units. By 2051, that figure is projected to increase to 140,000

Furthermore, Plan Melbourne projects a need for 1.6 million new homes in the next 30 years. That’s over 50,000 new homes a year. Of these, 5,000 would be required to meet the needs of low-income seniors, people with intellectual and physical disabilities, female-headed households escaping family violence, and others who simply cannot compete in the private rental market.

Now to make these plans work

Plan Melbourne and Homes For Victorians provide several directions that could benefit all Victorians. Welcome aspects include greater emphasis on public transport networks, greater diversity of housing options, 20-minute neighbourhoods and practical mechanisms to get more housing closer to public transport and services.

The plans also make very encouraging noises about strengthening the role of planning in helping to deliver social and affordable housing. This includes overcoming the legislative and definitional barriers to the effectiveness of mechanisms like density bonuses or inclusionary housing.

The continuing lack of formal definition of affordable housing is a fundamental flaw in Victorian affordable housing policy that remains unsolved by Homes For Victorians and Plan Melbourne.

Plan Melbourne and Homes for Victorians together provide some welcome directions towards more well-located and affordable housing. But the previous Victorian planning strategy, Melbourne 2030, foundered in implementation.

Victoria will have to link infrastructure improvements to specific affordable housing targets in well-serviced areas. And the government should continue its work on value capture and development contributions to nail down implementation of its long-awaited affordable housing strategy.


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Katrina Raynor is Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Transforming Housing Project, University of Melbourneand Carolyn Whitzman is Professor of Urban Planning, University of MelbourneThis article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.