PART - Intercity/Regional Transport
One of the main differences between Australia and Asian and European countries is the distribution and size of the population.
Australia is highly urbanised (about 16 million or 2/3 of the Australian population live in the greater area comprising our capital cities). Our capital cites which have most of the Australian population are separated by large distances in world terms. Of one travelled from say Brisbane to Melbourne, the same distance in Europe one would be travelling from Paris to Belgrade) across 6+ countries through many large cities. The separation of these major cities is in hours by public transport, not 1/2 days to days as exists in Australia.
The population density in countries in Asia (e.g. China, Indonesia or India) are far greater than that in Australia or even Europe. I remember when we lived in China in 2003, within 80km (160km diameter circle) of where we lived the local population was similar to the whole of Australia.
The proximity of larger population bases closer together lends to greater investment in regional/intercity PT as other forms of mass transit (e.g. planes) is uneconomic or impracticable (can’t imagine catching a plane from one city to another 80km away…the time to fly would be about 3-4 hours where other forms of PT would be around an hour).
In Europe, the train network is every good, reliable, generally fast (e.g. high speed TGV, Swiss trains, Deutsche ICE, Austrian RailJet etc) and have very regular services. Most of the major cities are linked with trains with a frequency of 1-2 hours, in some cases less.
We were fortunate in our recent trip to Europe to catch trains from Paris to Bucharest, experiencing a wide range of train types (but the same class - 2nd class). All these trains were terrific and generally were faster than flying (even when catching slow trains). The only exception was the overnight from Budapest to Brasov, Romanian.
Most of the intercity trains were very quite, smooth and comfortable and not dissimilar to catching a plane. The advantage is that a train one can walk around, can get wifi (where it is provided by the operator) and also see the countryside seamlessly passing by. The cost is comparable to flying (in some cases considerably cheaper when one compared end to end transport to get from departure point to destination point).
(Un)fortunately in Australia I have also travelled the east coast extensively by train with a number of journeys covering territory from Townsville to Melbourne. The trains in Australia travelling between towns and (capital) cities, while reasonable comfortable are very slow. They are generally used by holidaymakers and possibly those who don’t like flying. They are rarely used by business people as flying is generally more cost and time affordable.
There has been talk of high speed trains between Sydney and Melbourne (one of the busiest flight paths in the world) and Brisbane and Sydney. Having travelled in many other countries, I can’t see how such high speed train networks would stack up financially and potentially be a time saver (If a train saved time compared to flying, then I believe it would create a move to high speed intercity PT)…currently there are no real train technologies that would compete with flights between BNE-SYD-MEL. There are some pie in the sky systems, such as that floated by Musk, but these are dreams rather than realities.
I would love for Australia to have a high speed network like that being rolled out in China or exists in Europe and Japan, but unless there is a substantial population increase and also development of regional cities away from the development centric capitals, I believe that it will never become a reality. It is a shame as train travel is an enjoyable way to get around, especially when it takes similar times to flying.
For those who are interested and wish to also to travel by train anywhere in the world, I recommend the website Man in Seat 61. This website run by a train enthusiast contains unbiased, up-to-date information on train travel anywhere in the world. It also provides information on where to buy tickets and also on the trains wtc.