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Jul 31, 2017

This might be goodbye to many day return intercity trips

Some unwelcome but probably essential changes to transport security are imminent in Australia

London tube, July 7, 2005

While anti-terrorism procedures have already altered the way people travel, necessary responses to the alleged bomb-in-a-meat -grinder plot that led to arrests and raids in Sydney over the weekend may bring very significant long term changes to flying in Australia.

If for example, it becomes mandatory for domestic travellers to turn up at an airport two hours before the departure of a flight that is often between 50 minutes to 90 minutes long a net loss of another two to three hours out of the time it currently takes  to do a day trip to a meeting in Sydney from Melbourne might prove too big an ask for those who already have to be up at 4 am to be sure of getting to either city’s airport for a morning peak hour flight in time for a meeting or event that starts between 9-10 am.

This would be but one of the potential consequences of what may be demonstrably vital ‘improvements’ in airport security. The airlines are no doubt already acutely aware of this, and many other potential impacts.

It is difficult to image anyone thinking of going to Canberra or Sydney for the day from either city choosing to fly if four hours are going to be consumed by security requirements at the start and end of a trip that can usually be done door-to-door in three hours 30 minutes by car.

Nor does it ultimately matter how good an airport lounge may be if increased dwell time means no seats, no food, and too many people using the wi-fi at any one time. Lounges can be very good for at airport meetings, but would the airlines, or the airport owners, tolerate the costs of radically expanding them?  And not every business or government related trip can be fulfilled at a lounge anyhow.

Much can of course be done, no doubt at considerable cost, to improve security yet reduce the time taken, but anything that adds to the cost of delivering air travel will inevitably adversely impact demand. If we have learned anything from the last two decades, it is that air travel is price sensitive at both the corporate and discretionary private levels.

There is a broader concern for the securities authorities and police and response services to consider and it would be very surprising and alarming if they aren’t very much causing background concern already.

That concern is other forms of transport. Air travel seemed up until rail and bus atrocities like the July 5, 2005 attacks in London, to be the trophy target for transport terrorism attacks. But unfortunately surface transport, such as trains and ferries, are open to far worse atrocities, and this article, and for that matter, any discussion that might arise, isn’t going to outline attack scenarios for fear of imitation. Let’s just say the possibilities are appalling, and comprehensive, and airport-like processes to prevent them seem tenuous and fraught with uncertainties and improbable technical hurdles.

We’ve taken to air travel in a major way in this country. We may have to accept not only some very awkward security impositions upon it, but the dreadful vulnerability of rail, tunnels, stations, buses and bus stops, and so forth. It often seems remarkable how resilient other societies have proven in the face of terrorism, but then horrors of World War II, the insane actions of Bader Meinhof and the modern Irish ‘troubles’ and the determination of New Yorkers to continue with as ‘normal’ a life as possible in the months after 9/11 seem to have been welded into a collective culture of strength and defiance in the face of evil.

Our turn to say ‘they shall not prevail’ may be closer than we would have thought last week.

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17 thoughts on “This might be goodbye to many day return intercity trips

  1. Jacob HSR

    Trains do not suffer explosive decompression as the air inside them is exactly the same pressure as the air outside them.

    Civilian aircraft on the other hand…

    Here is a video on x-ray security in Chinese HSR stations:

    youtube. com/watch?v=qPRfO7sFJFQ#t=1m32s
    (at 1 min 32 sec)

    In 1856, a steam train reached a speed of 131km/h. The muppets should have thought “we should reserve a 22 metre wide corridor from MEL to SYD that is straight enough to allow double that speed”.

    While some houses were demolished to build the Sydney Harbour Bridge, politicians no longer have the sense/guts to acquire houses to build a railway. Everything must go in a tunnel apparently.

    1. Dan Dair

      Whilst not disputing that forward planning isn’t something which Australia does well,
      It’s disingenuous to talk about a 22 metre corridor.

      The noise from a contemporary train-set is considerable, HSR even more so. If there was a 22 metre wide HSR line at the end of your garden, you’d probably want your garden to be about a kilometre long & have a big earth-bank near the other end of it.?

      If they develop a genuinely rubber-tyred rail system or build Maglev in Australia instead, I’ll retract all I’ve said about noise-levels.!

      1. Deano DD

        Not sure why when they talk about high speed rail, they want to knock over the whole thing in one go and stick a massive price on the whole thing
        That is not how we got a dual lane road from Sydney to Melbourne, it was done over decades, section by section

        Perhaps looking at HSR in stages would make more sense

        Assuming that it is now a 11 hour trip by XPT from Sydney to Melbourne and perhaps about 20 hours for a freight train (IMO freight would potentially be more profitable than a passenger service)
        Building an cheaper and easier section of around 300km of 250km per hour dual track would reduce trip time to perhaps 9 hours passenger and 14 hours freight
        At 9 hours by rail verses 4 hours by air,including check in time etc, we are now getting close to an actual alternative to flying

        Building a second 300km section would further reduce trip times to 7 hours passenger and 9 hours freight

        With these times, containerized freight now factors in, at roughly $2000+ per container, or semi trailer load Sydney to Melbourne, overnight freight could potentially get from depot to depot in 12 hours at 1/2 the cost of road
        With around 3000 trucks each way daily, there is huge potential income to be generated by freight rail here, much more than what passenger trains could generate

        The main thing is to get freight times anywhere below 12 hours depot to depot, do that and freight companies will move to rail on mass as there would be massive cost savings

  2. Dan Dair

    The time it takes to transit the kind of security-checks necessary in Europe is really predicated upon a combination of passenger numbers & security-staff numbers.

    If there are sufficient numbers of staff & equipment, it’s not necessary to turn-up 2 hours before your flight (or train journey).
    You can ‘breeze-through’ in about 10-15 minutes, always assuming that you’ve no ‘contraband’ or problematic baggage.?

    However, enough staff & equipment are expensive & airports (& railway stations) will not want to spend the kind of money necessary to make security a breeze & not a chore.?

    1. Rufus

      Agreed, Dan. I’ve flown out of one of Europe’s busiest airports probably 200 times in the last decade. My “comfort” threshold is to arrive 40 minutes prior to departure if travelling short-haul without luggage – an extra 10 minutes if I need to check in bags. A little later is possible but not good for the stress factor. I’ve arrived at London City with bags only 20 minutes before departure and been fine.

      Don’t know why you’d assume increased or “European” security necessarily requires enormously increased check-in times.

    2. bo didley

      Wrong in regards Amsterdam airport (passed thru within the last month). Queues are lengthy then gear is xrayed as you pass thru a body scanner. Immediately every person is then thoroughly patted down all over. It was a mad house.

  3. Goat Guy

    There will undoubtedly be times at peak where the delays get too long, as happened pre this announcement in Melbourne and Sydney around 7am most week days. I flew out of Brisbane late Sunday afternoon and got to the airport early expecting chaos. The security queue was much longer than usual but there was no queue at the Qantas “Business Precinct”. Walked up and straight through. Qantas and Virgin will quickly work out how to get their frequent business fliers through security quickly, there is too much business at risk otherwise.

  4. comet

    If the government introduces ‘security’ measures that are such a burden that people stop flying, then the terrorists have won.

    1. Matt Hardin

      I often wonder whether what the effect of suicide bombers is increased by having so many people in a long queue.

    2. Dan Dair

      Comet,
      The European Union is in the process of introducing extended security measures on flights departing from it’s areas of control.
      I’m pretty sure Bens point was ‘how will Australia cope, if/when these measures are considered to be equally appropriate & pressing at home.?

      The point of the EU measures are to decrease the likelihood of acts of terrorism in aircraft & airports.
      Maybe that will deter terrorism. Maybe if it does, the terrorists will find other platforms for their stupidity.

      IMO it is important to also take on-board Jacob HSR’s earlier point that;
      “Trains do not suffer explosive decompression…”
      In the event of a bomb, the immediately-subsequent consequences on a train may well be far more survivable than for those of an aircraft in flight.?

  5. George Glass

    98% of airport “security” is a comprehensive waste of time and money.It is only there for one reason:to be seen to be doing something.The legal assumption of equality before the law is a fine thing.But in security issues its simply not true.No security expert believes screening Pilots mitigates any risk whatsoever.Meanwhile catering staff and cleaners go airside with minimal screening.Passengers check-in with no ID verification but a valid credit card.A sick joke.When something does happen,which it inevitably will,the subsequent Royal Commission will be a ripper.Privatization of airports and airline cost cutting have lead us to a dark place.Only a disaster will change it.

    1. Cmac

      What does a valid ID prove. This is a straw man argument unless it is connected to a no-fly list and those people probably have easy access to forged documents. Lets not have too much of a beatup on this security thing..

    2. caf

      It’s not screening pilots, it’s screening people-dressed-like-pilots. It’s much easier to say “everyone goes through the scanner” than to teach the screening staff to verify flight crew ID.

      1. George Glass

        Flight crew ID opens doors to airside and gives them direct access to aircraft.Simply dressing like a Pilot doesnt do that.Going through passenger screening doesnt change that.Its pandering to fear and achieves nothing.Like most of so-called “security” it is being seen to be doing something, nothing more.Checking personal ID would on the other hand would present a real barrier. Lack of it on domestic flights makes no fly lists a joke.Passengers from the U.S. frequently express horror that they can board an Australian aircraft without it.But its inconvenient and will cost the airlines money.So they will oppose it.We are complacent,naive, fat dumb and happy in this country.When the big bang happens the subsequent inquiry will be scandalous.

        1. Dan Dair

          Europe’s Schengen-agreement countries already have a system for advance-notification of passengers ID details prior to travel.
          There’s no reason why Australia & their friendly-nations couldn’t organise a similar set-up. Presumably, this would make passports or ID cards less of a formality or ‘straw-man’ & more of a practical method of ensuring, as far as is possible, that the person on the flight really is the person for whom the ID was presented AND that person is not someone of interest to the anti-terrorism (or other law-enforcement) authorities.?

          1. George Glass

            I am intrigued by this idea that ID is a straw man argument.A recent incident in which Federal Police were criticized for delaying boarding a foreign flagged aircraft in Melbourne was ,I am reliably informed, that ASIO screening of the passenger list flagged several other “persons of interest” other than the individual causing the disruption.Not incompetence but extremely impressive professionalism.Thank heavens for our intelligence and police services.If we were relying on politicians we would be stuffed.

  6. Vivian Blaxell

    QF and VA and the cheap others have already gone back to pre-bomb plot check in times. That said, having lived and worked in the States for 25 years that included both sides of 9/11, I am always a bit shocked and a bit delighted that explicit security checks for domestic flights in Oz are so minimal. Of course, having consulted to NWA on a range of matters, I know that there’s a whole lot of security the public don’t see and don’t know about (and, no, I’m not responsible for NWA’s appalling service in its last days before Delta ate it). But even if a 2 hour check-in became the norm for Oz domestic, I don’t see it doing much to slow down the one day business trip. It hasn’t in the US, and one can bet that pre-check and trusted traveler programs will start up to speed the progress of those without elite FF status, as they’ve done in the States. And, hey, if a plane was downed by terrorists with great loss of life, the government of the day would make politics off the tragedy and win the next election whilst happily reducing habeas corpus and freedom of expression and movement even more, and we could all agree. (Now don’t mansplain me like you usually do)