In May, 2011, the Australian Government released a paper entitled “Sustainable Australia – Sustainable Communities” and subtitled “A Sustainable Population Strategy For Australia”. This was followed by “Sustainable Australia – Sustainable Communities: An Overview”, reports from three panels of experts and more than two hundred published contributions from a wide variety of individuals, corporations, interest groups, local government and others.
Over the next few weeks, I will be trawling through all of this material to try and identify (a) matters where the project I am proposing could make a significant contribution and (b) whether there are additions or modifications I can make to my ideas that would enhance their usefulness or relevance. I should make the point that my blog is not about espousing any particular philosophical, social or economic policy, but only suggests tools that would ensure that any policy directives were based on the best information available.
I have divided the external submissions into categories in accordance with the role of the authors in the community. For instance, we have private individuals, industry organisations, local government and so forth. This meant taking at least a cursory look at all of the papers presented and there were a few surprises. Among the individual contributions I had expected to find a lot of people simply putting forward an opinion (particularly in the area of immigration !), but I found many offerings, even among these, which actually raised issues well worhy of investigation, so I will have to make quite a big effort to categorise the issues properly, so that they ca n be discussed in an appropriate context.
Along the way, I did find a few gems, which I will discuss as they arise, because I think they are important or at least interesting.
Here is one which appeals to me particularly as an ex-railway engineer. It describes a monorail system carrying a variety of vehicles including private passengers (the size of a motor car, possibly extended to carry a container holding the passengers’ own motor car), public passengers (a railcar the size of a railway carriage) and sundry commercial vehicles. The designer, David Whittaker, views his creation as either a suburban network or as a city-to-city fast train service or connecting remote communities to cities. I can visualise a more extensive use for this technology, connecting settlements to each other and to local hubs. In earlier posts, I have discussed Bill McKibben’s concepts of a highly distributed population living in small, village-like communities, to make maximum use of relatively small parcels of land for food production. For this to work, the sense of isolation must be mitigated by fast, robust transport systems and a powerful broadband network.
This is where David’s concepts may have a substantial role to play. Here are a few of the useful features which make it an attractive proposition.
- It is above ground, with the rails being carried on columns. Railways in general can handle only very flat gradients and large-radius curves. This requires substantial earthworks in the form of cuttings and embankments. All a monorail requires is space for a foundation slab, perhaps sitting on piles when in an area of soft ground. Variations in the terrain can be accommodated simply by increasing or decreasing the height of the columns. No land need be purchased and the only requirement is temporary access for construction and maintenance.
- The railway, when traversing agricultural land, will result in little or no loss of productive land. On the contrary, the farmer may find the monorail a readily accessible form of transport for produce of appropriate kinds.
- As pointed out by David, the track could act as a carrier for the NBN fibre network. In addition to the construction savings for the NBN project, access to the network by the vehicles will result in more effective and safer control mechanisms (important in a remote rural setting).
- One of the problems with remote communities in Australia (largely because of the rugged landscape) is easy access to education and health services. This can be seen particularly in indigenous communities in the north of the country. A fast service of the kind envisaged would allow the operation of quite modest hospital units and boarding schools serving quite substantial areas. (As an aside, the Masai tribes in East Africa, where I once worked, were very intent on not compromising their nomadic lifestyle and had schools and hospitals built around the fringes of their tribal lands, so the concept is a credible one, dependent only on the economics).
- I have made the point before that the great advantage of trains is that they have the possibility of carrying their own power. As envisaged by David, his vehicles will be powered by electricity from rails in a conventional manner. Unfortunately, there is considerable absorption of power in simply conducting the electricity in areas far removed from the urban grids. However, the concept is capable of using a variety of electricity-based or hybrid power schemes, providing a high degree of adaptability to meet specific circumstances in remote areas. For instance, hybrid motors using diesel fuel, petrol or biofuel can be used to recharge batteries. Also, where it is inconvenient to adopt power rails over the entire length of a journey, they could be used in sections where they are close to local community power stations (hopefully consisting of solar or geothermal equipment !)
All-in-all, the Monocab VRT Solution is an elegant and practical concept, with huge possibilities for adaptation to suit different circumstances (not to mention profitably satisfying a variety of commercial demands !). The submission made to the Department of Sustainability can be found at
It is file 0271.pdf in a very long list. A visit to the web site www.monocab.com should also prove very rewarding.