NICK Low and Bill Russell remind us that "Melburnians want a better rail system" (Comment & Debate, 22/7) and Paul Kehoe (Letters, 22/7), repeating the myth that services used to be "better" in the past, joins the many who ask why trains are not more frequent.

NICK Low and Bill Russell remind us that "Melburnians want a better rail system" (Comment & Debate, 22/7) and Paul Kehoe (Letters, 22/7), repeating the myth that services used to be "better" in the past, joins the many who ask why trains are not more frequent.

These are only the latest in a stream of contributions on this subject that keep referring to "extensions" of the rail system. This CBD rail focus is what is preventing public transport from gaining a bigger share of travel. It might be hard to believe when you are pushing onto a crowded train at Melbourne Central, but your CBD-based travel puts you in the minority. The rail system caters badly for the majority of travel, which is non-CBD and cross-suburban.

Melbourne has a good radial suburban and regional rail system. The price we pay is that the frequency of a radial service is limited by the necessary junctions as the lines merge at the centre. Increasing volumes of freight and longer-distance passenger services have to share the system with suburban trains.

What we don't have, compared with the international cities your correspondents cite, is a separate Metro-type service, with close headways, frequent stops and opportunities for transfers between lines. To expect a Metro-level service from a radial suburban heavy rail system is unrealistic.

A totally new underground network would be impossibly expensive to build. But a network of modern bus-ways is not beyond us.

Dr Ray Brindle, transport consultant, Kyneton

No train needed? Hah!

IF NICK Lowe and Bill Russell think there is no urgency in providing suitable mass transit to the Doncaster area, then I suggest that they come out here and take on the morning commute.

Their argument that this is not a growth corridor is a nonsense. It's already fully grown and, as a result of multi-unit developments, grows bigger by the day. Add to this woe EastLink, which has proven a disaster for traffic flowing to and from the Eastern Freeway entry/exit points.

There are cheaper and more cost-effective alternatives to the Eddington tunnel.

Rodney Williams, Templestowe

Full (almost) to the brim

AS A Melbourne suburban train driver for 19 years, I agree with Paul Mees (Letters, 18/7) that the suburban system is nowhere near capacity. However, at some critical points, it is getting very close.

Sydenham trains, in peak periods, are packed. As they also share tracks with three other suburban lines and two country lines, the tracks they run on are also packed. I wonder what Mr Mees proposes to fix this, and for the huge increases in patronage expected in the next few years.

He is welcome to read reports from 1969 and have his fantasies about today's system. Those of us who operate the system know about today's realities. That is, that in some places on the suburban system, capacity will be reached very soon. Only a major project such as Eddington's rail tunnel can fix this.

Paul Stark, Richmond

On the tunnel's dark side

SO ARE we going to have a rail tunnel from Footscray to Caulfield? It does not require a PhD in transport management to work out that such a tunnel will not provide one single train to Doncaster, remove one 19th-century level crossing or provide a train service to Melbourne airport.

Of course, a tunnel will provide a bonus for the construction industry. However, as a cynic, I can see that it will also provide a suitable scapegoat for the Government and an excuse for Connex to procrastinate in addressing Melbourne's public transport woes. No doubt if the project goes ahead, it will be over-budget and over-time and probably as useful as the now infamous myki system.

There are already four tracks from Caulfield to Richmond and four (six, if you count the freight lines) between North Melbourne and Footscray. If there is a bottleneck, it is between Richmond and North Melbourne, so why not address that problem first? Probably many problems could be fixed by simply rerouting trains and making more effective use of the available infrastructure, as Paul Mees has suggested.

If the line to Doncaster were to be built, you could travel from Balwyn to Chadstone without going through the city. Far better value than $7 billion and umpteen years for a tunnel.

Graeme J. Madigan, Brighton

Flights of fancy are not the real issue

IT IS laughable and sensationalist for The Age to suggest there are "secret flights" by the Zimbabwe regime through Australian air space (22/7).

They are hardly landing in Sydney, picking up their duty free and running across the Harbour Bridge. Instead, they are flying through the remotest corner, rarely controlled. It is in no way tacit approval by the Australian Parliament of these flights.

However, Australia's support of the supporters of the Mugabe regime is extensive. It comes as no shock that these supporters are the leaders of China's and Singapore's political and military wings - people we as a country regularly trade and meet with.

Target those people who actually support the Zimbabwe regime by freezing bank accounts and visa bans and you effectively target Robert Mugabe.

Banning flights through our air space, even if it can be enforced, is relatively stupid compared with the other direct methods of tackling the supporters of the regime, if that is what you actually want to do.

Dennis Matotek, Footscray

Stop the whingeing

TIM Colebatch's missing chapters in the greenhouse emissions debate (Comment & Debate, 22/7) have one more. All the big, whining polluters who want to pollute more must start changing to wind and solar today; that will save them a bigger problem and cost tomorrow.

All this knicker-twisting and other nonsense about such a simple thing is completely mad. The companies know what they have to do but are trying it on.

I find it bizarre that China, with its vast population, has managed to build and start three new subways while we have talked about not much at all. It has spent $70 billion to clean up Beijing so people can breathe and we can't even get a green-powered car for fear of offending some oil company.

Australians need to just grow up and do it now, and not next century, because I have never heard so much bleating and whining in my 55 years.

Marilyn Shepherd, Kensington

Nothing half-baked

TIM Colebatch writes that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Climate Change Minister Penny Wong would be happy to find themselves in the middle of the opinion spectrum on the emissions trading scheme.

If the green paper is any indication, the Federal Government's climate change response will end up being a moderate, middle-of-the-road approach that sits exactly in the centre, between the two extremes of unbaked and fully baked.

Paul Norton, Highgate Hill, Qld

Got a light?

IN BUSINESSDAY, there have been three feature articles by climate change deniers in the space of a week. What next in The Age's campaign against science, an article denying the link between smoking and lung cancer?

Chris Breen, Reservoir

What about . . . (in a whisper) . . . tariffs?

I AM one of the 77% who, according to Monday's Age, say Australia should reduce emissions regardless of what other countries do ("Big tick for emissions cuts", 21/7). How might we encourage other countries to follow suit, but at the same time avoid sacrificing Australian jobs? One answer is tariffs on goods and services imported from countries that are not levying carbon taxes on their producers.

There is no point in making our own industries and services uncompetitive by burdening them with carbon taxes to the point where they go out of business, only to be replaced by foreign suppliers who do not pay for their carbon emissions. That damages the Australian economy and also the planet's long-term future. If the term tariff is too politically incorrect, then call it an imported carbon tax.

Ray Norton, Ivanhoe

A in our ocean

AS A nuclear scientist, Leslie Kemeny (Comment & Debate, 21/7) glosses over issues that are central to the nuclear debate in Australia. Namely the water use involved in the nuclear cycle.

Nuclear is the most water-intensive way to generate power. It uses uranium to turn water into steam that is then pumped through turbines; this steam is then cooled back down into water.

A nuclear power plant uses between 13 billion and 24 billion litres of water a year - or 2.3 litres of water per kilowatt hour. This is compared to solar, which uses 0.11 litres per kWh and wind, which uses 0.004 per kWh. Why would the driest continent on Earth use the most water-intensive energy source?

If we are going to have a serious debate "free of political prejudices" as Kemeny suggests, then perhaps we should look at the real environmental impacts of the nuclear industry.

Scott Foyster, Alice Springs, NT

Mind your Asse on nuclear power

IN THE past two weeks there have been two nuclear power plant-related accidents, underscoring the reality that nuclear power is not environmentally safe, clean or desirable.

First, two weeks ago at the Tricastin plant in southern France, 30,000 litres of uranium solution was spilt. The contaminated liquid overflowed from a reservoir and seeped into the ground and the Gaffiere and the Lauzon, two rivers that flow into the Rhone. Second, at the ironically named German nuclear waste dump in Asse, it was revealed in the same week that the former salt mine has leaked radioactive brine for two decades and threatens major groundwater contamination. So much for environmental safety.

Let's not forget the nuclear weapons proliferation dangers of radioactive waste, particularly in the wrong hands (or even the "right" ones?). When it comes to nuclear power, the only surprise is that anyone would believe the vested interests that it is safe.

Dr Peter Karamoskos, vice-president, Medical Association for the Prevention of War, Port Melbourne

A messy business

BERATING almost everyone over the Same Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws - Superannuation) Bill, Terry Barnes claims that the bill is only recognising that "our retirement savings and superannuation contributions" should "go where we want them to go" when we die.

The Rudd Government has made a mess of this - not for Barnes' reasons - because people who live in a mutually supportive household should also be entitled to each other's superannuation - "same sex" should be irrelevant, because we now accept that the nature of the relationships between adults in a household is no one else's business.

Barnes asserts that "access to child adoption" is irrelevant to this bill, but much of his argument is about the rights of homosexuals in relationships. My two "translations" of John Stuart Mill's On Liberty say that people are free to act on their own opinions "so long as it is at their own risk and peril". Barnes' has "without" instead of "at their own". Child adoption is not only about the rights of homosexual couples.

Barry E. Duff, Clifton Hill

Exporting our talent

DANIEL Flitton thinks Tim Fischer is an "affable" fellow ("We slashed the foreign affairs budget for this?", The Age, 22/7).

Readers who remember Mr Fischer's hysteria in the 1990s over lesbian couples seeking access to fertility clinics, over homosexuals allegedly threatening traditional families, over Aboriginal land councils (he called them "bloodsuckers"), and his promise of "bucket loads of extinguishment" under the Wik legislation may want to question that description.

Can't we find some less embarrassing exports to Italy than this former deputy prime minister and Amanda Vanstone?

Nicholas Eckstein, Ringwood North

Adding up the taxes

FLOYD Kermode (Letters, 22/7), on the other hand, hard-working doctors and lawyers are subsidising secular education when they pay taxes and don't use the state system. Consider this; if they sent their sons and daughters to state schools, more of your taxes would be needed for the education budget. You would subsidise their education more than you do at present. If you don't believe this proposition, do the research. The Government has, and that is why it subsidises these private schools.

Tom Fanning, Balwyn North

Waiting, still waiting

YOUR story on "Stricter reporting from hospitals" (22/7) reminded me of the old "good news and bad news". At last there will be more reporting to the Federal Government on death rates and the existence of superbugs - but there will be no measuring of hospital performance linked to funding - as has long been advocated. Apparently Mr Rudd's promise of "the buck stops here" on hospital and health care improvements could be a long time coming.

Ian McDonald, Beaumaris

A friendly welcome?

MY PARTNER and I visited your city last week. She had an interview, so I tagged along. We flew down from Canberra to wind and rain but enjoyed the day looking around.

About 2pm, we hopped on a tram heading up St Kilda Road.

At one stop, four inspectors got on. I handed over our tickets. It seemed we had made a mistake - one was wrong. The last time I caught a tram was in 1989 and you paid a conductor.

Instead of explaining what we had done wrong (we didn't actually know), we were frogmarched off the tram, then verbally abused. It was uncomfortable and my partner was upset - as well as being late for her interview.

What struck me was the similarity between Melbourne and Berlin in the 1930s - grey, blustery, not very friendly. Needless to say, she didn't get the job which, after that experience, we are rather pleased about.

Robert Pickles, Sutton, NSW


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