25 October 2018

Barr calls on Feds to boost NSW fast rail commitment

| Ian Bushnell
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Andrew Barr at Canberra Station this morning. Photo: Charlotte Harper

Andrew Barr at Canberra Railway Station for a previous rail announcement. He is optimistic that the NSW funding announcement will make fast rail happen. File photo.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr has called on both sides of federal politics to commit funding to the Canberra-Sydney rail corridor to speed up the development of a faster service between the two capitals after the NSW Government made regional rail a priority for its $4.2 billion Snowy Hydro Legacy Fund.

Deputy Premier John Barilaro identified the Canberra to Sydney corridor as a key one in need of upgrading, saying improvements could cut the current travel time of four and a half hours to under three.

The ACT and NSW have been working together for some time on cutting travel times between the two capitals and the NSW Government announcement of its spending priorities for the proceeds of the sale of Snowy Hydro to the Commonwealth puts funding on the table that would make it possible.

Taking advantage of the looming Federal and State elections, Mr Barr said the NSW announcement to invest in the Canberra corridor was a genuine commitment with real money, and a top-up from the Commonwealth would make fast rail ‘very real and very soon’.

“For the first time in a while, there would be a significant source of funding allocated to track work and to buy new trains, so it’s encouraging. I’ve been pleased over the past six months or so to be able to secure support of both sides of politics in NSW towards the project,” he said.

“So with the state election coming in the first quarter of next year, it does seem that this is a very timely announcement. I hope my Labor colleagues in NSW would be equally supportive of that significant proportion of that $4.2 billion fund being allocated to improve the rail service. It gives us cause for optimism that we might actually get something done here.”

In August, the ACT Government also committed $5 million in matched funding with a future NSW Labor Government to a detailed business case for a faster train service between Canberra and Sydney. NSW goes to the polls on Saturday, 23 March 2019 and the Snowy Hydro Legacy Fund will provide a ready war chest for the Government.

Mr Barilaro told the ABC that NSW was already procuring new trains but a big problem was the alignment of the rail line.

“The tracks themselves, they need realignment, improvements, straightening, new technologies. So if you can improve and invest in that area you will actually reduce travel times,” he said.

But it remains a long-term project and the NSW Government has not forgotten the ambitious High-Speed Rail proposal that will need a separate corridor.

“If anyone says you can have a very fast train from Canberra to Sydney in the very near future well they’re not telling the truth, the reality is we have an opportunity to invest now in the infrastructure we’ve got to improve the rail timeline today but at the same time identify what will have to be a new corridor for the Very Fast Train from Canberra to Sydney,” he said.

Mr Barilaro said water security, rail and road passenger connectivity, freight linkages, digital connectivity and special activation precincts were the key priorities for the Snowy Hydro fund.

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Flying Sydney Canberra is at least two hours, door-to-door.

A train service that is under three hours will, if priced appropriately, take almost all of the current flight business and a chunk of the current bus business. If that service calls at both airports (I believe Canberra Airport is only too keen to fund a station there), then even more so.

So, the operational business case is compelling, without even mentioning the freight business (which is the real reason why Canberra Airport will throw serious money at this).

The capital business case is of course another matter. It’s my understanding that only electric trains can service the Sydney Airport stations. That doesn’t mean you’d need to electrify the entire line, but it’s a good reason to do so.

There are probably few sectors left in the OECD that are more potentially profitable than this one for a moderately fast train. The only other one in Australia is Sydney Newcastle. That’s a much more geographically-challenging route and also lacks the guaranteed premium government business that is intrinsic to the Sydney Canberra route.

It’s great that both sides of politics in NSW seem to be keen on this. I reckon the ACT government should be prepared to go it alone, regardless. There’s serious money to be made here…

Capital Retro9:23 am 02 Nov 18

The privately operated direct bus service between Canberra and Sydney takes about 3 hours so who is going spend millions on a rail service to compete with that?

The ACT government is only interested in “urban renewal” near rail corridors so even they wouldn’t be stupid enough to take it on.

And you mention “freight business”. What are you referring to?

Queanbeyanite7:31 pm 01 Nov 18

Says the bloke who’s just dropped $4 billion on a tram from Gungarlin to Woden.

Maybe see to the timing of the light rail before turning thoughts interstate? We don’t even know when in 2019 the LR is going to start carrying passengers … was supposed to be end November!

HiddenDragon4:58 pm 26 Oct 18

Faster, yes – but not too fast. Canberra housing is already very expensive, and barely affordable for many – in that respect we cannot afford to become a dormitory suburb of Sydney.

Capital Retro8:05 am 26 Oct 18

The Spanish tilt train referred to in another post has disappeared just like the first one that was offered some years ago.

Maybe there are too many windmills along the route.

letterboxfrog5:44 pm 25 Oct 18

Call me cynical – but there is an election in March, and statements like this show we are merely in the leadup to the 2019 NSW Election. If the betting odds on Sportsbet are anything to go by, Deputy Premier and Nationals Leader John Barilaro will no longer be in Parliament, and Bryce Wilson will be the member for Monaro.

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