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.