“This rail service is too slow, it’s not competitive with road transport.”
Andrew Barr was polite but blunt about the value of the existing rail service between Canberra and Sydney today before jumping on a train himself to travel to a meeting at which he will lobby NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance MP on a potential partnership between the ACT, NSW and Federal governments for upgrades that could cut the train journey from Canberra to Sydney to under three hours.
Mr Barr will raise the idea of a joint approach to updating the rail link with Mr Constance, who is the Member for Bega in the NSW Parliament and a former Canberran himself, tomorrow morning in the hope that together NSW and the ACT can attract Federal funding earmarked for rail development in the Budget earlier this month.
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“The Federal Government has opened the door to co-investing, and we think we can add some value to that by working with the NSW Government jointly to approach the Federal Government,” Mr Barr said.
The Chief Minister said the discussions would pick up on earlier talks he’d had on the matter with NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Deputy Premier John Barilaro, whose electorate of Monaro includes the Queanbeyan and Bungendore stops on the Canberra to Sydney rail line.
“They’ve been very clear about wanting to invest in improving public transport and particularly in rail across the state,” Mr Barr said.
He said he believed the timing was right for a push to improve the rail link given the focus in the Federal Budget on infrastructure spending and on rail specifically.
“Last week’s Federal Budget put money on the table for faster rail connections between major cities, so this is an opportunity, one that may only come around every couple of decades.
“Why not take it?”
The Chief Minister also pointed to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s enthusiasm for trains generally.
“I’ve observed the Prime Minister loves public transport … [he] loves to take selfies on trains,” Mr Barr said.
“Wouldn’t it be fantastic if the Prime Minister could get from Kirribilli to the Lodge via rail, possibly even a light rail connection from here [the train station at Kingston] past the Lodge, I’m sure that’d be something he’d enjoy doing,” he said.
The rail service between Central Station in Sydney and Canberra Station at Kingston is operated by NSW Trainlink, with three services a day each way, each taking between four and four and a half hours factoring in stops at Queanbeyan, Bungendore, Goulburn and six other stations.
Express bus services run by Murrays and Greyhound run much more frequently and take between three and three and a half hours from the Jolimont Centre in Civic to Central Station via Sydney Airport.
Flights can be less convenient in that travellers must get to Canberra Airport and then from Sydney Airport to their final destination in the NSW capital.
Mr Barr, who was pulling into Sydney by train as we published this story after enjoying a buffet car lunch of roast pork and catching up on emails and reading, said this morning that he believed a new train and faster rail journey would attract many more patrons and provide a real alternative to flying, driving or catching the bus to Sydney.
He believed the cost of upgrades required to bring the travel time on the route down would be between the tens of millions and hundreds of millions of dollars.
“I think with a relatively modest investment in the rolling stock, some signalling improvements and some work on the line itself, you could achieve that reduced travel time,” he said.
He noted congestion once the train reached the Sydney metropolitan area was also an issue. In fact it was this very congestion that caused the train the Chief Minister was due to catch today to be delayed by an hour.
“It’s an example of some of the challenges that are there,” Mr Barr said.
He noted that NSW was the asset owner and would therefore purchase the rolling stock and undertake the track work.
“They own this station as well,” he said, pointing at the building that houses Canberra station at Kingston.
“But we would be a constructive partner in this … we wouldn’t be able to invest in improving the rail line on the NSW side of the border, but we could certainly take responsibility for improvements on the ACT side.”
Would you be more likely to choose the train over driving, flying or the bus if the travel time were under three hours?