16 May 2021

Canberra needs to be part of NSW's fast rail plans

| Ian Bushnell
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Canberra Railway Station

Canberra Railway Station at Kingston is reflective of an antiquated connection to Sydney. Photo: File.

It seems the Federal Government has given up on the idea of high speed or even very fast rail in our neck of the woods.

Despite its $10 billion infrastructure splurge over 10 years in the Federal Budget, there was nothing there for progressing any plans for an east coast high-speed link or the states to upgrade regional links.

With aviation in the doldrums due to the pandemic, it doesn’t look like the Federal Government will be sponsoring any time soon a high-speed rail competitor, which would deliver a Canberra-Sydney trip of about an hour, compared to the current four-hour ramble.

The ACT may have received $132.5 million for light rail, but doing anything about the embarrassingly slow rail journey to Sydney did not rate a mention and has been left to the NSW Government which, tired of waiting, has decided to sell off more of the silver to finance a combination of fast (below 200 km/h) and faster (250km/h) lines to regional centres, including Goulburn.

The ACT and NSW have been talking fast rail for years, and Infrastructure Australia added a Sydney-Canberra rail upgrade to its 2020 Infrastructure Priority List.

The fast train model NSW is now proposing would not compete with aviation but still provide a speedy enough journey to be efficient, taking into account airport check-in and baggage pickup, and provide the economic benefits that greater connectivity would bring.

But it cannot stop at Goulburn.

Goulburn Railway Station

Goulburn Railway Station. NSW is proposing a fast train from Sydney to Goulburn. Photo: File.

There needs to be a 21st-century transport link between the two capitals that threads a growing corridor as people look for cheaper housing and lifestyle opportunities outside Sydney, especially in COVID-19’s wake.

Already there is a growing cohort of people in Goulburn commuting down the highway to Canberra, increasingly a regional jobs and services hub.

Fast rail would provide a reasonable inter-capital journey and connect those growing population centres along the way with those two economic poles.

It would also take some traffic off the Hume Highway and offer potential carbon mitigation if electrified.

The ACT remains open to the idea.

Infrastructure chief Duncan Edgehill from Major Projects Canberra reportedly said at the recent NSW Infrastructure Summit that the link was a national disgrace, and if NSW wanted to build a line to Goulburn or Queanbeyan, the ACT would be interested in extending it to Canberra.

It was a no-brainer that should have been done decades ago, he said.

But the ACT’s meagre resources mean the Federal Government will need to assist in making it a reality, something Transport Minister Chris Steel confirmed when he said the National Faster Rail Agency could be doing more to fund both analysis and support NSW in building the project, which would be a mix of new and upgraded tracks.

Fast rail has been a story of missed opportunities fed by the belief that the population did not support the proposition, but with the national capital region’s recent growth, surely now is the time to give it the rail connection it deserves.

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We need high speed rail. Airlines know that HSR will be the death of them which is why they lobby our government into preventing the inevitable. Vote Albanese if you want high speed rail.

It will never happen. 1. Too expensive. 2. Any EIS will be held up in courts for years. 3. The concept of the XPT was 120kph + rail travel, but on hot summer days, the tracks are affected by heat and 40 – 50kph is the norm

Re point 3. They have high speed rail in Spain and Morocco both of which get very hot temperatures. The tracks are built to accomodate the heat. Though of course there are limits but those limits are what you get through design.

It would happen if our government had the political will for it. I would actually like for this country to technologically progress into the 21st century… or at least the 20th.

Capital Retro7:48 pm 19 May 21

The situation in France that has evolved between the TGV and Air France is a can of worms:


I recall reading that under the legislation establishing Canberra/ ACT as the national capital, if the ACT built a rail line to the border near Hall, NSW is obligated to extend the line to Yass.

Doesn’t need to be high speed, just higher speed would do.
The most recent proposal featured very little changes beyond a bit of track work to reduce the travel time from 4 hours 10 minutes to 2 hours 50 minutes. A trip to Sydney of 2 hours 50 minutes would be competitive with road travel and would even give air travel a nudge. Of all the types of travel nothing beats rail for comfort and space.

Capital Retro8:37 am 19 May 21

That’s exactly what is required. It would be cost-effective also.

And just under 3 hours from Kingston to Sydney Central in comfort is as about as good as travel can get.

HiddenDragon7:28 pm 17 May 21

There’s quite a lot to be said for this, so it probably won’t happen – but if it does, it will make Canberra that much more of a satellite of Sydney, and to some extent a dormitory suburb of that city.

The consequent opportunities for integration might also tempt some of the ACT political class to begin musing about whether life would be easier just running a city council, without those big, complicated no-win programs like health and education to worry about……

ChrisinTurner5:08 pm 17 May 21

The slow trip to Sydney by rail certainly needs attention. Meanwhile the ACT is slowing the trip to Woden by almost doubling the journey time through the change to Light Rail. The $billions being spent on Stage 2 of LR would be better spent on the rail connection to Sydney.

Gerald Lynch2:32 pm 17 May 21

The line Goulburn to Tarago probably only needs improvement but from Tarago to Canberra it needs a complete realignment and rebuild. But it’s doable and could offer benefit for the growing population of the Bungendore and Queanbeyan areas who require improved public transport to access points in Sydney but more importantly in Canberra.
How about the overseas proven technology of a tram-train operating on a faster line able to serve Queanbeyan centre before heading to Canberra on the existing alignment then seamlessly operating on Light Rail into Civic or beyond? Easily manageable on the same reconstructed heavy rail line from Sydney which must be reconstructed anyway if any of the new (2023?) fleet is to achieve its potential in time improvement. And France has banned all internal flights of less than 2hrs duration in favour of rail for carbon reduction reasons. Consider what this could mean for Canberra and intermediate points- and we could get a direct service to Sydney Airport since the new fleet will be dual-fuel and capable of underwire electric traction through the airport line. Time for some adult co-operation among ACT, NSW and Palerang Council to get this done. And where’s Mr Barillaro in this issue?

NSW/Feds fund it to Queanbeyan (major regional city pop 70,000), ACT pays for light rail link to Civic along existing corridor and gets to redevelop existing Kingston rail area, Oaks Estate and Fyshwick a bit more. Win-win.

Gerald Lynch2:37 pm 17 May 21

Could be done with some regional transport consideration. Queanbeyan doesn’t stop at the ACT border and most of the growth there is Canberra-dependent. Better than endless road construction isolating people and communities.

Yes, a fast rail service from Sydney, via Goulburn, to Canberra, powered by electricity from a Small Modular Reactor, terminating at the international airport, next to the future light rail stop at the airport.

Stephen Saunders8:28 am 17 May 21

A 21st century rail link from the largest city to the capital city? Heavens, that’s not how we do things in brawny Australia. Our population is so small, the distances are so large, blah blah.

Wot? Trains? Need moar roads!

Capital Retro10:28 am 17 May 21

That mantra needs repeating often because that’s exactly how it is.

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