4 December 2018

Election-driven fast rail plan raises hopes yet again

| Ian Bushnell
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High speed rail. Photo: iStock

Now you see it, now you don’t: Will the NSW Government’s fast rail announcement actually go anywhere? File photo.

There must be an election coming. Yet another fast rail announcement has been rolled out, this time by a NSW Coalition Government that doesn’t want to be collateral damage in the ongoing train crash that is its Federal counterpart.

With Deputy Premier John Barilaro already pledging $1 million to a study into the Canberra-Eden boondoggle, the NSW Government has put some flesh on the bones of its previous announcement to use the proceeds of the Snowy Hydro sale for rail investment.

It says work on a fast rail network will start in the next term of government, again raising the tantalising prospect of a one-hour trip between Canberra and Sydney.

An optimistic ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr immediately took the opportunity to call on both major parties at the federal level to also commit to being a funding partner for the Canberra-Sydney faster rail project ahead of the 2019 federal election.

The focus for the Chief Minister is on a faster service more like three hours than one, something that he believes is realistic and achievable for $1 billion. The multi-billion dollar dream of High Speed Rail remains an aspirational goal.

He is hopeful that with all parties talking faster rail a result might be now possible within five years.

“We look forward to working with the NSW Government in the months ahead on the business case development and, once that work is complete, the speedy implementation of improvements to the service,” he said.

The NSW Government says a fast rail network linking regional centres to each other and Sydney would slash travel times across the State.

It has identified four potential routes and appointed High Speed Rail expert Professor Andrew McNaughton to confirm the most appropriate routes, train speeds and station locations.

The four routes identified by the Government are within 300 kilometres from Sydney:

  • Northern Route including the Central Coast and Newcastle.
  • Southern Inland Route including Goulburn and Canberra.
  • Western Route including Lithgow, Bathurst and Orange / Parkes.
  • Southern Coastal Route including Wollongong and Nowra.

Approximate travel times could be:

Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Andrew Constance said the advice from Professor McNaughton would pave the way for the NSW Government to take a new approach to the delivery of fast rail by identifying immediate improvements to existing rail corridors while undertaking long-term planning.

This approach will allow for significant improvements in travel times for customers in the coming years, while at the same time delivering the building blocks for a high speed dedicated rail network.

“In the immediate future, faster rail would see upgrades along existing rail alignments and provide services of at least 200km/h, slashing travel times by one third,” Mr Constance said.

“Ultimately, in the long term, high-speed rail would see the development of new alignments and lines, providing speeds of over 250km/h, with examples overseas travelling up to 350km/h and higher – giving the potential to cut travel times by up to 75 per cent.”

The work will be funded by a $4.6 million allocation from the Snowy Hydro Fund.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said a fast rail network would give people greater choice about where they live and how they commute to work.

“We know a fast rail network will transform NSW unlike any other project and we will make it a reality,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“We need to make it easier for people to consider moving to regional NSW and there is no better way to do that than building a fast rail network. The expert will provide advice to Government on what is possible and what would be involved,” Ms Berejiklian said.

The ACT Government has already been in talks with the NSW Government and NSW Labor about ways to speed up the more-than-four-hour journey to Sydney.

Last August, the ACT Government committed $5 million in matched funding with a future Labor Government in NSW to a detailed business case for a faster train service between Canberra and Sydney.

It may be something everybody wants but a timetable linked to the election cycle means a faster rail service of any kind is going to be a slow train coming.

What are your thoughts about the proposed fast rail network? Do you think the process will be sped up this time around? Comment below.

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HSR time to Goulburn looks out of possibility whereas 1 hr HSR Canberra-Sydney may be achievable.
Problem is unless spending on existing rail is such as to allow future provision of true HSR, much money will be wasted.
In any event true HSR does not sit with freight rail on the same tracks so Bar’s strategy is faulty in that regard.

Andrew Barr said on TV that 2 hours and 50 minutes might be possible. Sorry not interested! It has to be significantly faster than taking the car to outweigh the extra time of getting to your final destination in Sydney. And even then the 250kmh+ option won’t be competitive with the cost of taking the car anyway.

Actually, a lot of people would be very interested in a service that runs directly into the middle of Sydney (Central Railway Station) in less than 3 hours. This would replace a large amount of unnecessary car traffic. Don’t forget also that the 2 hours 50 minutes that you are on a train as opposed to the three plus hours (depending on road traffic) that you are in a car, is 2 hours, 50 minutes of your own time. You can get lunch or dinner from the buffet, read a book, watch a movie, play cards with friends etc. So the time differential is really significant. Also rail has really comfortable leg room in the seats and you can get up and walk around. Can’t walk around in a car.

I agree, MUCH more interested in a train to Sydney than a car caught up in a traffic jam headed to central Sydney. Then having to find and pay for car parking for the time spent in Sydney. And my experience is not using the car while in Sydney, as it’s not as convenient as public transport. So why take it in the first place to central Sydney?

If I’m visiting the western suburbs I’m likely to drive, but never to central Sydney. I slow catch the train there now, and a faster train would be even better.

When I see all the agonising over what in other countries would be regarded as necessary improvements to essential infrastructure, I am very grateful that our Victorian ancestors didn’t have the same attitudes, otherwise we wouldn’t even have railways in this country.

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