Sydney's Central Station (Image: Emma Kosowski)

Libs promise high-speed train for NSW

It’s been talked about for decades, and now a fast train for NSW could be on the cards – but locals are sceptical about whether it will really happen.

Three months out from the state election, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has announced that, if her Coalition government is re-elected, it will start work on a fast rail network connecting regional centres such as Newcastle, Wollongong and Canberra with each other and with Sydney.

David Levinson, a professor of transport engineering at Sydney University, says the new network could encourage more people to move out to regional cities and areas, relieving pressure on fast-growing Sydney.

However, the project – aimed at slashing travel times for commuters travelling in and out of Sydney for work by up to 75 per cent – provoked mixed reactions among Sydneysiders.

Bruce, a commuter at Sydney’s Central Station, pointed to the delays plaguing the light rail project, which will connect the city with the eastern suburbs. “The light rail has been delayed for so long,” he said. “It seems odd to start another project without finishing the light rail first.”

However, he added: “I think if it (the fast train network) gets in place, it could be useful … if it’s executed right.”

Linda, who commutes from Newcastle when flying out of Sydney Airport, disagrees a fast train would lead to people moving out of the city.

“It could bring them into Sydney for work but not necessarily get them out of Sydney … I think the problem is congestion here (Sydney). A fast train may just bring more people in … You’ve still got to develop infrastructure in those places (in regional NSW),” she said.

Betty, from the Central Coast, commutes every day to work in the Sydney CBD. A fast train network could reduce her 90-minute trip to just 30 minutes.

“The train ride right now, for an express service, is about an hour and a half … It would be a lot faster getting to and from the city,” she said.

Prof Levinson points out that the planned train network would be “fast”, rather than “very fast”. “That means it is a more incremental approach, and so costs less, but also is slower … It also focuses more on regional NSW than on connecting with the capitals of other states,” he said.

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

The state Government has commissioned high-speed rail expert Andrew McNaughton to identify appropriate routes, train speeds and station locations.

So far, four routes have been proposed for the project:

  • 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.

“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,” Ms Berejiklian said.

Prof Levinson agrees that increased connectivity between Sydney and regional NSW areas could encourage NSW’s population to spread beyond urban Sydney.

“Yes, by increasing accessibility to places farther away, more people will live farther away,” he said. “But if it makes Sydney more liveable overall, by lowering housing costs, it might result in greater Sydney … gaining population.” – @kosowskiemma