New South Wales took a step closer to bringing to fruition its vision of a fast rail service across Australia’s most populous state by calling on a panel of experts to draft a plan on how to build it.
The state government of Premier Gladys Berejiklian recently appointed Andrew McNaughton to lead the panel. An expert in the field, McNaughton is also an adviser to the High Speed 2 rail project that will connect London, Birmingham, Manchester, and Leeds in the United Kingdom. The panel will have a year to produce its recommendations. «Preparing the Fast Rail Network Strategy in 2019 is the first significant step in taking the network from vision to delivery», the government said in a statement posted on its website on December 4. Travel times between Sydney and cities like Canberra could eventually be reduced up to 75%, it said.
New Infrastructure to Avoid Overcrowding
Although the government is investing billions in infrastructure to help Sydney cope with a growing population, it wants to avoid overcrowding by finding ways to promote the development of regional cities, such as improving rail links. «Our major regional centres and communities along rail corridors are important and vibrant parts of NSW (New South Wales). They offer diverse and affordable housing, access to employment and education, and lifestyle opportunities», it said. «The strategic planning and delivery of faster rail connections within regional NSW will increase the number of commuters, connect more people with regional NSW and alleviate growth pressures in Sydney».
Regional Development Via Rail Links
The announcement of the creation of the panel follows this summer’s publication of the government’s “A 20-Year Economic Vision for Regional NSW”, which details its desire to improve connections between regional cities like Bathurst and Newcastle and support the people who live in them. «Many of our regional centres have room to grow, draw in more investment and attract skilled workers, as well as provide job opportunities for our children», read an opening statement to the vision by John Barilaro, the state’s deputy premier. «Through strategic investment we can address issues like skill shortages, the ageing workforce and digital disruption, while capitalising on emerging industries that align with a region’s local strengths».
Regional New South Wales is home to a third of the state’s population of 7.5 million, and it produces one-fifth of the gross state product in sectors such as agricultural, energy, manufacturing and natural resources.
The government said it had decided to focus on fast rail service within the state rather than beyond it because previous studies had found that a service linking Sydney with major cities along the coast like Brisbane and Melbourne would be too costly.
Fast and High-Speed Rail to Connect Regional Cities
Once it receives the panel’s recommendations, it will start work on the first stage of the service in the next term of government. Premier Berejiklian was quoted by the Australian Associated Press news agency as denying that the announcement was a stunt ahead of the March 23 state election.
The panel will examine four routes for faster train service: a northern line to Newcastle via Gosford; a southwest line to Canberra via Goulburn; a south coast line to Nowra via Wollongong; and a western line to Orange via Bathurst and Lithgow. All of the cities are within 300 kilometres of Sydney. The government said the network would be built in stages, starting with an upgrade of existing lines to improve speeds from 160 kilometres per hour to at least 200 kilometres an hour. Upgrades would include junction rearrangements, curve easing, deviations, passing loops and level crossing removals. Work on dedicated lines for high-speed trains would come next, offering speeds at more than 250 kilometres per hour. Travel times between Sydney and Canberra, for example, would shorten from 4:07 hours to 1:00 hour.