The federal government has pledged to fund a fast train from Newcastle to Sydney if elected, bringing to the fore a decades-long topic of conversation about futuristic high-speed rail in Australia to rival that of Japan and France.
With $1 billion put aside — matching the NSW government’s own commitment to the project — the high-speed rail would form a key part of the $3.3 billion announced overnight for new and existing infrastructure projects across the state.
The government has not included the time saved in such a proposal, instead describing it as a fix for a “reliability constraint” on the line that would allow passenger trains to overtake freight trains.
The Coalition’s pre-budget announcement follows the pledge of a $500 million “downpayment” in January from Labor Leader Anthony Albanese to fund the connections between Sydney, the Central Coast and Newcastle via his proposed High-Speed Rail Authority.
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Labor says its trains would travel more than 250 kilometres an hour, slashing journey times from Sydney to Newcastle from 2.5 hours to about 45 minutes, and is the first small step in what would eventually be a Melbourne-Sydney-Brisbane high-speed rail corridor.
Transport connections are a major priority for Newcastle, which has a growing population of around 320,000 and counting — indeed by 2040, the city along with nearby Central Coast and the Hunter Valley are expected to swell by 200,000 people.
Committee for the Hunter’s chief executive officer Alice Thompson says the region, located about 250 kilometres from Sydney, does not have a local economy dependent upon the metro centre — but does benefit from its proximity.
“The impacts of COVID-19 on work and settlement has provided a catalyst to rethink high-speed rail along the Sydney — Newcastle corridor,” says Thompson, who is a former senior advisor on cities and infrastructure to former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.
“This project would be truly region-shaping, setting the ambition and foundations for a population beyond 1 million — if we get the planning right.”
The NSW government’s plan is to upgrade stations at Wyong and Tuggerah, build dual-track rail bridges over the Wyong River and double capacity on that section of the line.
Plus, Thompson says, such federal investment is crucial as Newcastle and the Hunter begin pivoting away from major coal exporting as we usher in a greener future.
“Diversification of the Hunter economy from coal has to be the question that everything we do in the region is an answer to,” Thomspon explains.
“The task is to create new jobs in sectors of competitive advantage.”
And that means investment in catalytic infrastructure, she says — like the “international gateways that connect the Hunter to the global economy and connection to other centres in Australia like Sydney”.
“Improvements to this connection — both transport and digital — as well as our connection to other centres in Australia will strengthen the Hunter’s role in the NSW and national economy.”