NSW urged to create fast rail network from Sydney to Newcastle

NSW, Australia, 2019 Australian commuter trains at train station platform.
NSW, Australia, 2019 Australian commuter trains at train station platform. Image: Shutterstock

A fast rail network connecting Sydney with its surrounding “megaregion” could help turn the region into a global economic powerhouse, an urban policy think tank says.

Committee for Sydney, an urban think tank funded by a group of Sydney’s leading corporations, government departments and cultural institutions, issued a statement on Monday to its members calling for the New South Wales Government to begin work on a Sydney-to-Newcastle fast rail line – as the first leg of a larger network potentially extending to Canberra in the long run.

A fast rail network, the Committee argues, could connect industries and major trade access points in the greater Sydney and surrounds, stretching from Newcastle to the north, Wollongong to the south and the Blue Mountains to the west – an area referred to by the Committee as “The Sandstone Megaregion.”

In 2018, the Committee for Sydney made the case for planning at the scale of Newcastle, the Central Coast, Sydney and Wollongong in its report, The Sandstone Megaregion.

The Committee is now proposing the NSW Government begins a phased delivery program and budget for Fast Rail between Sydney and Newcastle, with the logical first section being Sydney to the Central Coast.

No Australian passenger train has ever exceeded 215 kilometres per hour (km/hour) and most lines’ top speed is 160km/hour.

In 2019, Transport for NSW completed a $10 million strategic business case for “faster rail” between Sydney and Newcastle as part of the Federal Government’s Faster Rail Plan. The “faster rail” refers to upgrading existing rail infrastructure to support speeds below 200 km/hour.

Fast Rail, as the Committee for Sydney is proposing, refers to infrastructure that can support speeds above 200 km/hour and up to 250 km/hour.

For a Sydney-to-Newcastle trip, a fast rail could cut travel times from two-and-a-half hours to less than an hour. The Sydney-to-Gosford route could take as little as 25 minutes.

Noting that modern transport planning is focused more on the desired trip time between places,  Committee for Sydney said commutes of an hour or less were the “magic number” that encouraged significant interaction and travel between regions.

This would be even more important in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, given the development of hybrid working arrangements and growth in popularity of regional living.

The committee chief executive, Gabriel Metcalf, said NSW’s tunnel boring machine – currently being used for the Sydney Metro tunnel projects – would be out of work in 2026.

This was the optimal time to get working on a Sydney-to-Gosford tunnel, he said, before extending the fast rail network to Newcastle.

“Linking together the cities of the sandstone megaregion with fast rail means people have more choice – about where they work, where they live and how they get around,” Metcalf said.

“Better connections across this geography means we effectively work like a bigger global city, with more economic gravitational pull.”

The NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian, said in the lead-up to the 2019 election that she would like to see work on a fast rail network begin by 2023.

Discussing this year’s NSW Intergenerational Report, NSW Treasurer Dominic Francis Perrottet expanded the idea of a megaregion to four cities – Wollongong, Newcastle, Sydney, and Canberra.

“It’s time to take action on these insights,”Metcalf said.

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