Regional Centres can Prove the Answer for a City Bursting at the Seams
According to RDA Hunter Director, Ian Pedersen, a fast train network connecting Sydney with regional cities like Newcastle, Wollongong and Goulburn in less than 90 minutes would open up opportunities for Sydney workers looking for more affordable living and a manageable commute
By Ian PedersEn
Updated 22 March 2018 — 10:14am first published at 10:07am
For those wanting to escape the crippling house prices and increasingly congested road and rail networks of our state capital, there is an answer - if only the commute were more tolerable.
A fast train network connecting Sydney with regional cities like Newcastle, Wollongong and Goulburn in less than 90 minutes would open up opportunities for Sydney workers looking for more affordable living and a manageable commute. Across the world it is recognised that fast trains improve the economies, lifestyles and affordability of the regions and cities they connect.
The NSW government is spending billions on transport infrastructure, primarily in Sydney, but after securing $6 million in federal funding last week to investigate a fast train between Sydney and Newcastle, the government must not delay in shifting its focus north.
Professor Andrew McNaughton, an adviser to British high speed rail project HS2, told the Committee for Sydney earlier this month that travel time, not distance, is the key to successfully connecting the regions and Sydney. The NSW government's proposal would cut travel time between Sydney and Newcastle from three hours to two, but McNaughton says the optimum journey length to secure economic and lifestyle benefits is between 60 and 90 minutes.
To achieve this, a fast train connecting Sydney and Newcastle would have to travel at a minimum average speed of 120km/h and limit stops to Lake Macquarie, the central coast, and Hornsby, terminating near Parramatta.
Any business case for a Sydney-Newcastle train that is backed by the federal government must consult with Hunter communities about where this train would terminate - in the congested CBD, or on the outskirts of the Sydney basin?
My solution sees fast trains operating to Granville, the geographic centre of Sydney, terminating at a new greater Sydney transport interchange. This would avoid adding more transport congestion in the CBD or in Parramatta.
This interchange would allow passengers to connect with services to the Sydney CBD, Badgery's Creek Airport, Penrith and so on - journeys of 20 minutes' duration.
Such an interchange would benefit the whole of Sydney. It would grant access to current and planned rail networks north to Newcastle, south to the Illawarra, east to the CBD and west to Liverpool.
The area around the new interchange could be turned into a new commercial and entertainment hub for Sydney with direct public transport access for everyone in the regions.
And it can be achieved by updating existing rail infrastructure.
But doing so requires commitment from business, communities and all levels of government.
The federal government must appoint an independent development corporation to oversee the development of a business case for a fast train network. This would be made up of competent people from the regions and western Sydney to manage and control the project, exercising funding and approval powers.
If John Bradfield, in building the Sydney Harbour Bridge, had to go through the approval and business case requirements of today, with cost-benefit ratios, environmental appeals, NIMBY communities, and the like, the bridge would be two lanes with traffic controllers at each end.
Vision. Bradfield had vision. If we're to bring Sydney closer to its surrounding cities and reap the economic and lifestyle rewards, we need that too.
Ian Pedersen is a director on the Board of Regional Development Australia - Hunter, a NSW Business Chamber councillor and former president of Engineers Australia.