Nov 26, 2012

Question Without Notice – High Speed Rail and the Central Coast

CRAIG THOMSON (Member of Dobell) – My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. For more than a decade, the Central Coast has been promised high-speed rail to link us with Sydney and Newcastle. Current travel times between Sydney and Newcastle were recently acknowledged by Infrastructure NSW as being slower than the pre-war Newcastle flyer steam train. When will the Central Coast see a true high-speed rail service to take the pressure off the many thousands of commuters who have to spend long hours away from their families each day?

ANTHONY ALBANESE – I thank the Member for Dobell for his question and, indeed, for having a policy question from that side of the House. Perhaps it will be the only one that comes from there today.

He has a concern. He points towards the growing population in his electorate and on the Central Coast. I know that the Member for Robertson [Deb O’Neill] shares his concern about commuting times, particularly for rail. Those slow commuting times put pressure on the F3, with people spending hour after hour on that freeway. They spend more time on that freeway than they do at home with their kids, which is a real concern for family life in his electorate.

By 2036 it is expected that the population of the Central Coast will increase by 30 per cent. That is one of the reasons why we have undertaken as part of a commitment we made during the last election campaign a high-level study into High Speed Rail for the east coast. Part of what the first stage of that study showed was that it was not just about the long-distance trips between Sydney and Melbourne and Sydney and Brisbane, which are of course are some of the busiest air routes in the world, it was also about the commuter traffic, particularly between the Central Coast, Newcastle and also Canberra, and the difference it could make in taking pressure off the growth in the outer suburbs of Sydney by making it possible to get from the Member for Dobell’s electorate to the city in around 40 minutes. Many people in Sydney would take longer than that. Indeed, sometimes it takes longer to get from Marrickville into the CBD than 40 minutes.

So that would make it extremely competitive.

We are having a study to produce the facts – the proper costings, the proper rail corridors, the proper time lines and the proper patronage figures – so that we can then have a debate from early next year about whether the community is prepared to pay the cost of this. We know there is a high cost to High Speed Rail, but we also have to consider it in the context of the regional development opportunities that would exist and the costs that would not exist for rail and road on a regular basis.

This is a study which will be handed down early next year. I thank the Member for Dobell for his ongoing interest in this issue.

We know that in Europe and Asia High Speed Rail is a growing part of the transport solution. Of course, they have much denser populations than Australia does across the vast expanse of this continent. So the challenge here is much greater.