Power of imagination fuels high-speed rail

Many Hunter residents will be familiar with the first high-speed rail link between Newcastle and Sydney.

For many years the famousNewcastle Flyer departed Newcastle about 7.30am and arrived at Central in time for the start of the business day.

Ironically, the now-defunct service offered travelling times that were at leaston a par with modern day train services.

The vision of a 21stcentury high-speed rail service that would cut travelling times between the two cites to less than an hour has been talked about and investigated for the best part of three decades.

The latest plan by the Centurion Group to build a $24 billion privately-funded rail system from Sydney’s south-west to Newcastle has many features of previous proposals.

Few would disagree that such a service would potentiallybring major benefits to the Hunter. Thousands of people who presently live and work in Sydney would move toNewcastle creating a major economic stimulus.

Despite significant engineering challenges, most notably the Hawkesbury River terrain, the Centurion Group believes its plan is financiallyviable.

However, it has asked the state government to redesign its $7 billion Sydney harbour tunnel crossing to accomodate a high-speed rail line.

Like previousplans, the latest proposal is lacking detail about the level of patronage that would be required to make the service viable.

The project’s “value capturing” funding plan will raise eyebrows, and the NSW government is already saying it won’tbudge on the harbour crossing.

Whatever theircommitment to high-speed rail today, it would be wise for state and federal governments to begin securing a possible corridor, as Newcastle business leaders have pointed out.

As theHeraldhas said previously, national infrastructure must be about setting the scene and creating the conditions for investment.

Should the day arrive when the country needs high-speed rail, the land would available. If it’s never needed, it can be sold off at handsome future prices.

In the meantime, most commuters would settle for a reliableservicethat could take them between Newcastle and Sydney in less than two hours.

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