Slow regional passenger rail speeds along the Newcastle–Sydney and Wollongong– Sydney rail lines result in lengthy travel times that are generally longer than car travel. Express services take 1 hour 28 minutes between Wollongong and Sydney, and 2 hours 37 minutes between Newcastle and Sydney.
This service level reduces accessibility to the Sydney employment market from the Wollongong and Newcastle regions, which have above average unemployment. It also limits opportunities to develop greater economic synergies between the three cities, which would benefit productivity.
Uncompetitive rail services also add to road congestion on key roads linking the three cities.
The current level of rail capacity and quality of service reflect a range of operational and infrastructure constraints, including winding alignments across the Hawkesbury River (Newcastle– Sydney) and the Illawarra Escarpment (Wollongong–Sydney).
The proposed initiative includes a range of options for improvements to the lines:
- an initial set of operational and fleet improvements
- targeted fixed infrastructure improvements (for example, new deviations to eliminate curvatures and flatten grades)
- a new rail crossing of the Hawkesbury River and Illawarra Escarpment
- capacity enhancing track amplifications.
The Newcastle–Sydney and Wollongong– Sydney rail corridors were identified in the Australian Government’s Faster Rail Connecting Capital Cities and Orbital Regional Centres prospectus, which was announced as part of the 2017–18 Budget. Subsequently, funding has been committed by the Australian Government and New South Wales Government to develop a strategic business case for faster rail between Sydney and Newcastle.
Proponent to identify initiatives and develop options (Stage 2 of Infrastructure Australia’s Assessment Framework).