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Goulburn MP Pru Goward has flagged an announcement on greater rail investment by the end of this year.
Her comments came at the Goulburn Chamber of Commerce annual general meeting on Wednesday night.
Asked by an attendee for an update on train services, Ms Goward said the solution was either tilt trains or to improve the existing track.
“Towards the end of the year I expect an announcement on tilt trains and investment in the tracks. I can’t be more specific than that,” she said.
“To take advantage of growth and with our rotten track we’d have to put money into a new track or trains. We’ll do both.”
On the latter, she was referring to the State Government’s replacement of the XPT, Endeavour and Xplorer trains. These will be built at the rail maintenance centre awarded to Dubbo.
Spanish company Talgo has offered to undertake a tilt train trial in Australia. However, despite initial enthusiasm from the government and Ms Goward, negotiations have slowed. In June Ms Goward said there were several hurdles to clear in getting the train to Australia for the trial.
Southern Tablelands Rail User Group (STRUG) president Greg Price said when representatives met with the MP last month, she indicated a decision on tilt trains would be made in November.
“We are hopeful that they will buy them,” he said.
At the March community cabinet meeting held in Goulburn, Mr Price said Transport Minister Andrew Constance hinted at realignment of the track from Campbelltown to Mittagong as a means of improving travelling times.
“It’s very expensive to do,” Mr Price said.
“If they do a proper job on it, it can reduce travel times but it’s expensive and takes time. We need something to improve travel times now.”
STRUG argued a more intensive passenger service should be operated if the track was realigned, rather than giving priority to freight. Mr Price said he was disappointed that the federal government had declined to fund a study proposed by the State to improve rail between Sydney and Canberra.
However he believed the State Government was still considering options.
Mr Price said a proposal had been put up in the ACT for a rail terminal at Canberra Airport rather than the current Kingston one, capturing air passengers.
A spokeswoman for Ms Goward said the Sydney to Canberra funding case was just one of three that Transport for NSW submitted to the Commonwealth. The others were Sydney to Illawarra and Sydney to Newcastle. It chose the latter, saying it best fitted the funding criteria under its Faster Rail Prospectus.
“(But) all three are marked for investigation by the NSW Government over the next 10 years as part of Future Transport 2056,” she said.
“The State Government is continuing to investigate improvements to the Sydney to Canberra line following the Commonwealth Government’s decision not to support the submission for business case funding. This investigation includes consideration of a range of options such as faster rail services, and is happening in consultation with key stakeholders including the ACT Government.”
She said Transport for NSW was committed to improved services and integrated transport solutions across the State, “with a focus on regional connectivity.” Tilt trains were still being considered.
The MP talked up the new fleet of trains which would enter service by the early 2020s and be capable of travelling at 160km/h.
“The new trains will replace the entire regional fleet to create a more reliable and comfortable service for customers, including those that use the Southern Highlands line and regional services between Sydney and Canberra,” she said.
Procurement for the fleet has begun, with an announcement expected in early 2019 following tender evaluation. Mr Price said he was still waiting to hear how many trains would be built in order to assess whether the Sydney to Canberra line could be adequately serviced. Regional Rail Action NSW had requested this information along with the specifications for the new trains but it had not been forthcoming.
“It is anything but transparent,” he said.
Likewise, the groups had also asked Ms Goward for the backing study showing that Dubbo was the best place for the rail maintenance centre. Goulburn also vied for the centre. He told The Post the MP had also undertaken to get this but he hadn’t heard anything since.
Meantime, NSW Trainlink started a trial last week with coaches connecting Goulburn with Sydney and Canberra. Some services link in with trains at Campbelltown.
Mr Price said coaches took longer but the exercise could be useful in building a case for improved rail services. He argued Sydney to Canberra was the only line that could generate a profit.
Ms Goward told Wednesday’s meeting that the issue for Goulburn was not so much the lack of trains as the travelling times. But she spruiked the region’s developments and future potential.
“We shouldn’t have to be entirely a city of commuters and a dormitory suburb of Canberra. Our future lies in being a very strong regional economy,” she said.
She applauded the council’s drive for further development and said the State was backing this with a $20 million regional relocation fund. It was an initiative for which Mayor Bob Kirk previously lobbied government.
A total $10m had also been allocated for a skills relocation fund, aimed at attracting businesses to set up in the regions. It complemented the government’s recent announcement of 100,000 fee-free apprenticeships available through TAFE to help address the skills shortage. Ms Goward said this would be particularly useful for the region’s aggregates industry.
She also promoted the $120m Goulburn Base Hospital redevelopment but said the amount the Health District spent on sending patients to Canberra for treatment was “embarrassing.”
Meantime, Mark Bradbury has been re-elected as Chamber president for the next year. Brooke Wilding and Geoff Kettle will be the vice-presidents; Kia Weekes – treasurer; Liz Townsend – secretary; Joe Chalker, public officer; and Jo McCauley and Andy Divall – executive committee members.
Mr Kettle stepped down as the Chamber’s business development manager in April due to other work commitments.
In his report, Mr Bradbury mentioned the success of the annual business awards and monthly meetings, which had included guest speakers such as Hume MP Angus Taylor and Deputy Commissioner of Regional Field Operations, Gary Worboys.
In March, member had an hour-long meeting with State Treasurer Dominic Perrottet ahead of the community cabinet meeting in Goulburn.
The Chamber was also active in civic affairs, with input into the council’s Smart City Strategy and draft CBD Master Plan.
This article first appeared on www.goulburnpost.com.au
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