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Back in 2010, we had a tip from a political insider with close links to the big kahunas in the federal government.
This well-placed source said a high-speed rail plan from Sydney to Newcastle would be used to shore up voters in Labor's Hunter heartland before the federal election.
The source said the then Rudd government would make an announcement on a study for a fast train before the election.
When we sought comment from the then federal transport minister Anthony Albanese, something unusual happened.
He phoned back quick-smart to strongly deny the plan. Usually, journalists only get to speak to a minister’s media officer, not the actual minister.
So you can imagine our surprise when the minister got on the blower. He was wound up and perturbed. He couldn’t very well admit it, but his big plan had been leaked.
As it turned out, the government did announce its plan shortly before the election.
But the plan – like many high-speed rail proposals down the years – came to nought.
Last week, we noticed the federal Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities tabled a new report on the development of cities.
The report, titled Building Up and Moving Out, recommended high-speed rail between cities and regions, with the east coast to be given priority.
The report quoted Tim Williams, the CEO of the Committee for Sydney, talking about the “London effect”.
He emphasised the importance of “seeing Sydney in its more city-regional context”.
Tim spoke about the “mega-region” plan, which aims to include Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong in 30 to 40 years. “You imagine if they were reachable by fast public transport in an hour – what would that do?
“The answer is: quite like the London effect in which loads of London’s labour and housing comes from outside London because they can get there rather quickly. That does help to not overheat the housing and labour markets.”
On Monday, in a bit of a coincidence, we read in the Newcastle Herald a letter to the editor from reader Mike Sargent. Mike spoke about catching a train from “London Euston to Birmingham, a distance, not dissimilar as that from Sydney to Newcastle”.
Then on Tuesday, we read that a Sydney Morning Herald poll found more than 35 per cent of NSW voters consider a fast-rail link from Sydney to Newcastle a top priority.
Hmmm, 35 per cent. That’s a decent chunk of people. But will it be enough for any movement at the station, so to speak?
With organisations like the Committee for Sydney pushing for it, perhaps high-speed rail has a chance. What Sydney wants, Sydney gets, right?
If there is anything to be said about fast trains, we probably won’t hear about it until next year. That’s when the state and federal elections are due.
This article first appeared on www.theherald.com.au
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