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The state government has denied misleading Parliament by saying it never assessed building a tunnel on part of the Sydney-to-Wollongong rail line, despite leaks revealing a detailed report on the matter went to cabinet just over two years ago.
Fairfax Media has seen a cabinet-in-confidence rail strategy showing travel times from Sydney to Wollongong would be cut by a quarter by the construction of a $2.9 billion tunnel from Thirroul to near Waterfall on Sydney's southern tip.
A fortnight ago, Don Harwin, the Berejiklian government's fourth most senior member, said he had been told the government had not assessed a tunnel option, in response to a question on notice from a Greens MP.
"The minister claimed that the strategic paper didn't exist," Mehreen Faruqi MLC, who had asked the question a month earlier, told Fairfax Media. "The minister has some explaining to do."
The Rail Corridor Strategy: Sydney to Wollongong document prepared by consultants went to cabinet in 2014, when current Premier Gladys Berejiklian was transport minister but Mr Harwin was not in cabinet.
Ms Faruqi's question on notice asked if the government had ever "completed a strategic assessment or strategic paper on a rail tunnel under Thirroul".
Mr Harwin's office referred questions to Transport for NSW, when asked if his answer had misled parliament.
A spokeswoman for Mr Constance maintained the advice given to Mr Harwin was accurate, because the government distinguished between the Rail Corridor Strategy document sent to cabinet and a "strategic assessment".
"Consultants were engaged in 2014 to look at travel time reductions and operations issues, including stopping patterns and infrastructure upgrades [...] not conduct a detailed strategic assessment," she said.
The revelations come after Fairfax Media revealed that transport bureaucrats had been expressly told to ignore public transport alternatives when planning to improve transport connections between Sydney and Wollongong.
The cabinet document found an upgrade of the line would save commuters about 22 minutes' travel time on the current 90-minute journey, and the entire project would cost nearly $3.6 billion (in 2014 dollars).
"The government had a study detailing the incredible time savings that could be realised for the people of Illawarra at a fraction of the cost of the F6 toll road the government is pushing," Ms Faruqi said. "It is no wonder the public have lost trust."
Last week's budget committed about $15 million to planning for a 37-kilometre extension of the F6 motorway from Waterfall to Arncliffe in Sydney's south. About $20 million in geotechnical analysis had already been committed to the motorway alternative.
This article first appeared on www.smh.com.au
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