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Industry and policy makers are pushing to ramp up New South Wales rail transport before congestion and gridlock nightmares take hold.
High profile rail advocate Tim Fischer said current transport links into the Illawarra and Macarthur areas belonged in the 19th century and he is calling for urgent upgrades.
Former deputy prime minister Mr Fischer is one of Australia's most well-known rail advocates and has been campaigning for rail for more than 30 years.
He was among keynote speakers at a rail symposium held in Thirlmere, south of Sydney, on Thursday evening.
It centred on the need to improve transport connectivity between the Illawarra, Wollondilly, greater western Sydney and the Southern Highlands.
Rail commuters face hours of travelCurrently, Southern Highlands commuters face a two-and-a-half hour rail commute to Sydney for a drive that takes around 80 minutes.
Further up the line, residents in the Wollondilly Shire have to travel the furthest of those in the greater Sydney region and also rely heavily on private transport.
"The railway line to Wollongong belongs in the 19th century and the old curves on that line and Picton are major chokeholds," Mr Fischer said.
"It's extremely urgent, to the south and south west of Sydney, to get ahead of the curve before further urbanisation engulfs the region."
Mr Fischer said major projects such as the proposed Thirroul to Waterfall rail tunnel and better links with south-west Sydney were extremely urgent.
"The new tunnel required to give Wollongong trains a fair run into the CBD? That has now become vital," he said.
"That would cut 25 minutes off train travel time between Wollongong and Sutherland.
"The new expanded rail requirements to Wilton, Picton, and electrification beyond Macarthur is essential."
Rail tunnel will be state election 'priority'Mr Fischer said existing rail lines, especially into Wollongong, have major choke points and are out of step with modern times.
Regional councils' rail wish list:
"The tunnel will need a lot more effort by State and Federal MPs and at the next state election this issue will be a number one priority," he said.
He said leaders needed to embrace a vision on the scale of Sydney Harbour Bridge engineer John Bradfield to bring new rail links to the Macarthur and Illawarra regions.
Executive director of the Illawarra Chamber of Commerce, Chris Lamont, said the south coast line had average speeds of 56km/hr and would have capacity constraint in less than 10 years.
"Sydney is dealing with 43,000 vehicles — passenger and freight — from the Illawarra into Sydney and back again each day," he said.
Western Sydney boomMr Lamont said the second and third city centres of Sydney would occur in the south-west of the city and jobs would migrate to that area.
"We don't want to just continue to build roads to nowhere, providing that efficient, effective and affordable public transport is going to be so important in decades to come," he said.
The Illawarra Chamber of Commerce said linking to job opportunities would also aid the youth unemployment crisis in struggling economies across regional Australia.
The Shoalhaven region has the second highest youth unemployment rate in the country at 30.3 per cent according to October figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
"We are really concerned about youth unemployment and need to connect youth to where the jobs are via accessible public transport," Mr Lamont said.
Major development comingThe Wollondilly Shire Council said now was a critical turning point as plans are underway for a major new development of 16,000 houses at Wilton.
The NSW Government has projected Wilton's population is due to rise ten-fold to 350,000 in the next 15 years.
"You can't build rail in a day. We want a specific plan and when government try and retrofit, it costs six times more to deliver," Wollondilly Shire Mayor, Judith Hannan said.
"This is about housing, connecting the new airport to the Illawarra, Sydney to Canberra, letting farmers out in the west get their product to port and making NSW so much more productive."
The gathering heard the proposed direct Melbourne to Brisbane rail line would help resolve train density between Goulburn and Sydney.
Wollondilly Shire Council has been in discussions with three providers of highspeed rail from Badgerys Creek to Canberra and is looking at putting in a station at Wilton.
"We've got a Greenfield's space at Wilton. You could catch a train from Sydney to Wilton and down to the Illawarra and hop on a highspeed rail to Canberra or to the airport — the possibilities are endless," Mayor Hannan said.
The Federal Government is poised to make an announcement about rail funding on Monday afternoon with $10 billion allocated over the next 10 years.
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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