Berejiklian commissioned the review in late 2018. A frustrated McNaughton said his report had been accepted by Berejiklian and was due to be released when she resigned as premier in 2021. He said the NSW government then asked him to record a launch video a few months ago, but it had also never seen the light of day.
“I don’t know where it stands now,” McNaughton said. “It can’t be a [political] football every four years. It’s got to be something which everybody says is a fundamental part of the future of the country.”
The government refused to release the report on Friday, but Cities Minister Rob Stokes told the Herald that McNaughton’s advice had been “invaluable” in progressing the government’s rail vision.
“The recommendations of his work are demonstrated in our six cities plan to better connect the cities of metropolitan NSW,” Stokes said.
Stokes has also written to federal Infrastructure Minister Catherine King, asking the newly created High Speed Rail Authority to work with the NSW Greater Cities Commission on planning, land use, job creation and place-making opportunities around new and upgraded rail corridors.
The NSW and federal governments have already pledged a combined $1 billion for track upgrades north of Sydney, which they pitched as a first step towards a high-speed rail future.
McNaughton acknowledged the potential to eventually connect Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane by high-speed rail, but said the priority should be to “link Sydney with itself, [and] with NSW”. He did not put a price tag on the project but said: “For an economy which is one of the richest economies in the world, it ought to be affordable.”
McNaughton said the northern line could be built to accommodate a future high-speed rail link to Brisbane and the Gold Coast.
“Getting out of Sydney is never going to be more than 250km/h. It’s all going to be in tunnels,” he said. “Once you’re clear of the Hawkesbury, if you were building with an eye to a bigger future, you line it up a bit faster. It doesn’t mean you have to run it faster.”
But it was not possible to simply upgrade the existing track, McNaughton said. “It’s a lovely piece of Victorian [era] engineering, but it’s basically useless.”
The four routes canvassed by McNaughton at the government’s request appear as grey lines on the Greater Cities Commission’s map of the six cities region, marked “fast rail network investigation”.
The commission’s discussion paper said: “Fast rail has the potential to be among the most important ‘region shapers’, transforming settlement, jobs and enabling a truly polycentric city region.”
Addressing cynics at a conference earlier this month, Greater Cities chief commissioner Geoff Roberts said Western Sydney Airport was announced 13 times before construction eventually began, and high-speed rail had so far been announced 11 times, so it would not be long until “we will actually start this damn thing”.
“It’s not about the railway line,” Roberts said. “The railway line is the facilitator of human beings, enterprise and change.”
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