Faster rail link to Sydney must be No.1, Illawarra leaders say

Home at last: Commuters disembark after the 7:02 arrives at Thirroul station on Wednesday. Picture: Adam McLean

Home at last: Commuters disembark after the 7:02 arrives at Thirroul station on Wednesday. Picture: Adam McLean

Upgrading the rail links between Wollongong and Sydney must be the priority for the NSW Government, the region’s labour and business leaders have said.

Both Illawarra First executive director Chris Lamont and South Coast Labour Council secretary Arthur Rorris said the length of the train commute was holding back the region’s development.

They were speaking after Fairfax Media revealed the NSW Government was considering either demolishing 460 houses or cutting through the Royal National Park to extend the F6 in southern Sydney.

Mr Rorris said it had been known for decades that the most effective way to cut the commute was upgrading the rail links.

No.1 with a bullet: Illawarra First executive director Chris Lamont.

No.1 with a bullet: Illawarra First executive director Chris Lamont.

“Let’s focus on rail – we know that is the answer,” he said. “We have I think an emerging consensus in the peak organisations, in the business community and the trade union movement about this issue.

“In order to move our goods and our people between the major centres, we need fast rail for our commuters, and reliable rail for our freight. We have known this for a very long time.”

Mr Lamont had welcomed the funding for advancing the F6 extension but said rail was “No.1”. He argued that if the Maldon-Dombarton rail link was conceived as passenger as well as freight transport, it would prove a stronger case – particularly linking to employment opportunities in Western Sydney.

“We need to stop thinking about Maldon-Dombarton as just freight, and look at the freight/commuter prospect of that rail line – we’re calling it the SWIRL (South West Illawarra Rail Link),” he said.

“We think [that] changes the viability of that project – electrifying the line, getting freight and commuters on it.”

He said the Wollongong to Sydney rail commute had been as among Australia’s worst linking a major urban centre with a regional centre – and it must be improved.

“For this region we see rail with a bullet at No.1, and improved road transport connectivity a very close second,” he said.

Mr Rorris said the Labour Council would work with the Business Chamber and others to advance the issue.

But he had no kind words for the F6 extension, blasting it as a “diversion”, and saying too much money had already been spent on toll roads instead of rail – under both political parties in government.

“The last thing we need is just kicking the can – and the parking lot – another 20km upstream,” he said.

“The bureaucrats [have] fitted us up with a two-card trick where you either lose your houses or your lose the park.

“We need to call this for what it is, which is a massive diversion exercise from what we really need – which is a fast rail network to our region.”

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