The Maldon-Dombarton line could finally be built – but only if the private sector foots the bill.
In a surprise move on Wednesday, Roads and Freight Minister Duncan Gay announced plans to ask private investors to build the freight line.
‘‘I recently approved for Transport for NSW Freight and Regional Development to release a ‘Registration of Interest’ (RoI) to gauge private sector interest in the potential to construct, operate and maintain the Maldon-Dombarton rail link,’’ Mr Gay said.
He said full details were expected to be released at the end of September and would be made available through the government’s eTendering website.
Kiama MP Gareth Ward said the Maldon-Dombarton would be a game-changer for the Illawarra.
‘‘If we can get the F6 extension and this, it will transform the Illawarra,’’ Mr Ward said.
‘‘You won’t recognise it in 20 years.’’
Wednesday’s announcement comes less than a month after NSW Port Authority chairman Nicholas Whitlam suggested government not overlook private sector capital.
‘‘That government may well have other priorities for its capital budget,’’ he said last month.
‘‘Fair enough. In which case, I’d like to see them invite the private sector to finance the railway. We have the plans. We know the cost. It would take four years to build.’’
When told of the announcement on Wednesday Mr Whitlam said he wasn’t entirely surprised.
‘‘It’s something I’ve been promoting and I had some sense that I was being listened to but I certainly didn’t know it was about to be announced, so that’s good,’’ Mr Whitlam said.
‘‘It’ll be a good test, we’ll see what interest there is out there and on what sort of terms.’’
He said private sector money was really the only way the line would be built after state and federal governments had stepped away from funding the project.
He said a consortium of port users might be interested in building the line, which could result in a toll of sorts being charged and the building of an intermodal facility to handle container traffic somewhere in the Southern Highlands.
The 34.9-kilometre rail line would run from Maldon, near Picton, and head south to join the Moss Vale-Unanderra line at Dombarton.
The link would provide a new route between Port Kembla and coalmining districts, as well as direct freight access to western Sydney.
Construction on the line began in 1983 under the Wran government. In 1998, the incoming Greiner Liberal government cancelled the project.
Since then, the unfinished parts of the line, including a partially built bridge over the Cordeaux River and incomplete Avon Tunnel, have remained while both sides of politics bickered over just how to fund the project.
The NSW Freight and Ports Strategy released in December last year said construction of the line was likely to cost up to $667 million.
Construction of the line would greatly benefit the development of the outer harbour at Port Kembla with the creation of more direct access.