Despite having a secret report outlining the transport benefit of a rail tunnel at Thirroul since 2014, the NSW government has continued to spend millions on the F6 extension.
This follows on from claims – disputed by government MPs – that there was an edict not to look at public transport options when costing the F6 extension.
But Parliamentary Secretary for the Illawarra Gareth Ward said, regarding rail and road that it wasn’t an either/or option.
A story from ABC Illawarra stated the 2014 report Rail Corridors Strategy Sydney to Wollongong, estimated a rail tunnel from Thirroul to Waterfall would cut the commute to 66 minutes.
The cost of construction would be $3.6 billion, substantially less than the $8-$10 billion estimated for the F6 extension.
Since 2014, the NSW government has allocated more than $32 million in funds – including $15 million in this year’s budget – to continue planning for the F6 extension.
There was $15 million in the latest budget.
In April Fairfax Media reported on an internal Transport for NSW memo that suggested the government was instructing transport officials not to compare costs of the F6 extension to South Coast rail line upgrades.
The memo labelled this as “a serious and significant shortcoming” of the F6 extension business case.
The cost estimates of rail improvements versus the F6 extension in the memo is blacked out but it states the price difference is “of a magnitude that cannot be ignored”.
Mr Ward admitted he had not seen the cabinet document that referred to the Thirroul tunnel but refuted the substance of the memo, saying the government wasn’t excluding rail from the region’s transport solutions.
“I think we need to do both,” Mr Ward said.
“But you also need to examine reality in relation to doing the greatest good for the greatest number. Improvements to the line will mean that more people will use it, but the reality also is that there are 22,000 people using the highway between the Illawarra and Sydney.”
University of Wollongong transport expert Philip Laird said the government should be focusing on upgrading the South Coast line rather than the F6.
“It’s very much needed, as is Maldon-Dombarton, ahead of the F6 extension,” Prof Laird said.
He said this was because of the numbers of Illawarra residents travelling to Sydney for work.
“An increasing number of them are to be found in the downtown CBD of Sydney,” he said.
“The only way for large numbers of people to get to downtown Sydney is by rail.”