Freight Rail, Passenger Rail

Illawarra and South West Sydney join forces for rail connection

A new rail line delivered by 2041 will be needed to alleviate congestion between the Illawarra and greater Sydney a joint report has found.

The report finds that with the South Coast Line expected to reach capacity for freight and passenger services by 2036, NSW’s second container terminal set to open at Port Kembla by 2041, and a boom in population and jobs in the two regions, a dual freight-passenger link is necessary between the Illawarra and South West Sydney.

Produced by the University of Wollongong’s SMART Infrastructure Facility on behalf of the Illawarra Business Chamber, the report proposes a connection following the long-proposed Maldon-Dombarton corridor to then connect to the Western Sydney Airport and Aerotropolis and onto St Marys.

“This report provides a compelling case for a south-western rail link to be constructed by 2036 to allow residents of the Illawarra and Wollondilly ready access to the 200,000 jobs that will be created in Western Sydney over the next 20 years, and avoid $229 million in economic losses associated with restrictive freight capacity and $680 million in productivity losses due to commuting by 2041,” said Illawarra Business Chamber executive director Adam Zarth.

The proposed South West Illawarra Rail link (SWIRL) has the backing of Wollongong and Wollondilly councils, which have both recognised the need for better connections between their regions and the jobs growth centre of the Aerotropolis.

“Our future prosperity is linked to south-western Sydney and planning needs to commence now to secure requisite corridors and give the community confidence that their needs are being considered by government,” said Lord Mayor of Wollongong Gordon Bradbery.

Wollondilly Mayor Robert Khan echoed his Illawarra counterpart.

“We were pleased to support this research, which has shown that our population growth at Wilton will necessitate the construction of a station and a rail connection to the Main Southern Line – delivered most cost-effectively by the South West Illawarra Rail Link proposal.”

A Transport for NSW spokesperson said that immediate and long-term solutions would increase capacity on the Illawarra Line.

“In the short term, additional capacity on the Illawarra and South Coast lines will be created through the delivery of the Waterfall passing loop. The capacity will meet the needs of freight operations on the line in the short to medium term,” the spokesperson said.

“Future interventions to deliver increased capacity on the line include additional infrastructure between Hurstville and Sutherland and the delivery of digital systems solutions on the corridor.

“The Maldon to Dombarton rail line will deliver additional freight capacity for the corridor in the long term.”

Discussions have long circled around the completion of the partially-constructed Maldon-Dombarton Line, which was halted in the 1980s. However, the SWIRL extends the scope of the line to include electrification of the single track line through to Unanderra, where it would join the south coast line. The proposal also includes a new passenger and freight line between Glenfield Station on the Main South Line to the future Aerotroplis, following the Outer Sydney Orbital corridor. From there, the line would continue to St Marys and the future Western Sydney Freight Terminal near Eastern Creek, following the Sydney Metro – Western Sydney Airport alignment.

Earlier in 2020, Transport for NSW gazetted part of the Western Sydney Freight Line rail corridor to preserve the corridor for the future construction of a rail line.

“Transport for NSW is also currently exhibiting for community comment, options for the first part of the Outer Sydney Orbital stage 2 between the Hume Motorway and Appin Road, which will ultimately provide for a direct connection between Western Sydney and the Illawarra,” said the Transport for NSW spokesperson.

The SMART report estimates that the full line between St Marys and Wollongong would cost $3.2bn and have a cost benefit ratio of 1.05, meaning the line would make a return for the government on the total investment.

The line would benefit freight transport by avoiding capacity constraints which would cost $230m per year by 2041. For commuters, the project would reduce the travel times between St Marys and Wollongong from 155 minutes to 35 minutes.

Other initiatives to reduce travel times and increase capacity between the Illawarra and Sydney include a fast rail business case being developed by the NSW government along with the National Faster Rail Agency. For freight, infrastructure works such as the Waterfall Up refuge and upgrades to the Berry to Bomaderry line to support 25 tonne axle loads will increase the efficiency and capacity of the freight network.