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NSW Government commits to supporting Illawarra line

The NSW Government is developing a Rail Resilience Plan for the Illawarra, with funding set to be committed in the NSW Government’s budget released tomorrow.

The 2024 to 2025 Budget will invest $10 million to begin the process of examining all rail infrastructure along the South Coast Line and develop options for upgrading sections of the line between Sydney and Wollongong.

From February 2022 to May 2024, 285 train services have been cancelled and a further 509 disrupted on the South Coast line due to weather-related impacts.

The 136-year-old line is acutely vulnerable to weather events and has a history of instability due to the geology and topography of the Illawarra escarpment, particularly between Waterfall, Thirroul, Wollongong and Port Kembla. The line contains steeper terrain, more winding track, and sees heavier rainfall than any other section of track on the Sydney Trains network.

Minister for Transport Jo Haylen discussed the importance of this work.

“We have our work cut out for us. The South Coast Line may be picturesque, but it cuts through some of our state’s most challenging terrain,” she said.

“It’s imperative we act urgently to find strategic solutions to this line’s problems, which the community has been copping for far too long.”

“We know work on this line will be expensive, difficult and lengthy, so the Illawarra Rail Resilience Plan will provide a path forward to ensure we make the most effective changes that deliver real results for passengers and freight operators.”

Extreme weather events over the last three years have made it clear bolstering the South Coast Line is vital and urgent. Most recently, storms in April 2024 caused a week of disruption for commuters, and hundreds of rail workers were on site around the clock to fix a large landslip at Coalcliff to restore services.

Freight has also been heavily affected by the rail line closures, disrupting the state’s supply chains and forcing many businesses to resort to road transport so essential goods, including steel, coal and grain, could keep moving in and out of the region.

The Illawarra Rail Resilience Plan will:

  • Assess the current performance of the existing network as well as alternative corridors to identify options on network-wide solutions.
  • Compare options, such as upgrades versus new infrastructure, to determine the best value for taxpayers and meet the current and future needs of commuters.
  • Build on and formalise studies and assessments and deliver a unified plan for the future of Illawarra rail.

The NSW Government has already begun some work to improve services for South Coast passengers, with a $61 million project underway over the 2023 to 2024 financial year.

This includes improving the resilience of cuttings, embankments, cleaning out drains and culverts, and ballast cleaning to fix track drainage. An upgrade to the Coalcliff/Scarborough rail tunnel commenced in 2023 and is expected to be completed by 2027.