Planning process accelerates over a billion dollars of NSW rail projects

NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes is accelerating three major rail projects as well as development above the new Crows Nest Metro Station and around the CBD and South East Light Rail.

Stokes said that moving projects such as the $700 million Inland Rail from Narrabri to North Star, the $273m Botany Rail Duplication, and the $115m Cabramatta Rail Loop would enable the state to economically recover from coronavirus (COVID-19).

“The fast-tracked assessment program is a key part of the NSW Government’s COVID-19 Recovery Plan as we continue to get shovel-ready projects out the door to keep people in jobs and keep the economy moving.”

The proposal to revamp of Central Station as part of the Western Gateway project will also be accelerated. Transport for NSW is proposing new planning control to enable the development of a technology centre adjacent to the rail corridor.

All projects will be determined by August 14, 2020.

Australasian Railway Association (ARA) CEO Caroline Wilkie welcomed the announcement by Stokes.

“It is good to see the NSW government recognise the significant community benefits rail delivers by accelerating these projects,” she said.

“Infrastructure investment will be the cornerstone of our economic recovery and sustainable, long term rail projects will form an important part of that.”

Completion of the Inland Rail section as well as the Port Botany duplication and Cabramatta passing loop will improve NSW’s freight rail network, enabling further growth and reducing trucks on roads in Sydney and regional NSW.

Rail’s role to play in activating development in other precincts has been recognised in the proposal to increase building height and floor space controls near the light rail line in Kingsford and Kensington. In Crows Nest, Sydney Metro is proposing to increase the building height and floor space controls to enable development above the new station.

“This is a great example of improved project approvals processes making a real difference for businesses, jobs and the people that depend on them,” said Wilkie.

NSW Transport Minister announced run in Eden-Monaro by-election, then pulls out

NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance has said he would make the move from state to federal politics, and only 24 hours later withdrawn the bid.

Constance was to contest the seat of Eden-Monaro, on the NSW South Coast, which covers his state electorate of Bega. The Labor candidate is Kristy McBain, who is the current Bega Valley Mayor. The resignation of Labor MP Mike Kelly triggered the by-election. Kelly stepped down for health reasons.

Constance had already told the public that his time in state politics was limited. Following the NSW bushfires in early 2020, Constance took an extended period of leave after his home in Malua Bay was almost destroyed by fire. At the time, Constance had said that once the recovery was complete he would resign from politics.

In a statement on May 6, Constance said he had “unfinished business” in the transport portfolio.

“I want to deliver crucial life-saving reforms in road safety and a safer, cleaner future in public transport.”

Constance was appointed to the position of Transport Minister in 2015, following the NSW state election that year. Constance was previously Treasurer for the year prior.

Since becoming Transport Minister, Constance oversaw the roll-out of the Sydney Metro project. The delivery of the project kicked off in 2015 shorty after Constance became Transport Minister and the proceeds of the power privatisation scheme could be used to fund the new rail line, although construction had begun in 2013. The line became operational in May 2019.

Other projects that have been progressed during Constance’s time as Transport Minister include the More Trains More Services signalling and timetable upgrades, and the associated Digital Systems Program.

While Constance has drawn praise for the Metro Northwest line, a controversial project during his time as Transport Minister has been the Sydney CBD and Southeast Light Rail. Construction had commenced in 2015 and while major construction was initially expected to be completed in 2018, the line did not open until late 2019. The fall-out between the NSW government and the Altrac consortium also led to legal disputes costing hundreds of millions of dollars. In April 2020, the final branch of the line to Kingsford was opened.