The Illawarra Business Chamber has said that the Draft Regional Transport Plan for the Illawarra and Shoalhaven is an opportunity to address looming capacity constraints in the region’s rail network.
In a submission to the transport plan, the chamber outlines that a vision is needed ahead of congestion on the freight and passenger lines in the region.
“Research we commissioned from the University of Wollongong’s SMART Infrastructure Facility launched late last year found that without intervention by 2036, freight capacity constraints will be costing our economy $230 million per annum by 2041,” said Illawarra Business Chamber executive director Adam Zarth.
Within the region, the plan identifies a need to increase the population’s ability to travel to a regionally significant centre within 30 minutes by public transport. Currently, the plan acknowledges that private vehicles are the “dominant” mode of transport and that there is a lack of access to realistic alternatives.
The region also includes Port Kembla which is set to expand with a future container terminal and hydrogen export facility. Currently, about 40 per cent of freight in the region is moved by rail, and with limited capacity for increase in train paths on existing infrastructure and the growth of Western and South West Sydney, new connections will be required.
To address this, the Maldon to Dombarton Line is marked as for investigation in the next 10-20 years. Zarth said this was not soon enough and a proposed dual freight and passenger line should be investigated immediately.
“Our research found that the most cost-effective solution is for the South West Illawarra Rail Line (SWIRL) proposal to be extended to St Marys in three stages, which will deliver a regional economic impact of $3.551 billion per annum by 2036,” he said.
“Therefore, we have recommended that the Final Plan commit to commencing immediate planning work for the first stage of the SWIRL, so that it can be operational by 2036, and include a station at Wilton to support the population growth of the Wollondilly Shire.”
While the plan notes the region is set to benefit from initiatives such as the More Trains More Services program, the new intercity fleet and the new regional fleet program, further upgrades to rail connections are largely in the medium to long-term timeframes. These include Sydney to South Coast fast rail, Outer Sydney Orbital 2, Moss Vale to Unanderra Line and Coniston Junction rail improvements, and the future electrification of South Coast Line between Kiama and Bomaderry.