Former deputy PM backs Thirroul rail tunnel

Former deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer thinks the Illawarra needs a rail tunnel in the northern suburbs. Picture: Jacky Ghossein
Former deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer thinks the Illawarra needs a rail tunnel in the northern suburbs. Picture: Jacky Ghossein

A rail tunnel in the northern suburbs needs to be built – and sooner rather than later, according to former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer.

A keen rail advocate, Mr Fischer was in the region for Thursday’s Trax to the Future rail symposium organised by Wollondilly Shire Council.

The symposium aimed to highlight the benefits of rail to the Wollondilly area, especially when it comes to reducing congestion on the roads.

Mr Fischer’s speech was called “Rail is back in the 21st century” and dealt with the importance of planning for rail and road in outer urban commuter areas.

The Illawarra is in the same boat and Mr Fischer said both regions could benefit from investment in rail.

“There’s no love of a car when there’s total congestion once you get within 20 kilometres of the CBD,” Mr Fischer said.

“That’s going to be the reality even with some road widening. This is why we need to factor in, sooner rather than later, a new tunnel between Wollongong and Waterfall, which would cut 25 minutes off commutes from the Gong.

“This is why we need to factor in electrification beyond Macarthur.”

A large rail infrastructure project like a tunnel between Waterfall and Thirroul doesn’t come cheap – current estimates have priced it at as much as $3.6 billion.

Mr Fischer suggested there were ways to fund the work – by ensuring those who benefitted from it the most helped foot the bill.

“It should be planned for and brought ahead of schedule if necessary by special infrastructure bonds,” he said.

“I think future generations should pay for the advantage that they’ll be travelling from the Gong to the CBD much quicker and that is one way to do that.”

Trax to the Future was on at the NSW Rail Museum at Thirlmere.

Also speaking at the symposium was Illawarra Business Chamber executive director Chris Lamont and deputy chief of the Greater Sydney Commission Geoff Roberts.