Labor promises $500m for Sydney to Newcastle leg of future high-speed rail
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese will promise hundreds of millions of dollars for a fast rail link between Sydney and Newcastle if Labor wins the upcoming federal election as part of a plan to start a high-speed rail network along the nation’s east coast.
Mr Albanese, who will unveil the plan at a speech on Sunday in the Labor heartland of Newcastle, said a $500 million down payment for the new link between the regional centre and the country’s largest capital city would be provided in his first federal budget. The initial funds would help cover the purchase of land in the corridor, planning and early works but the project would require state government involvement.
Labor previously said it would create a high-speed rail authority if it won the upcoming federal election in an effort to launch a “nation building” project running from Melbourne to Brisbane. Trains on the line would run at 350km/h and stop in Canberra, Sydney and other regional centres.
“The growth that we’ve seen outside [capital cities] will accelerate and that growth, when you look at decentralisation, is more attractive for people,” Mr Albanese told The Sun-Herald and The Age ahead of the speech.
He said shorter commutes from regional areas could help with housing affordability, reduce emissions and road accidents from the number of cars commuting and encourage more businesses to move out of the capitals. Cost of living, including property prices, has become an early fighting ground between the Coalition and Labor in the lead-up to the election.
“If you change that dynamic [the length of time it takes to get from regional hubs to capital cities] you change the economics of business locations in favour of decentralisation,” he said.
The high-speed rail network would include stops on the Central Coast and cut a trip from Sydney to Newcastle to 45 minutes. At the moment the trip takes 2½ hours. The initial stage of fast rail would cut this leg of the journey to two hours.
Mr Albanese will also unveil plans on Sunday to provide additional support for after-hours GP access, reversing about $500,000 in cuts. Labor says operating hours have been reduced at after-hours healthcare clinics in areas including Newcastle. The service assists 50,000 patients a year including through 70,000 telephone consults.
During the 2019 federal election Labor suffered a significant swing in the seat of Hunter. In the 2021 Upper Hunter state byelection there was also a notable swing against Labor.
The NSW government has been undertaking planning work to provide a fast rail line between Sydney and Newcastle, with proposals and discussions about the potential of these links under way for years.
In April, former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian said the government was renewing its commitment to faster rail to regional centres. Federal Labor’s plans are in line with existing state plans but would aim to speed up the delivery of the infrastructure.
Mr Albanese said fast rail was a “genuinely transformative project” and would need to be undertaken with the states.
“We’ll provide the funding straight away, but we will sit down with NSW and it would have to be the subject of appropriate conversation [with the state government],” Mr Albanese said. “Sydney is the key.”
When this part of the project was secured, he said there would be scope for the authority to work on a Sydney to Melbourne link where there were clear economic benefits for the investment.
“We’ll have more to say on corridor acquisition and other things [for that part of the link] down the track,” he said.
“The Commonwealth should be playing a role in genuine economic transformation … and looking for projects that boost productivity and boost the economy.”