SMH Michael Costa Re-buffed

Rail line will proceed: Watkins

Linton Besser and Catharine Munro
September 26, 2007

THE NSW Transport Minister, John Watkins, has bluntly told the Treasurer, Michael Costa, to back off from any attempt to kill plans to extend Sydney's rail network as business groups warned against backtracking on long-term rail commitments.

Mr Watkins admitted there were "contrary views" within the State Government after revelations in the Herald yesterday that senior Treasury officials wanted to reassess the $3 billion North-West Rail Link in favour of cheaper options such as high-speed busways.

"Treasury always has advice and normally it is quite financially conservative," he said at a press conference yesterday. "But that doesn't mean it wins the day.

"There is always contrary views of any major project that is put forward. [But] you have the Premier, and the Deputy Premier, guaranteeing the North-West Rail Link will be built."

Members of Treasury have been mounting an argument to re-examine the costly rail link in light of developments in bus rapid transitways, which could be far cheaper.

The push to shelve the north-west link has come after the Herald revealed top-level briefings this month that recommended delaying the crucial city loop, worth more than $4 billion.

Both lines, together with a $1 billion rail line to the south-west, are part of a 20-year-plan to increase capacity on the network as Sydney grows. Detailed planning for the Metropolitan Rail Expansion Program has been taking place since 1992.

Debate over rail versus road intensifies for projects on the city's fringe because it becomes harder to justify the expense of rail lines on the edge of the network. "The closer you get to the end of the line, the fewer people benefit but it costs the same no matter how far out you go," one private planner said.

But rail is the basis of long-term growth in Sydney's north-west. "Removal of the north-west rail project would be like removing the spine from the body of planning required to meet demands from the projected growth of western Sydney," said the Mayor of Baulkham Hills, Tony Hay.

The first stage of a major development at Rouse Hill opened yesterday. The Rouse Hill Town Centre will house 4500 people, and have two supermarkets as well as commercial office space.

"Part of the reason people have been looking to move into that area is on the promise of an efficient, effective transport system," said the Sydney Chamber of Commerce executive director, Patricia Forsythe.

Rail infrastructure was needed to head off housing shortages in the future.

"The NSW Government is requiring developers to deliver a density of 15 dwellings per hectare. The necessary infrastructure to support these densities must be provided," said Ross Blancato, the president of the Urban Development Institute of Australia, the lobby group representing residential developers.
Oh What a Gasser! Rex Mossop.

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