Uniqueness of Southern Highlands
The Southern Highlands of NSW distinguishes itself as an area, somewhat unique in its combination of rural and retirement lifestyles with picturesque villages, a cooler climate than Sydney, a mix of reasonable sized towns (Mittagong, Bowral, Moss Vale, Berrima, Robertson, etc.) and some industry. Without wishing to draw negative contrasts to other areas of the State, it does show a different demographic from many of the potential HSR station locations, and we think it would approach patronage on a HSR/VHST service a little differently as a result.
Situated as it is with its southern extremity, Moss Vale, some 141 kms by existing rail service to Sydney City, it is the kind of area that should substantially benefit from a very fast rail service, using latest technology. Granted, this would only be viable in the context of a broader project decision (such as a Canberra-Sydney stage), but we feel it deserves some particular consideration. However, it is also the kind of area that might accept a premium fare for a fast service.
If one took the Highlands to include areas more to the north, such as Picton, then it is clear from past work on the originally proposed Maldon-Dombarton rail link, that one way to connect the large metropolitan region surrounding Wollongong with concepts of HSR which were developed in the 2012 and 2013 studies, might be an eventual spur line from the coastal area to the relevant Southern Highlands station location. Earlier studies had tried to bring Wollongong into a fast rail system because of its population (Illawarra region approx. 0.5 million people), but had difficulties with defining a corridor that made sense without slowing down the trip from/to Canberra.
Need for Master Planning
It is indeed arguable that if we had a very fast rail service down as far as the Southern Highlands then the mooted UrbanGrowth “Macarthur South” land development area might be supplanted by master planned developments within the Highlands catchment, oriented towards an envisaged HSR station location. That is just the sort of combined land use / fast transport initiative that the Japanese railway companies customarily use to help fund their successful rail operations. We note that Lend Lease has its Bingara Gorge development in that Wilton-Picton area already.
Travel time estimates
We happen to have been able to carry out some travel time calculations for a hypothetical Southern Highlands stopping point location, on the way between Canberra and Badgerys Creek, as part of an analysis that concluded that a HSR route between Canberra and Sydney would not lose much if it went out to Western Sydney Airport before bending in towards Parramatta and the Sydney CBD. This work showed:-
- Southern Highlands to Parramatta via Badgerys Creek: about 18-19 minutes (plus extra if the design of the service requires layover at the Airport) – this was about a 105 km route;
- As another post shows, depending on technology used, there might be a further 10 minutes or so travel interval to get into Sydney’s centre – that gives (say) 29-30 minutes for a trip to/from the Highlands to the Sydney CBD;
- That would be very attractive to the executive class based on time savings and lifestyle benefits in a semi-rural situation in the Highlands (perhaps a real estate developer’s dream);
Nb. The Phase Two study had a 98 kms route from near Mittagong Airport, which they quoted as 29 minutes, but we are assuming a step up in average speed is now possible with the latest technology, which makes up for the extra distance of going out via Badgerys Creek.
Mode Shift Potential
Of further interest is that the distance involved here very much suits modal shift. Travelling by road (the Hume Highway) from a relevant Southern Highlands location to Badgerys Creek was timed at 63 minutes by Tom Tom (no delay feature) and 95 minutes from that location to Sydney. Sydney’s metropolitan traffic congestion would worsen that, more often than not quite significantly, especially for peak hour time frames, and then there is the reliability factor in terms of travel time. Therefore, we imagine that HSR/VHST would have substantial time saving and predictability advantages, which would accrue on either trips to WSA for business travel, or into the Parramatta or Sydney CBD’s for office workers. A shift in patronage from roads to rail is thus a distinct possibility for this corridor.
The same situation would apply, but even greater for time saving and mode shift, with respect to a Goulburn station location, but we leave that to another post because we think the demographics must be differentiated, and Goulburn would be more a satellite of Canberra than of Sydney.
Regional Development, even new Cities
The concept that the Japanese use to help fund fast rail by real estate development, has been picked up here by some local politicians, led by John Alexander, former tennis ace, who is now Liberal MP for Bennelong in Sydney (John Howard’s old seat). “JA” has pointed out that Goulburn, for one, has cheap land which would be transformed by the speed of HSR/VHST. He is influenced by his time as a professional tennis player/coach in the USA and what Atlanta, Georgia achieved in a way that has some parallels, though that was more the ‘aerotropolis’ concept espoused by John Kasarda. The development advantages are not dissimilar in nature, under suitable master planning. The Stockland group’s Cloverton development in Victoria is leading that way, but without the benefits of much faster rail.