Letter | Counting the cost of Blue Mountains tunnels

WAIT: Breaking down the cost, and considering the population in the Central West, it seems unlikely that tunnels will be built through the Blue Mountains any time soon.
WAIT: Breaking down the cost, and considering the population in the Central West, it seems unlikely that tunnels will be built through the Blue Mountains any time soon.

THERE is no doubt that John Eccles is right (“We need vision to open the Central West to Sydney”, Friday, April 13) when he says his concept of twin tunnels under the Blue Mountains would cost billions of dollars – the same applies to the difficult terrain on the major transport corridors to the north, south and south-west of Sydney.

The recently opened 57.4-kilometre Gotthard tunnel connecting Italy to Switzerland cost about A$12 billion – i.e., about $211 million per kilometre.

The shortest tunnel route between Emu Plains and the west is to the Megalong Valley, about 40 kilometres, so its cost could be around A$8-9 billion.

But there is still another 34 kilometres of railway needed to reconnect with the main west line, and even the Megalong Valley is not flat so far as high-speed railway geometry is concerned, so substantial additional cost is needed.

The Gotthard tunnel provides for 260 freight trains and 65 passenger electric traction trains per day - traffic levels far beyond those likely between Sydney and the west, even if a major redistribution of urban development (which I agree would be a marvellous thing) could occur.

Then there is the issue of diesel-hauled interstate freight trains being ill-suited for operation in very long tunnels and the effects they have on passenger train operations. 

The tunnels have to be purged of noxious gases, which takes time, before passenger services can enter the tunnel.

Given we are still struggling to improve travel times to Newcastle and Wollongong through similar very expensive infrastructure, and where passenger demand is already far greater, I regret to say that I think it is going to be quite some time yet before improvement on this scale can be justified to the Central West - notwithstanding, I think the region would be a marvellous place to live.

Incidentally, Sydney-Melbourne express trains do not operate via Lithgow and Bathurst, but via Goulburn.

Peter Thornton, Transportation Associates Pty Ltd, Sydney