AS elections approach, the spectre of very fast trains have been known to emerge like clockwork onto the political agenda.
The state government announced on Tuesday it would examine four routes for a fast rail network.
Professor Andrew McNaughton will confirm the most appropriate routes, train speeds and station locations as part of the process.
“The expert will provide advice to government on what is possible and what would be involved,” Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.
Options on the table include fast links from Sydney through the Central Coast to Newcastle, south to Goulburn and Canberra, south to Wollongong and Nowra or west on a track linking Lithgow, Bathurst, Orange and Parkes.
In its announcement, the government cited travel times falling by 35 minutes between Sydney and Newcastle if the train was slower than 200km/h.
If that speed was greater than 250km/h, which Transport Minister Andrew Constance says would “ultimately, in the long-term” be the aim, the government claims it would deliver a 45-minute trip from Central to Wickham.
Between Sydney and Gosford, the trip would drop from 79 minutes to either 60 or 30 minutes, depending on the speed of travel.
$4.6 million from the Snowy Hydro Fund will be allocated to developing fast rail, according to deputy Premier and Minister for Regional NSW John Barilaro’s Tuesday announcement.
Opposition leader Michael Daley dubbed it “absolute pie in the sky stuff from a desperate government in panic mode".
It is hard to imagine that shearing 19 minutes off a trip to Gosford justifies the $40 billion the Sydney to Newcastle leg is estimated to cost.
By Tuesday afternoon, the Premier was denying claims the plan was a mere an election stunt given the national scale experts say is required to make it work.
In March this year, the federal government committed $5.25 million towards developing a business case for improving train journey times between Sydney and Newcastle.
As of October, that case was scheduled to go to the federal government in mid-2019.
With almost $10 million between the state and federal coffers linked with faster trains from Sydney to the Hunter, the project is in vogue as a theory, and in September ranked as the top transport priority for more than a third of NSW voters.
There are miles to go before high-speed rail becomes a costed, considered proposal identifying stations and timeframes that can be truly debated.
The government is unequivocal that it is gauging “what is possible and when”, which is an important step given the transformative infrastructure is likely to take years to produce.
Distance, cost and politics must all be overcome.
Whether experts can make it stack up, and whether the juice will be worth the squeeze for leaders likely to be out of office before the first service runs, are likely the next stops on this journey.