A DAILY rail commuter service between two of the state’s largest inland cities – Wagga and Albury – has long been touted but rarely gained enough steam to leave the station.
Wagga councillor Vanessa Keenan, who has been a revelation in her first term on council, reignited the debate this week, releasing a discussion paper on building closer transport links between the two cities.
Cr Keenan should be commended for her blue sky thinking.
It’s important councillors are focused on ensuring the organisation efficiently manages the “three Rs” – roads, rates and rubbish.
But vision is important, too.
Cr Keenan’s job now, and indeed the job of other local leaders, is to ensure the concept grows from seed to plant.
It won’t be easy.
At a time when the state government is furiously removing costs – and staff – from its rail network, we must convince it to invest in a spanking new daily service.
As it stands, the only way to make a return rail journey between the Border and Wagga on the same day involves a trip in the very early hours of the morning.
Under Cr Keenan’s proposal, commuters could live in one city and work normal hours in the other.
The commute would be no more onerous than the daily trek for millions of Sydneysiders and Melbournians.
The service would also open up a new pathway for the business, education and medical sectors.
Wagga and Albury are communities of interest, the two major players in the region with obvious synergies and shared goals.
As Cr Keenan rightly says, a daily service would help leverage those synergies and goals, cutting down on duplication of services and making both cities more resilient.
Transport links are the oxygen of regional communities, making them more enticing to prospective residents and visitors.
Some transport links, like aviation, are at the mercy of the free market but others, like road and rail, are bankrolled by taxpayers.
The state government is quick to beat the decentralisation drum when it suits them, but they rarely back it up with meaningful policy.
Here’s a chance for them to do just that.
A rigorous cost-benefit analysis must now be completed to examine whether a new service is feasible.
If it’s proven to be, the state government is duty bound to support it.