The long term viability of Port Kembla will be severely constrained and currently available infrastructure no longer able to provide secure train paths to the port and Illawarra in as little as a decade unless construction of the Maldon-Dombarton rail link starts soon, the secret business case on the project has warned.

In a damning assessment of the region’s current infrastructure capability, the business case report – which has been kept under wraps by the NSW Government for the last four years – makes clear that freight train paths on the Illawarra Line will be cut dramatically from 60 paths per day to just 8 paths per day and could confine freight operations to “night time only” by 2031.

The business case specifically warns that the “consequences of deferral” of the completion of the Maldon-Dombarton rail project includes:

    • Lack of capacity on the Illawarra Line due to deployment of Sydney Rail Futures, which prioritises passenger services and converting the Hurstville Line to Rapid Transit;
    • Congestion on the existing Unanderra-Coniston Junction;
    • Lack of capacity for passenger services;
    • Increasing construction costs;
    • A “less viable” and “more environmentally sensitive” existing corridor, and;
    • Risk of existing assets, such as bridges, cuttings, embankments and civil structures becoming “dilapidated”.

The business case report estimates the cost of constructing the Maldon-Dombarton rail link at $701 million with an additional $105 million required to upgrade the existing Unanderra-Coniston Junction, which has been identified as a “key pinch point” for rail operations in the region.

Under each scenario considered in the business case, the economic assessment had a benefit-cost ratio greater than 1 – signalling a positive economic benefit from the project.

The report indicates that construction of the Maldon-Dombarton rail link will take five years to complete.

The business case was finally released to Member for Wollongong, Paul Scully MP, after he made an application under the GIPA Act last year, which was initially refused by Transport for NSW.

Mr Scully appealed the Transport for NSW refusal to release the document to the NSW Information Commissioner, who just last month indicated that the Department’s reasons not to release the business case were “not justified”, and requested that Transport for NSW re-assess its position.

Transport for NSW re-assessed its decision and released the business case, with some redactions.

The 157-page business case generally supports the case for constructing the Maldon-Dombarton rail project as the only viable option.

The business case has been uploaded to Mr Scully’s website at www.paulscullymp.com.au today so interested members of the public and stakeholders can read the document.

Federal and NSW Labor continue to strongly support the construction of the Maldon-Dombarton rail project with funding commitments already on the table to work with the private sector to complete the rail link.

Comments attributable to Paul Scully MP

“I wanted this business case publicly released so we could see it warts and all, and we can also now see just why the NSW Government fought tooth and nail to keep it secret.

“It’s a damning assessment of the capacity of the region’s infrastructure and provides very clear warnings that unless the Maldon-Dombarton rail project is started and completed, freight transport to and from the Illawarra will simply grind to a halt in as little as a decade.

“The business case presents a compelling, detailed argument that unless the policy of procrastination by the NSW Government on this vital rail project ends, the continued viability of our most important asset – the Port of Port Kembla – will be severely constrained.

“It’s time the NSW Government stopped sitting on its hands and understands that unless Maldon-Dombarton is kick-started and completed by at least 2026, this region’s economic future will simply stall as freight movement is strangled.

“NSW Labor understands the importance of this project to the Illawarra, which is the reason we have committed to provide $50 million in foundation investment for the project should we be elected to form Government in March 2019.”

Comments attributable to Sharon Bird MP

“I have been campaigning for the construction of the Maldon-Dombarton rail project for over a decade.

“This most recent report is further evidence of the issues that I have raised over this time.

“Federal Labor has long supported this project. At the last Federal election, Labor committed to $50 million in funding and to working with the private sector to finally build the stalled project.  The previous Federal Labor Government provided $25.5 in 2011 for planning, geotechnical and engineering studies and then committed a further $50 million in 2013 to progress the project.  As soon as the Liberals were elected – they cut this funding.

“This report clearly outlines how important to our future economic development the Maldon-Dombarton rail project is and why it needs to be progressed.”

2 March 2018


  • The Maldon to Dombarton Rail Link (MDRL) would provide a freight rail link between south western Sydney and Port Kembla and the Illawarra. It will provide additional rail capacity to Port Kembla and the Illawarra Line by providing direct connection between Dombarton on the Unanderra Line to the main southern rail line at Maldon. It will also decrease journey times from south west Sydney to Port Kembla (p 11).
  • Port Kembla is a key international gateway for both NSW and Australia servicing both the local steel industry in Wollongong as well as broader supply chains in Sydney (cars), regional NSW (coal, grain and other bulk goods as well as other regions in Australia (steel and other bulks). Consequently, increasing the efficiency and capacity of the land transport links to the Port are of significance to NSW and the nation (p 11).


  • Growing train patronage on the Sydney rail network is likely to lead to conflicts with passenger services increasing in the future. To meet anticipated demand for train services, there exists a growing need to increase train frequencies, which may result in additional off-peak services. For instance, current government policy includes the intention to enhance off-peak passenger service frequencies on the Illawarra Line which could result in capacity for freight being very significantly reduced (p 12).


  • The Hurstville Line is proposed to convert to Rapid Transit single decker network with limited freight paths available by about 2031 (p 12).


  • These key changes would lead to a situation where the requirement for freight train paths to Port Kembla and the Illawarra region can no longer be met by the currently available infrastructure. This may constrain the long term sustainability of Port Kembla to expand (p 12).


  • ‘Do nothing option’…would lead to increased costs, delays to freight and passenger trains, and additional pressure on the road network…The ‘do nothing’ option was not considered a feasible alternative as it is inconsistent with the objective of maintaining the viability of Port Kembla (pp 12-13).


  • Post 2031, a significant enhancement in passenger train frequencies is proposed on the Illawarra Line, most notably between Hurstville and the city. Assumptions made by TfNSW have assessed the impact of these additional services would reduce future rail freight capacity to 8 paths per day (p 19).


  • These emerging constraints will progressively lead to a situation where the net requirement for train paths to Port Kembla and the Illawarra region can no longer be met by currently available infrastructure. This will severely constrain the long term viability of Port Kembla (p 29)


  • These emerging constraints will increase the need to provide separate freight operations from passenger services, provide additional track or provide alternative routes for freight through the Sydney metropolitan area in the future (p 29).


  • The NSW Government plans for the development of Sydney’s Rail Future are ongoing and still to be finalised. Consequently, it is uncertain as to the timing, staging and routing of such plans for increasing passenger services. However, the impact of this increase in passenger services on the Illawarra Line has been included in the economic and financial evaluation based on a likely future scenario of 8 trains per day (combined in both directions) by 2031 with freight operations confined to night times only when passenger services are assumed not to be in operation (p 31).


  • In addition, interstate rail container traffic along the east coast is anticipated to grow at rates between 2% and 3% per annum. The combined impact of this growth will place increasing demands on rail capacity through the MFN (Metropolitan Freight Network), which will mean that rail traffic to and from Port Kembla will need to compete with other traffic of securing paths, especially through the MFN (p.34)


  • Since this is the final Business Case, the Budget Request would be for the amount of projects capex as shown in table 3.3 $701m for MDRL and $105m for Coniston upgrades (p 65).


  • Lying immediately south of Coniston Station, Coniston Junction is a key pinch point for rail operations in the Illawarra (p 65).


  • The Coniston to Unanderra section of the Illawarra Line is a key constraining element of the route for trains operating between Dombarton and Port Kembla or Inner Harbour (p 68).


  • The consequences of deferral over the long term are:
      • Potential lack of capacity on Illawarra Line due to deployment of Sydney Rail Futures and Hurstville line conversion to Rapid Transit
      • Potential congestion in Unanderra-Coniston Junction
      • Potential impact on passenger services due to lack of capacity
      • Potential increase in construction costs
      • Over time, existing corridor and MDRL line built in 1980s will become less viable and will require frequent refurbishment work and also become more environmentally sensitive
      • There may be changing environmental, legislation, land use and environmental standards that make the project costlier or less viable in the future
      • Dilapidation of existing assets (e.g. bridges, cuttings, embankments and civil structures)
      • Wilton Junction development may result in additional scope increase (p 70) 


  • The nominal design capacity of the MDRL has been assessed to be 36 paths per day, on a single track with 3 passing loops. To ensure the capacity of the MDRL is not constrained, upgrades at Coniston Junction and Unanderra would also need to be undertaken…Without an upgrade, the combined capacity of the MDRL and UMVL (Unanderra Moss Vale Line) would be restricted to about 32 paths per day because of the Coniston-Unanderra section (p 85).


  • Across all lines feeding into the Illawarra region, current network capacity may be sufficient to meet the increase in demand up until the 2020s. However post 2031, the anticipated fall in capacity for freight on the Illawarra Line results in total capacity falling close to anticipated demand. Without the MDRL, network capacity is likely to fall well short of anticipated demand for paths (p 87).


  • Under the assumed economic parameters, the ‘with Project’ case is projected to be economically viable (p 110).


  • Sensitivity analysis suggests that developing the MDRL would have economic merit under most scenarios tested (p 115).


  • The project is currently at the completion of the Final Business Case stage prior to start of Procurement. This aligns with TfNSW Assurance Stage 3 Final Business Case Review (p 127).