President’s Report – June 2007

Joan Dawson, Save Our Rail President

Newcastle Line

The battle to retain heavy electric rail services to Newcastle Station continues.

Currently the NSW Government is carrying out an investigation into the Hunter Business Chamber proposal to remove the electric service from Newcastle and electrify the Hunter Line to Warabrook. The plan is aimed at gaining support from Maitland people, as a first step to providing electric services to Maitland. Great inconvenience would result for Newcastle passengers from the south who would be re-routed from Broadmeadow to Warabrook to access Newcastle via the Hunter Line diesel service. The time taken to travel away from Newcastle to Warabrook, and the factor of the forced interchange would cause an estimated fall in patronage of approximately 66%. The Maitland Save Our Rail branch members join with us in opposing this, as we believe this would cause the whole system to become unviable and provide an excuse to close the line.

The price tag for the study is $500,000 and the outcome is not expected until “about September.” Therefore we need to be ready for a strong reaction if the “Wacky Warabrook” plan or any other scheme to interrupt the direct connection to Newcastle is accepted by the Government.

The work on the Newcastle Line, as previously promised by Premier Iemma and outlined to us in meetings with the IIG (Infrastructure Implementation Group) is progressing and you will notice the improved fencing and upgrading of crossings taking shape.

Changes in Political Representatives

During the past year we have seen changes in the political representatives in our region, which could impact on decisions regarding the rail line. State MP’s Bryce Gaudry, Jeff Hunter, Milton Orkopoulos and John Mills were four of the “Fab Five” who gave strong support to Save Our Rail and to the community. They have been replaced for various reasons by Jodi McKay, Greg Piper, Robert Coombs and Sonia Hornery, leaving only Matthew Morris as a known ally. We have made contact with the newly elected politicians, but so far have met with only one, Jodi McKay, providing her with information as to our position regarding public transport.

Hunter Business Chamber

Despite our opposition to the Hunter Business Chamber’s proposal, when invited to meet with them to find “common ground” on transport issues, we entered into a series of meetings, which also involved representatives of all Lower Hunter Councils, the Newcastle Alliance and the Business for Transport group (which supports Save Our Rail). Our presentation at the first meeting on 18th January 2007 was professional (as on a previous occasion SOR was assisted by Michael Micevski and Michelle Nickerson in preparing a slick document / PowerPoint presentation entitled “Developing the Line”), and though George Paris, Michael Micevski and I felt we were entering the “lion’s den” we were treated with respect and have contributed to a document for Integrated Transport in the Lower Hunter Region. This advocates the establishment of a Lower Hunter Transport Authority (as in our 2005 Plan prepared by Darrell Harris), which would have oversight of all public transport in the region. The document includes many of the initiatives we have been pursuing, such as common ticketing, integration of bus train and ferry services and co-ordination of timetables, establishing “Park ‘n Ride” facilities at key locations, completion of a major interchange at Glendale and public transport for Newcastle Airport. The major omission has been a statement of support for the retention of the electric rail service to Newcastle, despite our constant raising of the issue and despite the Business Chamber CEO saying they had agreed with this “seven times.”

Events

Lower Hunter Branch of Save Our Rail again this year participated in Steamfest at Maitland on 21st and 22nd April with space made available to us by Our Town Model Show. I am very appreciative of those who gave up weekend time to help and for the support of Our Town Model Show for including our group as exhibitors. Over 500 people signed cards for retention of the electric line and we sold over $200 worth of badges.

This year we were actually invited as a group, by the Secretary of the NTHC to take our place in the May Day March, an indication of a change in direction. We accepted the invitation but our numbers this year were down with less than a dozen participants. I hope next time to have a greater representation, and remember that we took over the march in 2005 with 500 behind our banner.

Transport Minister Meeting

On 24th May with the NSW Cabinet meeting in Newcastle, Save Our Rail had discussions with the Minister for Transport and Deputy Premier, Hon John Watkins. He was as always prepared to listen, however no promises were forthcoming and I remain sceptical. He accepted our large packet of signed postcards with good humour and took copies of our recent submissions and presentations to read on the train going back to Sydney.

SOR Lower Hunter Changes

This year Save Our Rail Lower Hunter has accepted with regret, the resignation of Margaret Christiansen, who has been Treasurer for several years and whose hard work and dedication I have appreciated. Thank you Margaret, for your contribution to the community and welcome to Sheena McCallum who has stepped forward to take on this responsibility.

It is with great sadness that I have learned that George Paris will not be nominating for election as Secretary of the Lower Hunter Save Our Rail branch. The organisation has had the benefit of his initiatives in setting up the Transport Workshops from which we have derived many of the items raised in various meetings as needs of the community, and of the huge task he took on in taking Save Our Rail into a new level formulating a Constitution and the Incorporation of the Combined NSW group. George has been a tower of strength and has been crucial in keeping us “on track” to this point and I regret that he will not be continuing in this role. Thank you George, for your great spirit and for your and Melva’s friendship over the past four years of our combined hard labour.

I place on record my appreciation to Hamilton Station Hotel for providing this excellent venue.

I would like to thank members for attending boring meetings to support the goal of keeping our transport intact and urge you to keep coming as we may again need to gather our forces for a show of strength. I especially thank those who have been prepared to be part of the executive, to join in delegations and to prop me up when I need some support, which is often!

Joan Dawson 6th June 2007