President’s Report – July 2008

Joan Dawson, Save Our Rail President

Save Our Rail has continued to resist any attempt to cut the Newcastle rail line. Following the 2006 announcement by NSW Premier, Morris Iemma, that the rail line to Newcastle would be retained and there would be an improvement program, we thought we could maybe have a party and fold up the banners because our campaign was finished. When the fine print was read, we realised that there was more to be done, as a lot of the money was to go on a feasibility study of the Hunter Business Chamber’s Warabrook proposal. This would take electrification from the Newcastle Line and electrify to Warabrook instead, with all passengers from the South being transported away from Newcastle to change trains at Warabrook. The scheme had no merit for the reasons already provided many times, that any interruption to the trip, involving a change of mode or changing trains would not be acceptable to the travelling public, because of the inconvenience.

The Hunter Business Chamber has continued its relentless campaign to close off Newcastle’s most valuable transport asset, its heavy rail service going to the heart of the city and close to the beach. New plans keep appearing in The Herald with a variation of the same theme. The Chamber organised a series of meetings, which, along with representatives from Lower Hunter councils also included Save Our Rail, to find common ground towards “transport improvement.” Despite our attempts to bring in the subject of the retention of the Newcastle line, this was sidelined throughout the negotiations, and though some worthwhile items were agreed on we felt the most important concept was omitted.

Save Our Rail has effectively countered all proposals to cut the line and has worked towards the improvement and expansion of rail to Newcastle and throughout the Lower Hunter.

Executive members (with valuable assistance and advice) have produced professional presentations and have met with consultants and Government representatives and officials to achieve some considerable success. I acknowledge especially the work of Michael Micevski, who uses his technical ability, putting in huge amounts of time and effort to cause the computers to create great documents, and our supporter, Michelle Nickerson who has magic powers of creativity and organisation in the written aspects of our material. Darrell Harris has an incisive mind for seeking out and applying information relevant to our projects.

Recently our delegation met with Jodi McKay, MP for Newcastle, as a preliminary to our presentation to the NSW Government at the Cabinet Meeting in Maitland. Our proposal, available on our website http://saveourrail.org.au, advocates integration of transport modes through pedestrian crossings over the line at Steel Street and Worth Place to link with the bus services in Hunter Street. We claim that, just as a keystone supports an arch, our crossings, signified by arches, would be the keystone to an integrated city. We suggest improved access to and increased use of the heritage building of Newcastle Station. Also outlined is the need for additional station provision and better access to existing facilities in the fast growing Maitland district. The delegation was well received but that does not necessarily translate into any positive outcome.

Our previous presentation, to Worley Parsons, a consultancy firm appointed by the Government to look into the Warabrook plan, was well received, but to date the report has not been released. We think this must mean there was an adverse finding against the Hunter Business Chamber’s nonsense proposal.

There are powerful forces allied to the Hunter Business Chamber, including the current Lord Mayor of Newcastle, John Tate. Despite Newcastle City Council supporting the retention of the line, John Tate as a board member of Honeysuckle Corporation, with its earlier stated intention to close the line, has constantly taken that view (to close the line). He was a member of the Lower Hunter Transport Working Group, which came forth with the now abandoned Broadmeadow terminus plan. Mr Tate has published recently a notion to close the line at Wickham and put in an overpass linked to a new road from Industrial Highway.

Yesterday we met with representatives of the Hornery Institute, consultants to General Property Trust (GPT) , regarding “well-being indicators,” pertaining to the re-development of the Hunter Mall area. GPT is rumoured to favour cutting the line. We presented a professionally prepared package of our documents, which were well received and discussed intelligently by the two very well-informed women from the institute.

We hope to liaise further with groups and corporations concerned over the provision of transport, with some indication of a possible meeting with the Hunter Development Corporation (formerly Honeysuckle Corporation) and of further negotiations with the Hunter Business Chamber.

With the need for action on Climate Change and oil shortage becoming obvious through petrol price hikes, rail transport is increasingly seen as the most sustainable option. We need to continue to fight on to preserve the valuable rail link to the City of Newcastle. All members need to consider this in election decisions and preferences.

I acknowledge and appreciate the input of Kim Cross, who as Vice President, provides a professional component to delegations and gives a Maitland perspective to our group. I also wish to thank Julie Norbury, who has been prepared to take on the work of Secretary, when the need was urgent, and despite her other commitments.

I thank all members of Save Our Rail for your constant attendance and support, especially those who have taken on responsibilities in the committee. Your support is the reason the trains are still running to Newcastle and some improvements have been gained.

Joan Dawson
President, Save Our Rail NSW Inc.