SOR’s Submission to the Premier’s Hunter Transport Task Force

Submission to the Premier’s Hunter Transport Task Force

Save Our Rail met with representatives of the Premier’s Hunter Transport Task Force on Monday 28th November 2005.

Below is Save Our Rail’s submission prepared for the meeting. Amazingly, the Premier’s representatives wouldn’t accept it – they didn’t want anything in writing! Joan Dawson spoke on the submission, going through most of the document, refusing to be sidetracked.

Save Our Rail is determined that the Task Force and the Premier see our Reasons for Retention of Newcastle Rail Services in full!


Reasons for Retention of Newcastle Rail Services

Submission prepared for Save Our Rail NSW Inc.
by Joan Dawson
Email: info@saveourrail.org.au


1. Economic

1.1 Cost

It is cheaper to keep the rail line into Newcastle than to remove it according to the Kellog Brown Root report commissioned by the NSW Government (KBR)[1] to examine various options for the Newcastle Line.

The report addresses questions concerning the “perceived barrier” the rail forms in Newcastle.

Measures that could be undertaken with far less cost than the removal of the line would include:

  • softening effects of vegetation,
  • enhanced fencing,
  • clear signage and improved access to stations and across the line,
  • active street frontages along North-South axes,
  • additional crossings

1.2 Land Value Capture

Land value is increased through proximity to rail transport.

The Maitland valuation firm, Dupont Fagan, in October 2000, advised Honeysuckle Development CEO, Angus Dawson, that property values would increase if the Newcastle Central Business District (CBD), remained connected by rail.[2]

As well, Dupont Fagan advised that land value would further increase with the provision of additional crossings, to improve access over the line.

The letter includes the following quote from the Toronto (Canada) Real Estate Board, when that city decided to invest in a new rail system over road provision:

“If an urban transit system (rail) never earned an operating profit it would still pay for itself a thousand times over through its beneficial impact on real estate values and increased assessments.”

Professor Peter Newman (Murdoch University), along with other accredited academics and transport authorities, condemned the move to close Newcastle’s rail service. He advised the N.S.W. Government and the City of Newcastle to invest in rail transport, and cited the example of Subiaco, Western Australia, which, within two years doubled an investment of $70 million.

1.3 Business and CBD Viability

Commercial activity requires customers and workers.

Customers often prefer to travel by car, but many, especially those from outer areas, will opt for public transport if it is convenient and cheap. This is especially so if parking is difficult or expensive.

Workers will usually prefer public transport if it can guarantee certainty of arrival time. Time equals money, therefore punctuality is important. Commuters cannot risk the ire of employers if transport is unreliable. Commuter transport needs to be reasonably inexpensive, punctual and convenient to the workplace.

Rail into Newcastle CBD provides that certainty for commuters from Singleton, Dungog and Maitland areas with “standing room only” reported to be the norm on the peak hour trains. Western Lake Macquarie areas are also heavy users of rail, with many using a “Park ‘n Ride” situation from Wyee, Morisset and Fassifern.

If the line closed, with an anticipated decline in patronage of 40%, an estimated delay of 30 minutes on each journey is predicted[3], a huge disincentive for public transport use.

Newcastle’s CBD requires rail service to retain its viability. The KBR report states “…any removal of the heavy rail line towards Woodville Junction would mean that preservation of the CBD’s role as the regional centre would be compromised.

With enforced interchange from suburban rail services, the resultant decrease in accessibility… from the suburban areas into the CBD would mean the CBD is no longer as attractive and customers would increasingly look for alternate destinations.”[4]

At a recent meeting in Toronto, NSW, outlining transport options, a private bus proprietor said, “If you want transport into Newcastle, you keep the trains. If you don’t want transport into Newcastle, cut the line.”

In seeking support for Railfest, Save Our Rail’s recent celebration of Rail in Newcastle, our canvassers approached businesses in the CBD. Of 142 approached, only 13 were either not interested or opposed rail into the city (more than 91% supporting retention of the line). Statements of support acknowledged that that employees used and needed the train service, and that many customers also relied on rail – one proprietor citing a customer who regularly travels from Muswellbrook by train.

In 2004 during a discussion of the rail issue, local commercial television station (NBN Channel 3) conducted a phone poll, and to their surprise, and despite a presenter bias against rail, the result was 75% in favour of keeping the rail service.

1.4 Peak Oil

“Peak Oil” is a term used when an oil source reaches maximum production, after which there is a rapid decline in production. When a country, or The World reaches “Peak Oil” it then needs to seek for other sources to maintain existing energy use and requirements. When it is clear that USA has already reached Peak Oil, that country’s interest in the Middle East (Iraq and Iran) is clarified.

The World is predicted to reach Peak Oil within the next five years[5], after which the oil price will dramatically rise, and the affordability of driving cars will decrease.

It is therefore imperative that the economics of this situation be taken into account, in future transport planning. Rail, being more economical will then assume a far greater importance; even bus transport will become too expensive for the travelling public. Governments will need to revert to more viable options for public transport.

1.5 Tourism

The tourism industry has become important to Newcastle since the closure of the BHP steelworks. The Hunter Valley, following the demise of coal mining around Cessnock, established itself as a tourist destination, through the wine industry and was recognized in recent Tourism Awards.

The City of Newcastle has not been promoted as a tourist destination, by the State Government, through Countrylink or Cityrail advertising, despite its magnificent natural assets, ideal for recreational pursuits, and its built environment studded with heritage items of historical significance and interest.

The Tourism Market
Sydney is recognized as the international gateway to Australia and it is directly connected, by rail, to Newcastle’s beaches and harbour. People love to go on boats, so the connection to Stockton Ferry, (with a picnic on historic Pirate Point) could be an added attraction offered to potential day trippers, along with Nobby’s Lighthouse, Fort Scratchley, The Brewery on the Harbour Foreshore, the Convict Lumber Yard, Christ Church Cathedral and the newly opened Mall Markets.

Honeysuckle developments have given a boost to the upper end of tourism but despite the lack of promotion train patronage has risen. Many backpackers access Newcastle by train, and stay at the hostels in inner Newcastle and at Stockton.

Destinations such as The Blue Mountains (The Three Sisters) and South Coast, (Kiama Blowhole) and The Southern Highlands are promoted for day trips with coloured posters at Countrylink and other rail outlets, but Newcastle’s attractions have been overlooked. Newcastle needs a share of the promotional dollar!

Tim Fischer, Chairman of Tourism Australia, in a recent Sun-Herald article, “called for the retention of train services to Newcastle.”[6]

He said, “A number of cities around the world have greatly regretted pulling out their rail infrastructure.” Though he proposes use of light rail, with a forced mode change, which we oppose because of delay and inconvenience, his statements indicate a view that tourism would not be advanced by eliminating the train service.


2 Environmental

2.1 Ecologically Sustainable Development

Sustainable transport describes modes of transport that do not need to use non-renewable energy. Professor Newman, in a speech at a UDIA (Urban Development Institute of Australia)[7] seminar, defined sustainability as “reducing the ecological footprint, that is the effect we leave behind environmentally.”

Prof. Newman, in addressing the Newcastle Business Club presented a sort of equation as follows: Successful Cities = Less Car Use

He stated, “Strong rail cities have much less emissions, greenhouse gases, road accidents and traffic congestion.”[8]

Car usage is known to affect air quality, and the implications of over use are in two layers:

  • deterioration of local air quality
  • greenhouse gas effect, global warming and rising water levels

The NSW Government is a signatory of the Kyoto Protocol, therefore has a responsibility to explore ways of conserving oil and reducing greenhouse gases.

Cutting the Newcastle rail service would result in increased car usage, as well as additional bus emissions from diesel fuel. We contend this would be inconsistent with the Government’s initiative in making the Kyoto commitment.

In KBR’s outline of Action for Air[9], describing a 25 year plan to integrate air quality goals and transport planning, the aim is stated to reduce Vehicle Kilometres Travelled (VKT) and to make reduction of VKT a planning priority across government.

Surely any reduction of rail infrastructure goes against this policy.

In the Lower Hunter Region a coalition of more than 20 environmental and community groups, Environment & Community Coalition of Hunter Organisations (ECCHO) has been addressing the Strategic Planning as begun by DIPNR (the former Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources) with the draft report recently released by Hon Frank Sartor, Minister for Planning, in which there is no provision for infrastructure.

Save Our Rail is a member of ECCHO, which has also released a draft planning document. This document, Hunter Environment & Community Groups Coalition, Position on Draft Lower Hunter Regional Strategy[10] outlines the ecological sustainability of rail and demands that all new developments be no more than one kilometre from rail, that all existing rail services be retained and that rail infrastructure not currently in use be brought back into service. Previously closed lines include the Toronto line, causing a 30% drop in public transport use, the privately owned Cessnock line, the closure of which also caused loss to public transport and an unused coal line to Belmont, all of which could be used to community and Government advantage.

The use of Stockton Ferry service provides a valuable connection to the Northern side of Newcastle Harbour. North of Stockton large developments are already taking place, at Fern Bay, with future growth identified at Medowie, Tanilba Bay and Anna Bay[11], all close to the Newcastle Airport, which lacks transport provision. The Stockton Ferry carpark, is usually overflowing on weekdays, with commuters using it as a “Park ‘n Ride” across to the city. This service connecting to Queens Wharf, a trip of five minutes into the heart of the CBD, with a very easy walk to Newcastle Station, is not even mentioned in the transport study, undertaken by the Lower Hunter Transport Working Group.


3. Social Issues

The provision of rail transport is a social issue. Those who use and need it are not in the more wealthy section of the community. Those who will be affected by the loss of rail are not the developers, whose lives will not be altered whether the line stays or goes, nor are they the rich owners of the new apartments at Honeysuckle, who may have a whim that requires the rail service to be discontinued. Many train users are unable to drive or cannot afford to drive. The people whose lives will be disrupted, and who will suffer real adversity if the trains are stopped comprise a large section of the community, as follows:

  • Less mobile passengers, inconvenienced with a forced mode change during their journey, including:
  • Physically disabled passengers, who will have difficulty in moving from train to bus, even with provision of lifts and other forms of aid. Those with spinal or lung disorders will be unable to undertake bus travel, as the jerky movement causes intolerable pain. Trains, on their smooth rails do not create this problem as the movement is lateral.
  • The Stockton Ferry gained disability access recently, costing $2.25million, funded by Newcastle City Council & the NSW Government. This was as a result of the requirement for equal access for the disabled. These people now have direct access from ferry to train and this needs to be continued, otherwise the Government could be in breach of disability regulations.
  • Parents with young children, with prams and other equipment will find difficulty in dealing with transfer, carrying babies, securing small children and moving the equipment.
  • Elderly people often cannot move quickly, therefore may have difficulty in boarding buses and also with the movement of the buses. Projections are that Lower Hunter population will be 95,000 to 120,000 by 2031, with a greatly increased cohort of elderly due to the “baby boomers” now turning 60.[12]
  • Surfers, carrying surfboards, are often refused carriage on buses or charged a fare for their board. Many come from as far as Muswellbrook to the beach.
  • Cyclists are unable to access bus transport.
  • Passengers with bulky luggage, including backpackers, would have difficulty.
  • Blind passengers cannot travel on buses. Using hearing only, they are unable to distinguish between buses and trucks or large vans. They cannot judge the distance – the number of steps needed from the bus stop to the bus. Trains are used by blind people because announcements confirm they are in the correct place for boarding, there is a constant level distance between platform and train, and announcements tell them when to alight.

The Royal Blind Society recently moved from Laman Street to Hamilton so that its thousands of members, who need assistance in living skills, can access this facility.

Community Concern
The community of Newcastle and the wider Hunter Valley region has demonstrated opposition to plans to remove part of the rail network. This has been evidenced in the large attendance at the various public gatherings organized by Save Our Rail, including:

  • The gathering of 3,169 signatures, on Australia Day 2005, when Newcastle Station was draped with ribbons by rail supporters.
  • A Public Forum at Newcastle Town Hall (19/03/05) attended by more than 600 people.
  • The 2005 May Day March, with approximately 500 rail supporters participating, many unions marching behind our banner. Save Our Rail took over the march, making it the largest in recent history.
  • Support from many community groups and organisations, including: The Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association of NSW (CPSA), Newcastle Cycleways Movement, Parks and Playgrounds Movement Inc, Newcastle University Students Association (NUSA), Newcastle City Council, Lake Macquarie City Council, Maitland City Council, Citizens Against Kooragang Abuses (CAKA), Hunter Commuter Council, Newcastle Heritage Council, The Hamilton Community Association, Newcastle East Residents’ Group, The Filipino Australian Society, Hunter Blind & Visually Impaired Social & Support Group, The National Trust (Hunter), Environment & Community Coalition of Hunter Organisations (ECCHO), Newcastle Teachers’ Association, Technical & Further Education Teachers’ Association (TAFETA), The NSW Shires Association, The NSW Teachers’ Federation.
  • Community and business support at Railfest (2/10/05), organised by Save Our Rail to celebrate rail in Newcastle, and 150 years of rail in NSW, attracted an attendance of approximately 1000 during the day. Donations, by the inner Newcastle business community, money and goods, totalled more than $1500 in value. Rock groups and dancers donated their talent and, with model train displays, it was a day not only of entertainment but a measure of the support for rail in Newcastle.

4. Repercussions

The closure of rail services to Newcastle would impact on the functioning of the city and the wider community as follows:

  • Bus services will be concentrated on the proposed interchange location, Broadmeadow, to the detriment of other areas
  • Delays would be experienced in all bus services, which access Broadmeadow, with the anticipated additional passenger intake (approximately 7000 per day)[13]
    • Delays in loading the increased numbers
    • Delays in progress of buses along already heavily trafficked routes; with more people using cars this will be exacerbated
  • Parking is already at crisis point in Newcastle CBD. The delay and inconvenience of changing at Broadmeadow would lead to more car use, increasing parking problems.
  • Road Congestion is already problematic. This will not be confined to Newcastle CBD, but will bank up along major arterial roads. Maitland Road / New England Highway is at capacity and has been listed as a danger hot spot, with a high fatal accident rate. The major Western Lake Macquarie road, linking the Morisset area to Newcastle incurs frequent bottle-neck situations at the Five Islands Bridge.
  • When major celebrations are held in Newcastle, such as Surfest, Mattara Festival, sporting events like the Masters’ Games, which brought international visitors, This is Not Art (TINA) festival, annual New Year’s Eve foreshore fireworks displays, May Day marches, the annual Steamfest train race between Maitland and Newcastle, Railfest and the Maritime Festival, rail transport is the only transport mode that has the capacity to cope with the need.
  • When Sydney celebrates, free rail provision becomes vital, and in Newcastle, though that has never been granted, the capacity of rail is necessary.
  • Late Night Transport is a program being undertaken by the Newcastle City Council, to assist mainly the youth to travel home safely, reducing drink driving, accident rates and behavioural problems. This program depends greatly on the provision of rail into Newcastle, to which it is linked.

5. Additional Comments

Save Our Rail has “in train”, a bold Transport Plan which could offer innovative solutions to many transport problems and perceived problems currently needing attention in the Lower Hunter.

The population of the Lower Hunter Region is predicted to rise with a greater proportion being elderly. This will create greater need for public transport, preferably rail transport for the reasons already outlined.

The historic Newcastle Station should not be closed. The neglect of its heritage buildings needs to be reversed, with upgrading and use of areas currently closed off, which could be leased as leisure activity premises, much needed restaurant or cafe use, service areas or for revenue raising as office space. Some of this fine building could become a rail museum and the State Government could be gaining a profit for further transport upgrades rather than contemplating the sale of this treasure to developers, as is rumoured. Newcastle laments the sale, by the Federal Government, and subsequent vandalism of its historic Post Office building. The NSW Labor Government should not make a similar mistake, with an important Newcastle icon.

Improvements to the signalling system could reduce delays at crossings. Better access provision, including additional crossings, raising or lowering the line over the major level crossing at Stuart Avenue (Pacific Highway), and island stations at Hamilton and Wickham would address many of the complaints. Newcastle Station could be more user-friendly. Currently passengers can only access the station from the Eastern end on the Scott Street corner, causing considerable unnecessary walking. Opening the Western end of Newcastle Station, to lead directly to the Ferry Wharf area, and reopening the station opposite Bolton Street, as it was originally, would be welcomed.

There are many measures that could be taken to increase patronage, without huge expense.

Save Our Rail does not accept that it is in the community’s best interest to close off the rail service from Broadmeadow to Newcastle, but has the opinion that improvements should be undertaken on the existing infrastructure, which would ultimately be cheaper than removal of the line and would not cause distress and hardship to the many who need rail connection into the heart of our city for various reasons, including professional appointments, work related travel, business viability and the maintenance of Newcastle as a CBD, as well as tourist and leisure activities.


References

[1] Kellog Brown Root. Newcastle Transport Options Planning Study, NSW Government, October 2003

[2] Dupont Fagan Valuers, Letter to Mr Angus Dawson, Honeysuckle Development, 20/10/2000 (Obtained through Freedom of Information.)

[3] D. Harris, Broadmeadow Bus/Train Patronage Delays Worksheet Tables, Version 2, May 2005.

[4] Kellog Brown Root, Newcastle Transport Options Planning Study, NSW Government, October, 2003, 3.3

[5] ASPO – Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas. Newsletter no. 49 January 2005. p.2

[6] Hamonet, Allyn, Sun-Herald 20/11/05 p.59

[7] Peter Newman, UDIA seminar, Warners Bay 28th July 2004

[8] Peter Newman, NSW Commissioner for Sustainability,Herald, 20th April, 2005, p.9

[9] Kellog Brown Root, Newcastle Transport Options Planning Study,NSW Government, Section 3.4.3, October 2003

[10] ECCHO, Position on the Draft Lower Hunter Regional Strategy, October 2005

[11] Draft Lower Hunter Regional Strategy, NSW Government, 2005, p.8

[12] Dr.Phillip O.Neill, University of Newcastle, Presentation to Community Forum, May 2005

[13] Lower Hunter Transport Working Group First Report, State Rail (Railcorp) figures p.13