Save Our Rail wants parliamentary enquiry following petition debate – Media Release 19/11/2013

Save Our Rail’s petition with over 11,000 signatures will be debated in the NSW Parliament on Thursday 21st November.

“This is a signature event,” according to Joan Dawson Save Our Rail President.

“Here we have a significant number of people willing to provide home details and sign a legal document to support retaining and improving the heavy rail line direct to Newcastle Station. Not only that, this is an opportunity for our local parliamentary representatives, Sonia Hornery and Clayton Barr to outline accurately the dire consequences of cutting the rail line and to correct misinformation that has been presented to this Parliament”.

The community has been prevented from presenting information and advice to the NSW Government and has not been considered as a “stakeholder.” For the entire Hunter Valley only one meeting towards a Statewide Long Term Master Plan was held. This was in Newcastle City Hall and the 120 people present indicated overwhelmingly the opinion that the Newcastle Rail Line should be retained. This did not appear in the record of the meeting. Despite many protests the record remains inaccurate. There has been no process undertaken for a Hunter Region Long Term Master Plan, despite promises by the transport Minister.

“Minister Berejiklian should immediately begin the process to develop a Hunter Master Plan,” said Rick Banyard, a SOR committee member, “This should be a first step in allowing accurate community opinion to reach the halls of power.”

“Truncation of the Newcastle Line would be a backward step for transport between Maitland and Newcastle,” said Vice President, Kim Cross, who works as a solicitor in Newcastle and commutes from Maitland. ” The O’Farrell Government set public transport targets for Newcastle CBD in its NSW 2021 document, “… to and from Newcastle CBD during peak hours to 20% by 2016.” Studies show the use of bus transport for journeys to work has fallen but in Lake Macquarie and Maitland, where rail provision is adequate, its mode share exceeds the NSW Government target of 20%. Studies have also shown that forced interchange decreases patronage,” explained Ms Cross.

She asks, “Do the Premier and Transport Minister want to be credited with sabotaging their own targets?

Save Our Rail has argued that the decision to truncate existing rail services and attempt “replacement” with light rail will not be a good fit. These are two entirely different forms of transport . The current intercity service has the capacity for mass transport and the capability for the long haul, so it brings tourists , customers and workers from as far away as Sydney, Scone and Dungog direct to the heart of Newcastle CBD. A “light rail” system is designed for short distances and is most suitable for routes within a city and could be added on to existing rail for inner city benefit. The current heavy rail can be extended in the future to link Newcastle to other cities – Tamworth, Dubbo and Taree.

“The renewal of Newcastle will not be halted by the continued presence of the rail line,” said Bobbie Antonic, inner city retailer.

“Businesses will be worse off if the rail line is closed. I have experienced the fall in customers when track work occurs,” she explained.

Save Our Rail is aware that the Renewal Plan (NURS) was written with rail intact, being changed to include rail truncation at the last minute. The group has obtained documentation of this and intends to ascertain the reasons for this late alteration. Was this a political motive or has the pressure from developer interests swayed the Government?

“The waste of public funding, which will deny its use on other regional transport needs and the apparent interference by land owners with a vested interest in the rail line removal gives rise to the need for a Parliamentary Enquiry,” said Joan Dawson, adding that there has also been a huge degree of misrepresentation in official reports, identified as being flawed, but with the authors returning as consultants in the present planning process.

Save Our Rail hopes this debate on Thursday will lead to an enquiry, revealing truths which will progress to a more open and honest appraisal of the needs of Newcastle. This would be in keeping with the stated intentions of the O’Farrell Government regarding transparency.

For further information or comment please contact:-

Joan Dawson
President Save Our Rail NSW Inc.
Mobile 0408 618 198