President’s Report – June 2006

Joan Dawson, Save Our Rail President

In this 12 month period Save Our Rail has achieved a great degree of success towards the achievement of the central goals of maintaining the rail service into Newcastle and improving transport for the region. Towards these ends we have organised and participated in many events and meetings and gained credibility and recognition for our organisation.

RAILFEST (1/10/05) was a celebration of rail in Newcastle, demonstrating the appreciation people have for the convenience of rail into Newcastle. Tess Leiberman, a university student, made the initial suggestion, and with other students and community members, a committee was formed to carry out the work of putting on the festival. A great deal of time and energy went into the promotional and organisational work needed for the successful outcome of a day of great entertainment and the raising of over $2000.

THE PREMIER of NSW, Hon Morris Iemma visited Newcastle in October 2005, and at a Hunter Business Chamber function, indicated a change in direction from the previous decision of Mr Costa, which had been to close Newcastle Rail Line. Mr Iemma announced the formation of The Premier’s Taskforce to examine the issue of rail in Newcastle and report back to him at the end of February 2006.

On AUSTRALIA DAY 2006, with many travelling to Sydney by train for the Big Day Out, Save Our Rail was present at Newcastle Station where postcards were distributed on which people could indicate support for the retention of rail services to Newcastle. We offered to post the completed cards, and on glancing through them we realised we had a valuable collection of data, so we undertook a statistical analysis of the respondent’s reasons for using rail and for coming into Newcastle CBD.

The NSW CABINET MET IN MAITLAND (21/2/06) during which Save Our Rail delegates met with Transport Minister, Mr Watkins, presenting him with 1700 completed post cards in a suitcase. Prior to the meeting Mr Iemma had announced that rail services would be retained into Newcastle and that $20 million would be allocated for improvements. Mr Watkins reinforced this statement, but we lost confidence in the decision when we were told the Government would be spending $500,000 to investigate the Hunter Business Chamber proposal of removing the electric line from Newcastle, instead taking it to Warabrook. This would force all Newcastle bound passengers from Sydney, Central Coast and Lake Macquarie to disembark there to join a Hunter Line diesel train which would limp into Newcastle at 20km/hour pretending to be a tram. We therefore felt we had only won Stage 1 of the battle to Save Our Rail.

SAVE OUR RAIL was invited to meet with the PREMIER’S I.I.G. (Infrastructure Implementation Group) on 23rd March 2006. We had only a few days to prepare for this meeting, so were at full stretch to come up with suitable material. Assisted by Michelle Nickerson, who had carried out the statistical analysis, and who now compiled slides, using that information and suggestions for rail improvements, and with the valuable input from Michael Micevski, our resident computer whiz, who provided a critical analysis of the Business Chamber Proposal, we put together a PowerPoint presentation. With a borrowed data projector, and hard copies compiled into folders, and only a window blind for a screen, George Paris, Michael Micevski and I met with the Premier’s men, who seemed to be quite impressed by our professionalism. We are still in contact with this group, so hope for some positive response.

MAITLAND’S STEAMFEST (23/04/06) provided another exposure of our material. We were invited to be part of the Newcastle Model Rail group at Steamfest, and were allocated a large area in the Basketball Stadium. We put up display boards and sold badges, distributed post cards and, the Maitland Branch set up a table near Maitland Station, increasing the awareness that we still need to be pursuing the issue, and that cutting the electrification from the Newcastle Line would be a disadvantage, not only to the Southern passengers, but to those on the Hunter Line.

MAY DAY 2006 We put in a presence at May Day following on from the huge success of the 2005 march. This time there were not so many Save Our Railers, but from the discussions between our Secretary and the Secretary of the Newcastle Trades Hall Council, at that time, and a later conversation between Mr Kennedy and I, there is now a more amicable situation and a possibility of a co-operative approach.

STOMP FESTIVAL (20/5/06) Save Our Rail was invited to be part of the annual Stomp Festival in Civic Park. Again we set up a display and created interest and awareness, as well as being given the opportunity to give our PowerPoint presentation in the Information Tent.

We have printed new post cards which support the retention of the ELECTRIC line into Newcastle, as well as information sheets, which outline the current situation and our ideas of the improvements that could be undertaken with the $20 million allocated by the Premier.

As well as the above events we have been invited to address many groups, and our PowerPoint presentation has been requested at Newcastle Council Forum meetings in the past two months and I have spoken on Cessnock Community radio and Channel 10.

In all activities I have appreciated the loyal support of all executive members, and must mention Kim Cross as Vice President, who provides calm strength, Margaret Christiansen who guards our finances well, and George Paris, as an outstanding secretary, and as my ever vigilant conscience! I would like to express the group’s appreciation to Tony Lawler for his generosity in allowing us to have a Wolfe Street office and to Allan Jackson, the Proprietor of the Hamilton Station Hotel, for his assistance in providing this excellent meeting venue.

I would like to thank all members for your continued support and to urge you to keep the campaign going. This is the only way we will retain the level of public transport we currently enjoy and to achieve improvements to it.

Joan Dawson 7th June 2006