Presentation of Currie Review to Member for Newcastle, Bryce Gaudry

Joan Dawson, Save Our Rail NSW Inc President, gave a speech at Newcastle Station on 22nd December 2005 as part of the hand over of Prof Graham Currie’s report to Member for Newcastle, Bryce Gaudry.

The report referred to in her speech is “Decision to Close the Newcastle Branch Rail Line – Independent Review of Transport Reports”, Final Report, by Prof Graham Currie, Institute of Transport Studies, Department of Civil Engineering, Monash University.

Prof Currie’s report was commissioned by Newcastle City Council and the Lower Hunter Councils’ Transport Group.

A transcript of Joan’s speech is included below:

“Biased, Flawed and Misrepresented Advice”

These are the final words of Prof Graham Currie in his review of the reports pertinent to the NSW Government decision to close the Newcastle Rail Line.

In introducing you to this report I must confess that on reading it I had an overwhelming sense of familiarity – Prof Currie was identifying many of the same criticisms, and even using the same words as Save Our Rail, in our letters to editors (most not published), to assorted Government Ministers, to two Premiers and in addresses to public meetings, over the last two years.

Prof Currie metaphorically refers to the demise of the “body” when you cut off the “head” and the resultant diminished viability of the whole system.

The “superior” bus service proposed as a replacement for trains by the Lower Hunter Transport Working Group (LHTWG), he says would be “unlikely to be superior from a passengers journey quality viewpoint,” which is what we have been saying, and which we proved with our “Superior Bus Demonstration” when we tried to put a train load of passengers onto buses in Newcastle, which threw Scott Street into chaos.

Figures used to show that there is a preference for bus transport over rail, by quoting patronage in areas where rail is unavailable are described by Currie as a “clumsy attempt to discredit rail“.

Tables on p.9 show the degree to which the Terms of Reference of the LHTWG reports are NOT MET.

Our Research Officer identified incorrect modelling assumptions in TIDC (Broadmeadow Transport Interchange Feasibility Study), which suggest a patronage decline of 38%, where Currie states 60% plus would be more realistic.

In transport use there is a “mode specific” factor, which Currie refers to on p.17. Some passengers simply cannot tolerate bus travel, for example those with spinal damage cannot bear the jerking movement of buses, people with lung disease suffer compression of the lungs with the vertical movements and blind passengers are totally unable to use buses, but all these groups can happily board and ride in trains, which have horizontal movement.

Safety issues are relevant to any decision. Hundreds of children travel to school by train and Prof Currie raises safety concerns, as he puts it – “It is in the nature of unsupervised school children to be a disruptive influence on station order”, and envisions the mix of school students at peak time, with long distance passengers with luggage. He pictured “passengers waiting on the roadside next to traffic on an exposed bridge” above Broadmeadow Station, in varied weather conditions and where he had observed high speed traffic coming round a curved road. These conditions would create a safety hazard for pedestrians crossing as well as a concern about the sight distance for buses and their cumbersome emergence onto the road, with a potential for traffic conflicts and resultant safety issues. This will not be the sort of transport provision Newcastle parents will want for their children using public transport to get to school.

The Dupont Fagan valuation advice to Honeysuckle (Oct 2000) was obtained by Save Our Rail through Freedom of Information, and our interpretation of it was that land value is increased with rail transport provision. LHTWG presented an opposite interpretation, in deliberate misrepresentation, despite the “conventional wisdom” of land value capture.

A 20% growth in property value was used as an estimate of employment growth, a curious misuse of data, to achieve a desired outcome.

Currie concluded that “The approach used to estimate economic benefits is invalid.”

p. 22 has a table on TIDC in which Currie notes negative features of the Broadmeadow interchange proposal, pointing out that most Newcastle residents will need to catch two buses to reach the Broadmeadow train, environmental consequences of additional car use, increased car park demand in the CBD and accessibility for aged and disabled persons. Save Our Rail has been concerned over this last point, and because the Stockton Ferry service doesn’t even rate a mention in the LHTWG’s reports, even though it comes directly to the CBD, Currie has also missed that this service has recently been made accessible, the Stockton “wheelies” can access the trains and “the world’s their oyster,” that is until the train service is cut and their independence with it.

Prof Currie points to inconsistency between the stated aims of the Metropolitan Strategy and the rail closure decision. “Heavy rail is often considered the highest quality of public transport”, he says. Save Our Rail is currently preparing a submission for the Lower Hunter Regional Strategy, as well as being supported by the large Environment and Community Coalition of Hunter Organizations, (ECCHO) whose submission to the strategy requires new developments to be in close proximity to rail, because of its recognized ecological sustainability, which will be of great importance in the future. This is especially relevant because of the projected increase in percentage of elderly people in the population.

We also have “in train” a submission of considerable substance for the Premier’s Task Force, which includes an exciting and innovative Transport Plan. I heard Mr Tate this morning on ABC saying that the pro-rail groups want to “do nothing” and this is simply not true. Our plan makes sweeping changes, including additional buildings even at historic Newcastle Station and improvements throughout a fully integrated system of rail, ferry and bus. From the outset we have said, “Improve don’t remove.”

In his conclusion Prof Currie slams the reports of the LHTWG . “They display a bias in favour of consideration of closure of the rail line to Newcastle in exclusion of almost anything else” he says, “and no options have been considered which improve services to passengers”.

In reference to the Metropolitan Strategy he speaks of poor sustainability and states, “Increased car dependence and transport disadvantage will result for the people of the Hunter Region.”

The word “sham” he says, “has been used by other people to describe the analysis undertaken by the NSW Government in its decision to close the Newcastle Line”. “These reports were used to make substantive decisions involving potentially hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Bryce Gaudry, as Member for Newcastle and therefore our representative in Government I am going to ask you to accept this copy of the Currie Report, and copies for the following: The Premier of NSW, The Hon Morris Iemma; The Newcastle Transport Task Force Head, Mr Col Gelatley; The Minister for Transport, Hon John Watkins; The Minister for Planning, Hon Frank Sartor; and the Minister for the Hunter, Hon Michael Costa. I charge you, Bryce, with the responsibility of ensuring that this document is received by these people as addressed, and ask that you make strong representations concerning the issues raised in the Currie document.

Members of the media, I refer you to the final paragraph, as follows:

“The passenger rail services in the Hunter region are a high quality feature of the region’s public transport system. Many cities of substantially greater size than Newcastle lack rail services and would covet the opportunity for such a substantive resource as a means for providing sustainable transport into the future. Newcastle is clearly gifted in the physical and natural resources it possesses. It is unfortunate that its sustainable transport system is to be discarded so easily, based on what can be factually identified as biased, flawed and misrepresented advice.”

[You can download the Currie Report via this link]