Save Our Rail is often misquoted, labelled ‘conspiracy theorists’, doubts are cast on our credibility and motivation. I wish to provide some truths.
Arising from the community in the early 1992 Save Our Rail was led to victory by Margaret Henry when the Carr Government, in about 1995, overturned Greiner’s plans for rail removal.
The group reconvened in 2002 when transport minister Costa revealed similar intentions.
SOR has not based objections on whether they “liked” trains, or on personal inconvenience, nor were they aiming to obstruct progress; quite the opposite. We believe that the City of Newcastle had an asset in direct rail services to Newcastle Station, that removal would exacerbate city decline, and that Hunter Region communities need direct rail transport to their major city for work, educational opportunities and cultural pursuits.
I had a personal concern with family members unable to use bus transport for medical reasons. However, influenced by a strong mother, I advocate for social justice and I am convinced rail is essential for the welfare of the city and region.
SOR undertook extensive research to reach a group position.
Some documents studied were:
- The 2004 GHD Economic Impact of Rail Closure, which revealed the benefits to developers and supported rumours that leading Hunter developers were intent on gaining this land. An extract refers to Newcastle Station: “…productive re-use of Newcastle railway station and signal box…creating 6 large mixed use sites with a total ground floor area of 8,725 sqm and 3 floors above of 30,475 sqm totalling 39,200 sqm. This would have the potential to provide approximately 300 apartment equivalents over the whole site…” We didn’t make this up; it was in a government document. Later we learnt that mine subsidence was Newcastle’s major development impediment and realised why this land was valuable; unlike most of Newcastle it was not undermined.
- Honeysuckle Development Corporation’s original Approved Scheme, 1993 included closing Newcastle Rail Line for development.
- Kellogg Brown Root Newcastle Transport Options Planning Study (2003) warned: “… 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…” “The result of this in planning terms would be the further proliferation of competing shopping areas at the expense of the CBD.”
- Professor Peter Newman ( Murdoch University) advised against rail removal. He compared transport mode capacities as follows: cars 2500, buses 8000, light rail 10,200, trains 50,000 passengers.
- In 2004 to determine transport needs Save Our Rail organised workshops at Wyong, Warners Bay, Maitland, Newcastle City Hall and the University of Newcastle. We used the findings to prepare a Transport Plan in 2005. From the workshops one suggestion was for a Newcastle “fare free zone.” SOR liaised with Newcastle Alliance. Newcastle City Council adopted the idea and it became part of the Newcastle bus provision in 2005.
- In 2005, Profesor Graham Currie, (Monash University) was invited by NCC to independently review Lower Hunter Working Group’s reports (those advising Costa to cut the rail at Broadmeadow.) He identified gross errors and concluded: “Many cities of greater size than Newcastle lack rail services of this scale 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.” Professor Currie predicted a 60% loss of patronage. (That is what is now happening!)
Save Our Rail worked with community groups, including ECCHO ( Environment & Community Coalition of Hunter Organisations) and were invited by Hunter Business Chamber to join with council representatives, the Newcastle Alliance and Newcastle Trades Hall Council to formulate submissions to the 2007 Lower Hunter Strategy.
In 2008 SOR prepared its major proposal based on community input and our research: NEWCASTLE -Towards a Sustainable and Vibrant City - A Proposal for CBD Integration. This progressive proposal advanced creative suggestions for access across the rail line, including a raised rail section like Vancouver’s Sky Train (they are now doing this in north western Sydney!) We promoted improved station access, full use of Newcastle Station, landscaping, ideas to increase patronage, Park and Ride facilities and a new station, Harbourlink, near Hunter Street Mall. We still consider this proposal to be a great way forward for Newcastle.
The 2010 SOR proposal, Western Transport Initiativ” ( Westrans), suggests light rail cars to increase frequency and run on unused lines from Waratah to Glendale, linking educational institutions. Express buses would run from outer areas into Newcastle, and a freight line west of Newcastle would eliminate freight trains at urban crossings.
If the above proposals had been adopted Newcastle would have gained massively with improved transport frequency and access, city enhancement, increased tourism and a fully utilised Newcastle Station bringing in revenue.
Instead we have a failing city centre, increased bus emissions and traffic chaos, regional towns disconnected, late angry commuters and disabled people grounded. This whole developer-based program is wasting vast amounts of public money, is not “revitalising Newcastle” and a marvellous heritage icon, Newcastle Station, which should be treasured, lies unused and rotting.
Joan Dawson President, Save Our Rail NSW Inc