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The future of transport in the Hunter region

Oct 1, 2015News

ThiScreen Shot 2015-10-01 at 4.34.39 pms week, RTBU State Secretary Alex Claassens was a key speaker at a community forum to discuss the way forward for transport in the Hunter region.

Here’s an extract from his speech:

Open community conversations like this are critical if we’re going to see real positive change for the Hunter region and local people.

It’s clear that the NSW Government has it’s own agenda for the Hunter – and it’s equally clear that public transport is very low down on their priority list.

All around Australia, regional cities have been crying out for heavy rail infrastructure that connects people and places and promotes tourism. Newcastle was the envy of them all with its rail link right in the middle of the city.

But as we know, the rail link was the first thing to go when the NSW Coalition Government decided it would ‘revitalise’ Newcastle.

The decision to remove the line was tainted by whispers of deals done with big developers and accusations of corruption. It was a decision-making process that didn’t involve any real consultation with the local people who would be directly affected.

Now we’re dealing with chaotic traffic and transport networks that simply aren’t working for local people.

For too long Sydney-based politicians have decided what is best for the Hunter and other regional areas, and it’s time for us to tell them that enough is enough.

The way the NSW Government has gone about it

The community campaign up here to protect our public transport has been relentless. And it has had to be because the Government attack has been relentless.

When the announcement came just prior to Boxing Day that the rail line was going to be closed during the peak holiday period, we couldn’t quite believe that the government would be so reckless.

But they were.

Even when the dedicated, brave volunteers at Save Our Rail won the court injunction essentially preventing the rail line from being ripped up, the Government basically ignored it and decided to pave over the top of the rail line instead.

This government that apparently prides itself on its customer service focus has shown complete contempt for the community and visiting commuters.

It’s time we started to inject some transparency and common sense back into our planning decisions.

And the government would be wise to start that process of transparency here in the Hunter.

The future of transport in the Hunter region

Heavy rail, light rail and bus networks are the way forward for transport and we need to Screen Shot 2015-10-01 at 4.35.03 pmhave a serious discussion about how we can make this work for local people so our region isn’t left behind.

We need to look at the proposed light rail route and other public transport plans and ask the right questions. Is this the best route to connect local people with local businesses in the long term? To get employees to work? To introduce tourists to a world-class regional city?

Screen Shot 2015-10-01 at 4.34.49 pmThese questions should be front and centre of any public transport debate. What should not be front and centre are questions about how to accommodate the commercial needs of big developers.

If light rail is the path that the community wants to take, it should extend to important places such as the university, hospital, beaches and airport – and it should be put in place with no further delay so that the local community can finally have a functioning public transport system.

State-wide regional transport

While it’s extremely important that we get transport right locally – in the Newcastle and Hunter area – we also need to link that transport to state-wide regional networks that work.

People living in rural or regional areas across the state should have access to great quality, safe and convenient transport networks and big improvements are needed.

That’s why our union has been campaigning for things like:

  • Improved timetabling and more frequent services, so that train timetables meet the needs of the local communities. Public transport must connect regional towns to major hubs like Sydney, and ensure visitors are able to explore what our regions have to offer. Everyone deserves access to easy, reliable and frequent public transport.
  • We need better on-board facilities, so that passengers travelling long distances do so in comfort. This means we need simple things like heating in winter and cooling in summer and 2 x 2 seating.
  • Improved access. This is particularly key here in Newcastle where the NSW Government’s rash changes have resulted in serious accessibility issues, particularly for those less mobile commuters. It’s not good enough that many of our train stations don’t have disability access; it’s not good enough that many people are turning away from public transport because they now have problems changing transport modes.
  • We also urgently need funding to replace out-dated NSW Trains XPT and Xplorer trains with new diesel locomotives. The current fleet is in desperate need of replacing, and its critical that NSW Government speeds up plans to replace our ageing trains.
  • And, perhaps most importantly, we need big improvements in safety on our transport networks for both passengers and staff. RTBU members report enduring alarming rates of abuse while at work, including being spat on, being subject to racist behaviour and physical violence. This situation is not good enough for workers and it’s not good enough for the travelling public. We need more security personnel and better systems in place to keep us safe.

There are many ways we can improve our transport networks in the Hunter and across NSW, and we need to find the way forward.

What is clear is that the current NSW Government has thrown away a rail line that has served the people of Newcastle for over a century and hasn’t replaced it with anything that even slightly resembles a practical and sensible public transport solution.

Our union would like to see some genuine public consultation and a plan put on the table that rectifies that.

Newcastle has long been the public transport envy of the rest of the country. We can’t let that title slip away.

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