The Guardian 30 March, 2005

residents meet over rail closure

Peter Kennedy

On Saturday March 19, around 500 people attended a meeting at the Newcastle Town Hall. This open forum was called by Newcastle Save Our Rail committee president Joan Dawson in response to plans to close railway track and four railway stations in Newcastle. Also in attendance were Professor Warren Pengilley of the law faculty of Newcastle University and several state MPs from the Newcastle and Central Coast electorates. Lee Rhiannon was there also representing the NSW Greens.

Invitations were sent to the member for Cessnock Kerry Hickey, Minister for Transport John Watkins, Newcastle Mayor Cr John Tate and Minister for Roads Michael Costa, all of whom failed to show.

The opening address by Joan Dawson spelt out quite clearly the Carr government’s proposal to close the rail line between the Broadmeadow and Newcastle stations. That would mean the closure of four stations including the one in the city centre. The existing rail service would then be replaced with buses transporting passengers through the suburbs to the CBD — the journey taking three minutes according to Mr Costa’s office. Very fast buses in Newcastle! [An express train could not do it in less than double that time! — Ed]

The current rail service allows passengers to take pushbikes and surfboards on the train but these items are not permitted on buses. Both items are very popular among young people who enjoy local beaches and recreational bike rides.

There is also concern that older people and those with disabilities who currently travel by train would have no choice but to catch one of Mr Costa’s three minute express buses with their far more difficult access. Under the new proposal Broadmeadow station is to be revamped into a major bus-rail interchange at a cost of millions of dollars to the taxpayers of NSW.

The audience then heard an address by Professor Pengilley who outlined the flawed proposal and the research done by the various parties involved. From his presentation it also became clear that there were a lot of questions left unanswered and that some of the proponents of the line closure were behind a land grab by developers.

Questions from the floor followed Professor Pengilley and were answered by the panel of local MPs and Lee Rhiannon. All questions and answers received loud applause from the audience. Some of the speakers were calling for more direct action such as noisy street protests to which most people agreed.

As the meeting drew to a close, two resolutions were passed with 100 per cent support and they have been forwarded on to Watkins and Co. The people of Newcastle and Central Coast have made it quite clear that an increase in services is needed, NOT decreased services.

The Newcastle Branch of the Communist Party supported the event and the Save the Rail committee and has pledged to assist any further action.

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