Campaign demands more rail, fewer trucks

More than 50 people joined a public meeting in Lawson in the Blue Mountains on May 11 and discussed a new campaign to stop plans by the Roads and Traffic Authority to upgrade the Great Western Highway.

The upgrade is meant to accommodate huge, polluting b-double trucks.

The 25-metre, nine-axle b-doubles are currently not able to use this stretch of highway. Residents, environmentalists and public transport groups want it to stay that way.

The Lawson meeting was addressed by ALP local member Phil Koperberg, Greens MLC Lee Rhiannon and representatives of various community action groups. It followed a 200-strong community meeting about the issue in Blackheath on May 4.

Koperberg claimed that the b-doubles are "very efficient" and that there is "not a competition between road and rail transport".

Despite this, the strong opinion of the meeting was that, given safety issues, world heritage values, peak oil and the climate change emergency, the government must act now to shift as much freight transport as possible onto rail. The $1 billion earmarked for the highway upgrade between Lithgow and Mt Victoria should instead be spent on an upgrade and expansion of rail lines between Sydney and western NSW.

Rhiannon told the meeting hauling freight by truck rather than rail is three times less energy efficient. Although articulated trucks make up just 3% of vehicle kilometres, they are involved in one road fatality in 10.

"The only advantage of 'point-to-point transport' [which transport companies argue is essential for economic efficiency] is to the corporations' profit lines. Someone has to pay for that, and it is community, our health, environment and safety", Rhiannon said.

Colin Steele from the Association of Concerned Mid Mountains Residents said that the 75-tonne trucks use seven times as much fuel as trains.

Rail freight is far more efficient and productive, he added. Every b-double load can be carried on just one freight rail car.

Bill Barwood, past president of the Lachlan Regional Transport Committee, called for all rail infrastructure to be returned to public hands.

Greens councillor Eleanor Gibbs urged everyone to get involved in the campaign, which "must unite all communities in the Blue Mountains".

Weekend leafleting and petitioning in towns up and down the mountains is being organised. More information about the campaign is available at http://nobdoubles.blogspot.com, or email nobdoubles@gmail.com.

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