Simon Butler, Newcastle
The three-year community campaign to save the heavy rail line into Newcastle has won. The NSW Labor government announced on February 21 that it was abandoning the unpopular plan to remove the rail line into Newcastle's CBD.
The backdown has been described as an important win for the people of the Hunter region by the Save Our Rail committee, a coalition of community groups, student activists, public transport advocates and political parties such as the Greens, the Socialist Alliance and local ALP branches. Numerous protests and street stalls, and some huge public meetings, were organised by Save Our Rail during the campaign.
Save Our Rail chairperson Joan Dawson told Green Left Weekly, "The decision was definitely a victory for people power. We are very pleased."
Jack Thieme, co-president of the Newcastle University Student Association, which backed the campaign, agreed that the main factor in the government's backdown was the sustained community pressure. "Now the service will be there for the 900 students who use it daily", he told GLW.
While the Newcastle rail line has been saved for now, activists say there is plenty of work yet to be done. Save Our Rail is urging supporters to build on the momentum and reorient the campaign towards improving and enhancing Newcastle's inadequate public transport system.
"We want the people of Newcastle to get behind Save Our Rail's proposals for improving and beautifying the rail line", Dawson explained. These proposals include improving station access, building overpasses where the line crosses major city roads, and creating extra vehicle and pedestrian crossings.
From Green Left Weekly, March 1, 2006.
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