Newcastle residents say, save the rail


By Graham Mathews

NEWCASTLE — A capacity crowd of around 600 people packed Newcastle Town Hall on May 26 for a public meeting to "Save the Rail". The meeting was called by Newcastle community groups to protest against the decision of the Greiner government to cut rail services to the city.

The plan, estimated to cost $30 million, would entail the building of a new terminal one kilometre up the line from the current historic Newcastle station. The proposal has been criticised from many angles.

Regular commuters, pensioners, people with disabilities and low income earners will all be disadvantaged by the proposal, which will force passengers to change from train to bus to enter the Newcastle CBD. Newcastle buses are earmarked for privatisation, meaning further costs to the commuter.

Expensive and unwieldy, the rail plan will, however, be a financial gain for property developers, who are eager to subdivide and develop the railway land that the closure would make available.

The protest meeting was addressed by Newcastle University Professor Howard Dick, who pointed out that "Newcastle must be the only city in the world where revitalisation begins with the removal of public transport".

He also drew attention to the state government's own 1990 feasibility study on rail services, which showed that the best option was to allow the rail line to continue through the existing Newcastle station. The Greiner government's rationalisations for closure were "an official lie".

"We're here tonight to make our point as forcefully as we can, and if they won't listen to us tonight, we'll do it again and again."

Harold Dwyer, state secretary of the Australian Railways Union, said the rail plan was "an outrageous decision made by a few people.

"What this is all about is dollars, it's about big money, it's about Nick Greiner doing what he's done to other places. He is selling off the farm to balance the budget to cover for his own incompetence."

Other speakers linked the campaign to preserve the city rail link to the campaign against privatisation of the Newcastle buses. Bus drivers' union assistant organiser Fay Hitchock asked the meeting for support.

Unanimous resolutions called for the extension of the rail service into Newcastle, supported a landscaped rail corridor along the shore and condemned the government's attack on the buses.