By Tim E. Stewart
NEWCASTLE — Nearly 500 students at a Newcastle University rally last week clapped and cheered as five members of the campus green society (WAGS) and an unknown enterprising student stopped the Maitland to Newcastle train and disembarked at the proposed university train station site.
The action, initiated by WAGS, proved that students are dissatisfied with the present accommodation and transport situation here.
The post-earthquake housing crisis has given weight to the train station proposal. A station behind the university would make isolated areas from Maitland to Gosford more accessible. Currently students from these areas endure cumbersome train-bus connections which are regularly overcrowded.
The recent Newcastle University Master Plan recommended that the university allocate $1 million to the development of the train station. It is understood that "unofficial" talks between State Rail and the university ended with the SRA turning down the potential offer.
This must be viewed in the light of the suspected plans to close the Newcastle suburban passenger rail services. Students are angered by daily traffic congestion, a decreasing amount of bush land and footpaths which are providing space for 3000 plus cars.
Mark Jackson, transport spokesperson the students, said that the real reason the station proposal has been delayed for some 25 years is that "the issues run very deep. There are a lot of people that make a lot of money out of the car.
"For the last 20 or 30 years there has been a push away from rail and other public transport and into private transport. The Greiner government has accelerated this trend."
NBN, the local commercial television station gave the story airplay in a news bulletin, and this was repeated by the ABC and commercial AM radio stations during the day.
The good media coverage of the rally and the spontaneous train "hijack" have made the Newcastle community very aware of the transport and accommodation needs of Newcastle University students. The campaign continues.