BY KIM LINDEN
NEWCASTLE — Transport minister Michael Costa has backed a proposal to close part of the Newcastle rail line. The Socialist Alliance held a May 5 public meeting to discuss how the railway line can be saved.
The plan would cut the railway line at Woodville Junction, near Hamilton, and create a so-called transport hub there, at the cost of $80 million.
A report on the proposal commissioned by the state government also suggested privatisation of transport services and the replacement of some of the line with a light rail.
The Fairfax-owned Newcastle Herald is supporting the proposal, claiming on April 14 that it is "the way to go".
Newcastle railway station services the city centre, inner-city housing, the beaches and Newcastle Hospital.
Greens member Keith Parsons told the public meeting that a recent survey result shows 56% of people, including 69% of women, object to removing the railway line.
Describing the proposal as "shallow and narrow", he said the Greens support the development of a transport hub at Glendale, and the continued existence of the heavy rail line into Newcastle. He pointed out that the transport hub and cutting the line are separate issues.
Mick Schmitzer, Newcastle organiser of the Rail, Bus and Tram Union, also addressed the meeting, pointing out that Newcastle railway station currently employs 230 people. He said the RBTU would need guarantees that these jobs would not be lost if the rail line is cut.
Schmitzer also pointed to the contradiction of cutting the line when the city council is attempting to increase the inner urban population. He suggested that the recent changes to bus timetables, which have resulted in reduced services and often inconvenient bus routes, may be part of a general plan to overhaul the public transport system in Newcastle.
Socialist Alliance member Stephen O'Brien, who has campaigned against previous attempts to close the line, ponited out that much public land was being sold off in Newcastle."The people of Newcastle need to initiate a community campaign around this issue to save the railway line again", he said.
From Green Left Weekly, May 14, 2003.
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