The recent release of the draft Transport Masterplan could mean regional NSW will spend 20 more years in the transport wilderness, writes Alex Claassens, secretary of the Rail, Tram and Bus Union.
In the lead-up the 2011 state election I visited a number of NSW regional towns to hear first hand what local councillors, community groups, businesses and transport workers saw as the top transport priorities for the next five years and beyond.
We held forums in five major towns to nut out what the transport issues and challenges were and what kind of solutions we could come up with collectively.
We invited the people who work in the system, who catch the trains and buses, who operate businesses that rely on freight – essentially the people who know best what works and what’s needed in transport infrastructure and services in their local communities.
An outpouring of great ideas came from the forums which we gathered into a submission togovernment.
In the Northern Tablelands the focus was clear – introduce a regular passenger service between Tamworth and Newcastle and increase investment in rail freight infrastructure.
This week, to great fanfare, the draft NSW Transport Masterplan was finally released by the NSW government. Running to 370 pages, it is hailed by the premier as a 20-year vision for transport which “will deliver for major cities and rural and regional areas.”
As such, you’d expect it to include concrete timelines and funding allocations. You’d expect it to include the services and infrastructure local communities have been fighting years for. After all wasn’t “fixing public transport” one of the Coalition’s mandates for election?
Disappointingly the commitment to rural and regional NSW in the much awaited Masterplan can be summed up in four words: roads, roads and more roads.
Highway upgrades, town bypasses and road freight initiatives are listed as the highlights for our regional cities and towns.
For the New England this equates to some road upgrades of the New England Highway near Tamworth, overtaking lanes south of Tamworth, pavement reconstruction on some of the Newell Highway and a Moree bypass. There is some recognition of the increase in freight over the next 20 years butno moves to take some of that off the road.
The need for investment in rail freight is overlooked, as is any concrete funding commitment to any of the listed priorities nor a timeframe for delivery.
This will be a seen as a huge missed opportunity to every single person who contributed to those forums we held and to the many, many residents in this community.
Rail infrastructure is currently limited by capacity constraints and the increasing number of trucks being forcing onto local roads is placing pressure on existing infrastructure and affecting road safety.
Investment in the north-south inland rail freight corridor should have been a priority to deliver an economic boost for regional areas throughout NSW and get some of those trucks off our roads.
As demand for freight transport increases, investment in rail infrastructure – not just more roads – will become more urgent. It’s disappointing Barry O’Farrell’s grand new plan doesn’t recognise this.
There is hope. The transport plan is only in draft form and the community has until October 26 to comment. Let’s make sure ourvoices are heard so we don’t have to wait another 20 years for regional NSW to be given priority.
The recent release of the draft Transport Masterplan could mean regional NSW will spend 20 more years in the transport wilderness, writes Alex Claassens, secretary of the Rail, Tram and Bus Union. Photo: Fairfax
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