NSW Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian and member for Tamworth Kevin Anderson yesterday strongly denied a claim that country passenger rail services would be privatised.
They rebutted a claim made by the Country Labor Tamworth branch that the NSW Coalition government was looking to privatise CountryLink, following the release of a report in the past month.
Infrastructure NSW, headed by former NSW premier Nick Greiner, had released the report into the state’s infrastructure.
The report said “substantial investment” was needed for “new rolling stock” and questioned whether this could be justified, given “very low regional rail patronage”, Tamworth Country Labor spokesman Garry Ryan said.
Mr Ryan said he and fellow branch members were very concerned about potential cuts to passenger services, particularly as these services were primarily used by pensioners, people who could not, or were not allowed to, drive and by young mothers with prams.
With an ageing population, demand would only increase, he said.
“Privatising things means that the people who then run the service have to make a profit ... so they’re not going to run a train, they’ll run a bus,” Mr Ryan said.
“(The result of this report) may see a reduction in, or even an end to, passenger rail services in rural and regional NSW.
“Mr Greiner, during his years as premier in the late 1980s and early ’90s, attempted to privatise CountryLink; however, he backed down from the plan due to negative public opinion.
“The report also stated that alternative options included privatisation or replacing trains with coaches.
“We’ve seen (the government’s) reversal on education funding and the Department of Primary Industries ... unless people are aware it might happen, nothing will be done (people won’t protest) until it’s too late.”
About 1.9 million people used the CountryLink service in 2010-11, he said.
According to passenger figures supplied by a spokesman for Ms Berejiklian, CountryLink patronage figures from its most recent annual report show, apart from a dip in numbers for the two years between 2006-08, numbers have been steadily rising (see box).
Mr Anderson flatly denied there were plans afoot to privatise the service.
He said he was working with Transport NSW to look at ways to improve the service, by looking at new timetables and at how commuters used the service.
“CountryLink is a vital service and, in our view, plays an integral role in our passenger transport network in NSW,” Mr Anderson said.
“The scuttlebutt that’s being circulated is ... mischievous.”
Ms Berejiklian echoed Mr Anderson’s comments.
“It is not government policy to privatise CountryLink,” Ms Berejiklian said.
But she agreed with Mr Greiner’s assessment of replacing worn-out rolling stock.
“The CountryLink fleet will, at some stage, need to be replaced, to maintain and improve services for regional and rural NSW, because Labor failed to buy, or plan to invest in, new rolling stock,” she said.
CountryLink passenger journeys
2010-11 — 1.89 million
2009-10 — 1.81 million
2008-09 — 1.68 million
2007-08 — 1.55 million
2006-07 — 1.61 million
2005-06 — 1.74 million