THERE were calls yesterday for a new domestic rail service for the region but they came with the acknowledgement there might be a battle ahead just to simply retain the existing one.
Liverpool Plains Shire says it will press ahead with a push to get a new rail service and deputy mayor Col Stewart said they were actively pursuing the extension of the CityRail Newcastle to Scone run to provide an affordable Newcastle to Tamworth daily return option.
There’s currently several services a day from Newcastle to Scone and back and Cr Stewart said they would like to see one of those continue on to Tamworth.
He said this would be an easier option than Sydney for those with the likes of medical appointments and being able to return the same day would eliminate the expense of overnight accommodation.
Cr Stewart knows though that the future of regional passenger services is something of an unknown quantity.
He welcomed comments last week by transport minister Gladys Berejiklian that it was not the government’s intention to privatise country rail services, but fears other threats loom.
“The draft NSW Long-Term Transport Master Plan and the State Infrastructure Strategy 2012-2032, when considered together, paint a gloomy future for rural and regional rail passenger services,” he said.
“Both of these reports put regional NSW rail transport under scrutiny and the State Infrastructure Strategy openly states that a decision will need to be taken on whether the substantial investment required for new rolling stock to replace ageing equipment is justified and suggests alternatives could include a greater use of buses.”
He said the region needed to take a stand now on the issue or risk seeing passenger trains become a thing of the past.
“The Xplorer is the only train currently using the 168km of track between Werris Creek, Tamworth and Armidale,” Cr Stewart said.
“You can be sure the number-crunchers will be considering the options to close this line as they have most other lines that do not carry substantial freight movements.”
The NSW government has recently announced the break-up of RailCorp, with two new bodies to come into effect from July 1 next year.
One, NSW Trains, is to be “focused wholly on the needs of intercity, regional and rural
customers”, Ms Berejiklian said.
“It will be the first rail service organisation totally dedicated to regional customers in 150 years.”
Cr Stewart said it was a good initiative and he hoped it would offer more direct access when it came to advocating for regional rail services.
In the meantime, though, he said it may be necessary to form a regional passenger alliance to fight any plans to substitute buses for trains.