Panel unanimous in changes needed for regional transport: Politics in the Pub

Politics in the Pub panel Goulburn National Party representative James Harker-Mortlock, RBTU State Secretary Alex Claassens, Southern Tablelands Rail User Group (STRUG) president Greg Price and Goulburn Labor candidate Ursula Stephens.
Politics in the Pub panel Goulburn National Party representative James Harker-Mortlock, RBTU State Secretary Alex Claassens, Southern Tablelands Rail User Group (STRUG) president Greg Price and Goulburn Labor candidate Ursula Stephens.

A myriad of complaints confronted the panelists at Politics in the Pub on Monday, April 16.

The general proceedings of the night was, at its core, very simple – the south east region, and in particular transport in the Canberra-Goulburn-Sydney corridor, needed to change. 

Problems did not stop at the track’s viability or investment in technology, but extended to the timetable and the lack of consultation between residents in smaller townships.

The lack of connectivity between bus and trains in regional centres, and the focus on larger metro projects, such as the inner-Sydney light rail and train network, put regional Australia on the back burner.

Political affiliations, which usually spearhead the directive, came to a halt as Goulburn National Party representative James Harker-Mortlock, Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) state secretary Alex Claassens, Southern Tablelands Rail User Group (STRUG) president Greg Price and Goulburn Labor candidate Dr Ursula Stephens were all in the same carriage, looking out at the same image. 

Over the past years, multiple factors have led to the characterisation of today’s climate.

Consolidated Land and Rail Australia (CLARA) aims to build a line from Melbourne to Greater Shepparton, and later, a Sydney to Goulburn service with the intention of connecting the two main cities.

Having recently won a share of the Faster Rail Prospectus funding, this $200 billion business case sits alongside Transport for NSW’s ambitious 40-year vision. 

With a new fleet expected to roll out in 2020 and unsuccessful changes to the Goulburn rail timetables, it almost feels that a lot is being done, but not in the right places. 

For Dr Stephens, it was a three pronged approach: Improve stock, improve the timetable and invest in upgrades to existing tracks.

“Successive state government’s have fiddled around the edges of commuter frustration, and from our perspective, have fiddled with the train and bus timetables to suit the majority of the population coming down the line to the Highlands, without much thought for the people who come further along the line to Goulburn, or beyond,” she said. 

“Rather than pie-in-the-sky fantasies costing hundreds of billions of dollars and taking decades to build, what we need is an achievable and affordable strategy that can improve travel times between Sydney and Canberra, to match or outmatch travelling by car, and will encourage people to take the train.”

It was electrifying the network and providing tilt trains to decrease travel times for Mr Price.

He repeated stories of stonewalled conversations between Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Andrew Constance and STRUG, who have lobbied for years on the improvement of the timetable and tilt train technology.

“Regional rail action for NSW.. should be focused on improving all regional NSW. A more focus regionally and community inter-connectivity,” Mr Price said.

“Tilt trains allows people to go where they are to where they want to go quicker.”

He concluded the government needed to regain control of the Treasury. 

“We share the blame equally,” Mr Claassens, who is a train driver and active union, said. 

“Part of the problem is the short term election cycles.. It’s easier to build a road and buy buses than put rail in.”

He criticised the lack of foresight in failing to pick Goulburn as a rail centre for future works.  

Both Mr Claassens and Mr Harker-Mortlock repeated it was inter-connectivity of services that was key, discussing alternative local options to improve transport, such as utilising school and club buses during the day.

“We’re arguing as loudly as we can to get noticed,” Mr Harker-Mortlock said, dismissing the need for complexity and pushing for practicality in the decision making process. 

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