This could be a very long post, or a very short one if I get bored of the task. But if history matters at all, and it may not, it’s worth looking at who did what to stall or enhance the NSW railways over the medium to longer term. We could then draw meaningless conclusions about what the encumbents or pretenders may or may not do…
And I should say right now that we have to look at context, too. Railway line closures have been going on for a very long time, just as Sydney’s (and Newcastle’s) extensive tram network grew and declined over decades (but it was Heffron for Labor who finally pulled the pin on Sydney’s real light rail system). You can’t blame Labor alone – in fact the Liberal Premiers have a slight lead in the ‘rail closures’ game overall – however you can accuse both major parties of an over-eager opportunism. Flood damage can be a great excuse to close a line, for example. But glib analysis ignores the elephant in the room: the motor lobby, and it’s venal, self-interested cohorts. If anyone – or any thing – is to blame, it’s the motor vehicle. Truck and car competition, fostered and lobbied by car makers, pro-car organisations and the oil companies, has been intense over the last 60 years or so. Money that could – perhaps should – have gone into improved public transport was used instead to subsidise road building. First it was sealed roads, then bigger roads, straighter roads, wider roads. Our appetite for roads seemingly knows no bounds.
And people – voters – actively chose to buy cars, house them in little boxes on their increasingly remotely-sited land and use them, “proving” that continued investment in rail was not in the short term interests of citizens or their elected representatives. You can blame the old media, too, for their glorification of subsidised personal car transport and self-interest in selling car-related adspace. Blame who you like, but we are all complicit in this crime.
So here goes… and E&OE, I’ll do the best I can but you will have to check it out for yourself to be certain!
First of all – and my personal favourite in so many ways – is the Parramatta to Castle Hill line (it began as a steam tram, but later there were platforms and a direct connection with the main western railway). It actually continued onto Rogans Hill (from Castle Hill). It was closed in 1932 due to poor patronage. Jack Lang pulled the plug on this one, for Labor. Imagine if we’d have kept and developed that line. But people just didn’t use it, so you can understand why it was closed.
Some lines were closed formally by an Act of Parliament. At least they are clear-cut examples. They include:
- Ballina closed 1948 - McGirr Labor. Due to landslides.
- Westby closed 1952 – McGirr Labor.
- Richmond to Kurrajong closed 1952 – Cahill Labor. Unprofitable, flood damage (you can see plenty of remains beside the main road if you look for it).
- Morpeth closed 1953 – Cahill Labor. Due to siltation of the Hunter and Morpeth’s decline.
- Kunama (Batlow) closed 1957 – Cahill Labor.
- Taralga closed 1957 – Cahill Labor.
- Camden closed 1963 – Heffron (hey, they named a park after him) Labor. Coal trade moved elsewhere. Imagine if we’d kept this one, too? Again, leftovers are visible for the keen-eyed.
- Dorrigo closed 1993 – Fahey Liberal, suspended for a long time previously but still under a Liberal leader. Unprofitable, washaways.
Some lines are just “disused”, even though they may or may not have rail and sleepers, stations, platforms and bridges in place. You see these all around NSW – just look out your window as you drive around country NSW and look for raised embankments, fences, bridges and culverts where you don’t expect to see ‘em. According to this recent – and somewhat emotive – SMH article there are 58 such disused lines.
I’m not sure what is counted amongst that 58, but here’s what I can find:
- Inverell branch (to Moree) – progressively closed ’87 (Unsworth, Labor) to ’94 (Fahey, Liberal)
- Burcher branch – closed (maybe) between ’72 (Askin, Liberal) to ’75 (Lewis, Liberal)
- Corowa – closed ’75 (Lewis, Liberal)
- Kywong – closed ’75 (Lewis, Liberal)
- Rand branch – closed ’75 (Lewis, Liberal)
- Rankin Springs – closed ’75 (Lewis, Liberal)
- Tocumwal branch – closed ’75 (Lewis, Liberal)
- Tumbarumba – damaged by floods in 1974, not repaired (Askin, Liberal) and remainder closed in ’87 (Unsworth, Labour)
- Tumut – damaged by floods in 1984, not repaired (Wran, Labor) but already on its way out in ’75 (Lewis, Liberal)
- Unanderra-Moss Vale – stations closed ’75, ’76 (Askin, Lewis, Willis, all Liberal) but line open
- Yass Branch – closed ’58 (Cahill, Labor)
- Brewarrina – closed after flooding in ’74 (Askin, Liberal)
- Coolah – progressively closed from ’75 (Lewis, Liberal) to last train in ’82 (Wran, Labor)
- Molong-Dubbo – progressively closed, much of it in ’74 (Askin, Liberal) and finally and completely by ’87 (Unsworth, Labor). I looked at this one in 2009, pretty well taken apart now
- Oberon – closed 1980 (Wran, Labor) but station closures earlier (Askin, Liberal)
There are more but circumstances (like mine closures) make it obvious that they would close anyway. Indeed if you take the emotion and politics out of it, many lines just lose their reason for being – for example if a mill or a mine closes. Or if trucks take away the business. You can’t blame Liberal or Labor for that, unless you see their weakness in the face of oil-fueled transport lobby groups, populous fuel tax policy and the like as their fault. Which of course it is. Every time we give in to the oil lobby and lower or limit the tax on petrol or diesel at the pump we are killing off the rail system. 10 years of Federal Liberal government under John Howard can certainly take some of the blame here with singularly populous politicking on fuel pricing, but Labor can be just as weak-kneed when it comes to the crunch. Let alone the Greens, unashamedly politicking on the issue.
We could, after all, simply keep all the infrastructure and use and maintain it at huge ongoing cost, or mothball it at a lesser cost. The hidden cost is what we can’t do with that locked-up capital. Or we can sell it off, raise more cash and redirect it into other public services. That’s the game in play that the media, the Liberals and the Greens are playing silly games over.
And then there’s the Eastern Suburbs line. Started under engineer Bradfield in 1926, it was stopped by Depression and World War. Originally planned to extend from Town Hall to Bondi Junction before heading south through Randwick and the University of NSW, most of it just got dropped. It was restarted in ’47 and abandoned in ’52 (both decisions by Labor). Restarted again in ’67 (Askin, Liberal) and reviewed and shortened in ’76 (Wran, Labor). And “completed”, if that’s the word, by Wran in ’79. Now if we had kept the trams (stopped in 1961, under Heffron for Labor) then the route-shortening may have made some sense. Now it just looks like bad planning. That’s hindsight for you, though. It’s worth noting that a spur was proposed to Bondi in 1999 but it was heavily lobbied against by the residents of Bondi, presumably because the utility of the rail system for them was undermined by the increased ease by which more people could travel from faraway parts of Sydney to visit Bondi Beach. That’s People Power at work.
Much of the info above was found at a couple of sites, well worth exploring at the links below.
Railway status references:
Also well worth a read: http://home.iprimus.com.au/bexleyboy/arhs/unofficial.htm
Premier and party reference: