The Mudgee Guardian polled readers on the issues they consider most important in the community. Among the many responses, five stood out as the 'top' issues. They were: roads, rail, sustainability, entertainment and housing. An email was sent to each ungrouped candidate and each lead candidate in each group asking for their response.
This time, we look at rail.
As a Councillor and as a Town Planner I have supported the use of rail in the region. Development applications assessed require d coal to be transported By rail instead of by road.
I attended a rally some twelve years for the return of passenger rail to Mudgee. I have continued to advocate for open lines to be utilised where possible and for mothballed lines to be upgraded and utilised.. I.am also aware of the need to ensure that all towns within our region are not locked down while trains are using road crossings and therefore the requirement for these crossings to be suitably upgraded.
.The Government has declared this region as a major hub for solar and wind farms so there is a great opportunity for these large bulky components to be transported by rail. The State Government through the assessment process for State Significant Development could condition the transport of bulky components by rAil.
The State Government should be encouraged to maintain the rail line to Rylstone and upgrade it to Mudgee and beyond to link up with the inland rail route to Queensland. Stakeholders such as coal mines, tourist facilities, agriculture and business should be encouraged to o this.
The rail line has been used as far as Rylstone for special events and these could be expanded to enable e more tourists to visit our area.
The key to bringing rail back to the Mid-Western Region has always been convincing the state government that the line is feasible. Council can campaign, encourage and promise to do what we can when the rail line is active, but opening the line is in the hands of the state and all we can do is push!
Connecting more of country NSW to rail lines would lighten the traffic load on Blue Mountains roads, create tourism opportunities, and open up the west to travellers in a whole new way. We've seen the way the rail line through to Rylstone and Kandos has created a unique and appealing tourism experience, which has also shown what a community committed to fighting for rail can achieve.
Council and the community must continue to show the state government that we are enthusiastic and committed, and present a unified front taking every opportunity to promote the line's reopening.
Public transport between our communities needs further exploration. Having access to appropriate and consistent transport is important for all members of the community.
Feasibility into the possibility of reusing the rail lines can be done however, all uses of the lines will be considered for its viability. From looking at the Top 20 Projects Community Engagement identified in the My Community My Plan Towards 2030, last updated in 2017, Passenger Trains ranked 4 with 21.7% and Improve Public Transport Between Towns ranked 14 with 12%.
Interestingly More Bike Paths ranked 15 with 11.7% and Rail Trails ranked 19 with 9.1%.
Moving forward it is time to consider how we can move progress with these ideas that community still values.
In recent years there have been calls to open our train lines to connect us to Lithgow and beyond. There have also been proposals to open unused lines as cycle paths between our towns which will provide a different sector of tourism to our region. What happens with our rail lines is a State Government decision. About 15 years ago there was significant lobbying by the Council to reopen the lines for passenger services and funds were provided by the State to repair tracks so that trains could go at speeds required for passenger services. There were even some tourist train journeys between Dunedoo and Mudgee and Mudgee to Rylstone.
This provided hope for the reopening of the lines but in the end the State government decided it was not a viable project and left the lines to deteriorate again. Council could again lobby for passenger travel, if there is significant community support for this to happen. This is something I would support as it would offer our residents an alternative to flying or driving as well as increasing tourism to our region, reduce pollution and would reduce congestion on our roads.
I believe the first, and most important step, towards addressing this issue is to clarify what the community wants. Mid-Western Councillors in their last term of office were very inconsistent in their stance about this topic. For example Council reports have taken three very different stances on this issue. They have argued that reviving the railway line is a community priority, that transforming the railway into a rail trail is a priority for the community and that they expect public opposition to any reinstatement of the railway line. Council reports also indicate that they are confused about what role they should play on this issue as the railway line is run by the state. If elected I will consult with the community to find out what their wishes are for the railway line and then continue to involve them as the matter progresses by consulting on Every Decision, Every Time.
I have been speaking with a group of business men from Mudgee who are proposing to recreate the 89km rail line between Kandos/Rylstone and Gulgong. There would be two trains per day travelling between Sydney and Gulgong. What this means for the small towns en route is invaluable.
The group have done a great deal of research justifying their proposal showing the benefits of the commuter and light freight rail to the communities from Lithgow to Gulgong who have not had a train for many years. It would also benefit the smaller villages who have suffered greatly since the closing of the rail.
This rail line would allow access to other major towns in the west which would be of benefit to the youth of the towns who at the moment, should they choose to stay in town, have no access to post high school education.
This railway would not be for coal trains they would still use the inland rail line. It would be purely a commuter and light freight train. Because it would carry light freight this in turn would decrease the number of trucks on our roads. It would also decrease the number of buses on the roads as buses now are used to bring travellers from Lithgow to towns out west.
As the Mid-Western Region's local and tourist populations continue to grow, restoring a safe, convenient and efficient passenger railway is a hot topic. It's no secret that the tracks aren't in great condition, which is why we must do a full cost-benefit analysis before taking on such a large-scale project. As a member of a community who wants to see more accessibility to the region, I am passionate about exploring every avenue to make this dream a reality. I'm just also realistic that it will take quite a bit of research, planning and lobbying for State funding.
Many will know that I fought for the re-opening of the Kandos-Rylstone section of the Gwabegar Line so that it could be used by the heritage rail sector boosting the visitor economy in the Kandos-Rylstone area. In 2017, the with support of Paul Toole and an allocation of $1.1m the short section Kandos-Rylstone was returned to operational status and limited to 40kmph with axil load limits.
It is a long held ambition of mine to see us offering a more diverse range of experiences to those that come to our beautiful region. My 6 years of service on the board of Mudgee Regional Tourism and many, many, many discussions within the heritage rail sector tells me that rail has a great story to tell. And that is why I, through Kandos Museum, formed the idea of the "Kandos-Rylstone Rail Heritage Precinct" with the goal of establishing a multi-function rail heritage facility attracting 30-40,000 visitors per year. A real boost to Kandos and Rylstone, boosting and diversifying our regions visitor economy.
The importance of railways extend past the visitor economy. The re-opening of the Gwabegar Line Kandos-Gulgong to enable scheduled passenger and freight services needs careful consideration. Fact, fiction and figures have been bandied about for years - particularly figures. The most recent ones vary from $30-400 million to open the line again. Top, bottom or pick the middle - it's a lot of money. And for my money you would need to think about the what it means to spend that money pretty seriously.
We need a transport plan for Mid-Western Regional Council. Presently we have a traffic committee, all well and good, but it is not a plan. Big changes are on their way, such as the widespread rollout of Electric Vehicles, changes that will have a profound effect on how the transport needs of residents, visitors, agriculture and business are met.
If elected to Council I will fight for the formation of a transport working group within Council to deliver a transport plan, including rail, to meet the transport needs of Mid-Western equitably and sustainably now and into the future. Old engineers adage: failure to plan is a plan to fail.
We have a committed team of rail enthusiasts in our region which I fully support. Whenever the opportunity presents itself, I make certain to the powers that be that Council fully supports rail to recommence services.
I am not against rail re-opening in our region; however, I would need to see the minute detail of how it would all work before I could say that I unequivocally support it. I can see how it would fit in to an overall strategy to open up our region to other areas in the state, and to make our region more connected within itself. I would also need to understand what types of trains and infrastructure would be required to make the option viable in the long term as the world moves away from the use of combustible fuelled transport such as diesel.
Though many haven't seized on the opportunity (electric cars are more media friendly!) rail will be a key factor in reducing Australia's carbon footprint, including hitting our net zero target by 2050. Given the public support for environmentally friendly solutions, increasing community understanding of this fact will contribute to support for rail expansion.
While the Federal Government led Inland Rail initiative won't traverse the Mid-Western LGA, I would like to ensure that our region benefits as much as possible from nearby freight and logistics movements. We'll have closer and faster access to markets north and south of us, and connections for local businesses to valuable export markets.
In regards to local rail, reopening existing rail lines is a popular concept that is proving hard to achieve. I love a good challenge and am a natural problem solver. I would love the opportunity to work with the subject matter experts to help pursue our region's dream of rail access to Mid-Western localities and beyond (i.e. ultimately Sydney). In the meantime, using existing but not functional rail routes for outdoor recreation has been well received within the community, and is something I'd be keen to pursue further for those routes unlikely to be utilised for rail movements
Interestingly the rail link that stretches from Gulgong through to Rylstone and Kandos is one of the only links in regional NSW not currently in operation. If we look at European countries as a benchmark, there is undeniable evidence that connecting communities is extremely beneficial for local economies. Reinstating the rail link would be far too expensive for Local Government (nor is it their area of responsibility), but I believe Council can play a very important role in lobbying various levels of Government to see the line brought back to life.
I see that funding for this type of project is very likely to become available in coming years, and with the help and support of groups such as Mudgee Region Passenger Rail Inc, a solid business case could be presented to make this a reality. I'm also very fond of the rail trail concept, but I think any movement on this front is entirely depended on ARTC, the State Government, and the intentions they hold for the future of our existing rail network. As much of a great idea as it sounds, I'm not sure that this will be the direction that other departments will be inclined to take.
As a point of interest, Gulgong is a major intersection for the entire rail network, with many trains already passing through the area to head west, or to return from the west back through to Newcastle. As the line runs adjacent to the industrial area in Gulgong, a significant opportunity exists to open up opportunities for many local industries, and to capitalise on the rail infrastructure.
This is more of a challenge in relation to affordability and requires interaction with ARTC - recent bus connections have had mixed results. I see this as a potential tourist opportunity and would continue to explore this if this is a high priority for the community, however cost v return would have to be a major consideration.
It is vitally important that our community and visitors have a variety of ways to travel to and from the region, and our businesses have additional freight options. Restoring the rail line will make a positive contribution towards diversifying the range of transport options, especially important when regional roads and other parts of the rail network are closed.
I am fully supportive of reviving the rail line, especially if it can attract strong passenger and freight demand. The opportunity to operate tourist trains as well as a regular passenger services would add another feature to our region's tourism offering. Even better if the development of rail trails can be included in the rail corridor/easement for benefit of our community and cycling visitors alike.
Advocacy will be essential and a willingness to collaborate at all levels of government to achieve the reopening of the line. I have no illusions that this will be a long-term project and will face opposition from many people in government who do not have the same vision as Mudgee Region Passenger Rail Inc.
I would like to develop a whole of region strategy for rail lines that crisscross our area and explore the opportunities for both freight and passenger transport. Perhaps there are industrial/freight opportunities and jobs for Gulgong, Kandos and Rylstone areas based on its existing rail infrastructure and will, in turn, support the reopening of the Rylstone to Gulgong line.
The rail corridor would be better utilised as a walking and cycling track given there is an increasing demand for open spaces and recreational areas; with water and shelter made a priority along the routes.
Projects where a train might travel between towns (Kandos and Rylstone) or (Gulgong to Mudgee) and encourage tourism and assist to revitalise our towns with an associated historical focus/working exhibition would be welcomed. Build the infrastructure, keep the jobs local and create job opportunities.
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