Reforming the railways

THE NSW government’s decision to split the state’s passenger rail services in two might be a step in the right direction, but it should go further.

The government wants to slash management jobs in the state’s creaking and outdated rail bureaucracy and introduce more efficient work practices.

Declaring that Sydney’s rail needs are totally different from those of other parts of the state, Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian has proposed separating the existing operation into two parts.

Based on the findings of an independent inquiry into Hunter public transport concluded last year, a case could easily be made for taking the split further and creating a Hunter – or perhaps a northern NSW – transport authority headquartered in Newcastle.

It needn’t be confined to rail. Indeed, it should take responsibility for passenger trains, buses and ferries.

To really achieve what the government wants and what the people of the Hunter need, this body ought to be given an appropriate proportion of the funds currently administered from Sydney and a board of management composed of Hunter people.

As the regional study observed, Sydney bureaucrats have a poor record of making good decisions on Hunter transport. That’s not surprising, since they live in Sydney, work in Sydney and answer primarily to Sydney-based political masters.

Permitting this region to make its own decisions and allocate its own funds would re-empower the community and create many opportunities for efficiencies and improvements that have long eluded capital-city bureaucrats.

From matters as basic as timetabling to those as complicated as determining priorities for future public transport investment, the Hunter can do a better job of running its own affairs.

A good example of the benefits of such a template – when compared with the flawed centralised model so long tolerated – can be found in the state’s area health services. Chronically underfunded the Hunter New England Health Service may be, but its capacity to make key decisions for the region, in the region, indicates the gains available in other areas of state service provision.

Stockton beach

IT is sobering to hear the verdict of coastwalker Rachel Klyve, that Stockton beach is the most polluted piece of the 600 kilometres of NSW coastline she has so far trekked.

This is despite periodic clean-ups of the beach that routinely yield tonnes of waste and despite earnest pleas by the National Parks and Wildlife Service to treat this remarkable bight with respect and care.

A minority of fishers, four-wheel-drive enthusiasts and picnicking groups, it seems, must bear much blame for the mess.

The reality is that Stockton beach has become much more heavily used in recent years than ever before. This suggests the need for more regular beach cleaning patrols and, perhaps, more weekend blitzes by patrolling rangers with the power to issue fines to litterbugs.

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