The Blayney-Demondrille (‘Cowra Lines’) railway served the Blayney, Cowra and Young area. While connecting the Main Western and Southern Lines, it provided rail access from the Central West to Sydney, Newcastle and Port Kembla. Maintenance of the line was terminated by the New South Wales Government in 2009. Five local councils: the Shires of Blayney, Cowra, Weddin, Young and Harden funded a feasibility study which reported a business case for maintaining the line. There was sufficient potential traffic to make the line viable. The State government obtained a consultant’s report which made similar findings. Following identification of economic, environmental and social benefits in a report from a Ministerial Taskforce, the State Government indicated willingness to restore the line as a public-private partnership. Tenders were called. Although private investors had indicated interest, the State Government terminated the tender process in 2015, deeming the investors’ plans not to be viable. The State Government had offered no monetary contribution to the ‘partnership’ despite the acknowledged viability of the line and the savings to be made by State and local government in road maintenance, social and environmental costs and potentially, human lives. Eight years on, the issue remains unresolved.
Revival of the line received strong support in the State Parliament during 2015. On 8 August 2016, the NSW Government announced $5 million funding to reinstate the line between Demondrille on the Main Southern Line and Maimuru, 6 kilometres north of Young.
However, it appears that the funding has not been made available, even after a cheque was handed to the councils. The State Government has required another study, funded by the councils, before work can commence. In February 2017, the mayors of two councils and the administrator of the newly formed Hilltops Council announced that a fourth study (including the Ministerial Taskforce) was underway.
The mayors remained optimistic about the outcome, believing freight traffic would be available and implying that the cost of reinstatement may be lower than earlier thought.
However, scepticism has been expressed based on the apparent recalcitrance of the State Government and the absence of policy guidelines for regional rail freight development. Described as ‘the 20 year road map’ by the then Transport Minister and now Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, and Duncan Gay, then Minister for Roads and Freight, the 2013 NSW Freight and Ports Strategy hailed the Cowra Lines revival process as a potential model for other situations. In 2013 the Cowra Lines project appeared to be a foundation for a policy which would enable all interested parties to work in a genuine partnership offering some degree of certainty. However, there has been no substantial progress; only ad hoc decision-making leading to failure to realise known potential to put freight on rail and enable rail’s cost advantage keep freight there.
The latest (2018) Freight and Ports Plan appears to have dropped the project. Nevertheless, the State Government funded another study which indicated potential for the line. The study findings have not been released. Subsequently, the Government has facilitated yet another study: the 'Cowra Lines Reinstatement Feasibility Study'. This one will be the fifth done on the line since 2009. We await its recommendations.
Without the railway, local, regional and interstate heavy vehicle traffic will continue to grow, with consequent safety and environmental impacts. Potential local economic development opportunities will be missed.
People may wish to make their views known to the New South Wales Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, the Minister for Roads and Freight and local parliamentary representatives directly or with letters to newspapers.
Suitable words for a message could include ‘Several studies have shown that revival of the Cowra Lines is an opportunity for the economic development of the Central West and Southern New South Wales. For too long, the Government has made promises but has failed to work in a genuine partnership towards bringing the people of regional New South Wales this much-needed rail infrastructure. Ad hoc decision-making is not working. Please ensure that decisive action is taken to reinstate this railway.’
You can send a message to Paul Toole, Minister for Regional Transport and Roads here .
You could also send the same or a similar message to your local member of the NSW Parliament. They are listed here.
Letters to the editors of newspapers, including The Sydney Morning Herald (email to: email@example.com) would also help to raise awareness of the issue. Some hints to help having letters published in The Sydney Morning Herald are available here.
Date Published: Thursday, 2 May 2019 8:15 AM
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