NSW Transport Minister Ms Gladys Berejiklian said: "I'm actually expecting support from many sections of the workforce in RailCorp, who want to have the layers of bureaucracy unpicked, who actually want to have the freedom to do their jobs properly." (www.smh.com.au)
Sydney ferries and buses too in the spotlight. Heath Aston writing in the Sydney Morning Herald stated: "If you believe every press release you read, the private sector is riding to the rescue of Sydney's derided public transport system."
This article goes on to explain how the NSW Government has awarded Sydney Ferries to a consortium of French companies, Veolia and Transdev, and our own Transfield. Aston says he predicted this in his January column.
He now reports that Sydney's $1-billion private bus industry is opening up the contracts of suburban operators to competitive tendering for the first time claiming financial burden on government in providing transport would lessen while services for commuters would improve. (www.smh.com.au)
It is rarely all that it seems
Well-Being Australia chairman Mark Tronson has an avid interest in such issues and notes that Heath Aston went on to explain, that the last Coalition-led transport privatisation was in 1994, when the then Liberal transport minister Bruce Baird signed off on the $900-million Airport Rail Link public-private partnership.
Aston stated: "During the election campaign a year later, Baird famously boasted the rail line would not cost taxpayers ''one cent''. Within six months of opening, AirportLink was in receivership. It has cost taxpayers $800 million."
Moreover, Heath Aston recognises there are two sides to this story: He cited that Transfield was fined $121,000 by South Australia's Transport Services Minister Chloe Fox last week. This came as a result of mass public outrage over late and non-existent bus services run by Transfield.
"Can you believe what was claimed next," Mark Tronson noted: "There are calls for bus drivers to issue ''late slips'' to workers after complaints by bosses over widespread lateness. Can anyone imagine a bus driver issuing late for work notices to beleaguered commuters for their bosses."
Moreover the on-time status for trains is a perennial issues watched by all and sundry with any interest in these matters.
The questions: (1) Is throwing money at it the answer? - which includes the privatisation option; (2) How best to cut costs acknowledging the current move to reduce 750 RailCorp bureaucratic personnel. '
NSW Transport Minister Ms Gladys Berejiklian said "This multi-layered bureaucracy stifles innovation, slows decision making and makes it more difficult for employees to do their jobs.'' (www.smh.com.au)
Moreover, no reasonable person disputes there is a need to revamp the structure when, in a related news story, it was revealed that - it took one full month for RailCorp to make a decision on which "broom" to purchase for railway platforms.
Then and now
Mark Tronson, now 60, was a locomotive engineman on the NSW Government Railways for 10 years prior to entering seminary. He's been a Baptist Minister for 35 years, earning two doctorates along the way, and has now written 16 books on Railways.
He was stationed initially at Goulburn Depot where he fired steam on the main south line and transferred to Port Kemble in 1969. Taking trains into the Sydney metropolitan area was a regular part of his duties.
"In my time, Milton Morris was the coalition NSW Transport Minister and what many did not realise, was that his brother was a locomotive engineman.
"The Coalition Government at that time balanced rail passenger and freight demands with their feet on the ground and this in my view, was due to the Transport Minister having a listening ear to the grass roots," Mark Tronson explained.
No one doubts today that Government and free enterprise will inevitably work together in major Australian transport situations, whether that be metropolitan mass transport needs or intrastate or interstate freight and obviously rail lines for minerals transported to coastal export terminals.
A dog's breakfast
For example, major rail companies today have huge freight contracts. Many of them either have their own fleet or lease their locomotives. So what was once the arena of State Railways, with their own fleet of diesels (and respective State liveries). Today freight trains are regularly seen with four to six locomotives and each sporting a different livery. It's a dog's breakfast.
So too is much of the philosophy that governs rail policy, says Mark Tronson. In his view, the "liveries issue" simply reflect the shambles of the system. It's like a suburb where the yards are unkept and shabby, compared to a community with self respect where attention is given to detail.
Moreover, always, without exception, detail controls the larger function.
Mark Tronson noted that in his era (late 60s to late 70s) the NSW and suburban train on-time statistics were "on-tap" to the Railway Commissioner and the media and those on-time statistics were important - like the suburbs whose residences have a self respect about their properties. Even the diesel locomotives were regularly cleaned (there's that point about detail again) and the liveries were State based and exhibited with pride.
Nothing was more appropriate than the blue and white QR diesel livery illustrating the Sunshine State (there's that detail issue again).
Again, without exception, detail controls the larger function.
Balance is an issue for reflection
There was one significant difference in his era, Mark Tronson says. There was a better balance and Milton Morris grasped this.
To explain further, Mark Tronson refers to two different dimensions of railway working. The first, in his era, the suburban train was basic to the need. Today's suburban trains might be likened to cruise ships. Who can afford to ride on them, who needs such luxury when travelling from suburb to suburb? Moreover, they cost an arm and a leg to (1) pay for them, and (2) to run them.
Would an incumbent Government lose even one vote on a comfortable yet basic suburban train. But would they lose votes to commuters if their specific train was consistently running late? One person who understood this was Milton Morris.
[ As an aside, infrastructure, says Mark Tronson, such as new rail lines is a cost that every Government of every era (regardless of colour) must find money for, and those expenses are both perennial, necessary and beneficial in the long term. ]
The other matter is a little philosophical. Mark Tronson has earned two doctorates so philosophy is within his grasp. He says that Australia is neither Europe or Japan who transport millions upon millions of people in relatively confined geographical spaces. The Australian continent is so vast one can fit Europe within its continent island borders. Yet our population is minuscule.
The balance today is way off course says Mark Tronson. He asks, why do we need hugely expensive XPT trains where the power engines, might stand for hours on end in idle.
Surely the economies of scale better suit having passenger trains hauled by locomotives running at 115ks (on the limited straight track there is in Australia in any case) where those "revenue earning power units" can be put to use with revenue trains upon arrival. In other words, a diesel can immediately get put to work on a freight train.
Moreover, as someone who has travelled extensively by rail either as an engineman and as a passenger, the heavier the train the more smooth the ride. Large passenger saloons regardless of speed are very comfortable.
A good dose of realism
Australian railway tracks have difficult topography of vast mountains and innumerable wide rivers and enormous distances. One day, there may be a separate railway track for high speed trains between Sydney and Canberra / Sydney and Melbourne. The population needs would hardly support any other sectors, but the costs of the road toll and that of injury rehabilitation might swing the balance. More so, public opinion is a strong factor in such far reaching decisions.
A good dose of functioning realism is required says Mark Tronson. Just three examples, first, millions could be saved by not employing super expensive cruise ship type suburban trains; second, more sensible long distance locomotion usage; and third, the micro (the detail) affects the macro. The micro plays a huge role in confidence in the big picture.
John Brew the former State Rail CEO wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald last week: "Our flagship long-distance trains, the XPTs, were introduced in 1982 and are 30 years old. What plans are there to replace them with a new generation train?" Mark Tronson says this is the ideal time now to reconsider the nature of passenger services as many of the European trains John Brew speaks of in his article are locomotive hauled.
Balance is what seems to have been lost in Australia's transport decisions. Proverbs 29 verse 18 says Mark Tronson leads the way: "Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint."
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html