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Locals face more neglect

Wednesday, 30th March, 2016

Broken Hill’s train station will become unmanned under proposed cuts by the state government. Broken Hill’s train station will become unmanned under proposed cuts by the state government.

By Andrew Robertson

A plan to make Broken Hill’s train station permanently unmanned will disadvantage the city’s most vulnerable citizens, according to a union.

The government yesterday confirmed Broken Hill would become one of 12 “unattended” stations under proposed changes that would also see staff cuts and hours reduced at another 19 stations.

The Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) said the stations under threat currently service the XPT and Xplorer services run by NSW TrainLink and are all in rural and regional areas.

It said that apart from the loss of one part-time position locally, the downgrade would hurt the very people who most rely on train services to get around the state: the elderly, the disabled and the disadvantaged.

“When Broken Hill becomes unattended, there will no longer be any staff available to assist passengers with luggage, provide information about services, or to assist should there be safety or health concerns,” union spokesman Richard Mehrtens said.

Mr Mehrtens said the union “got wind” of the planned cuts last Thursday but was only able to have them confirmed by the government yesterday.

He said they were another nail in the coffin for an already neglected country train network.

“There’s been no investment in the XPT and Xplorer (services). We’ve been asking for a number of years for a new commitment to actually replace these up to 30-year-old trains.

“There has been I think a neglect (of) the regional network that has seen these sort of cuts made at least viable by the NSW government, but definitely not deserved.

“This is just another way for them to ‘look, no one uses these services anymore’. Well of course no-one’s going to use them when they rock up to a train station and no one’s there to help them with a bag or tell them when the next train is, if there any delays or if there are any issues.”

Mr Mehrtens said despite the government’s best efforts, regional train services were still a popular and affordable form of transport for many people.   

“One of the things we’ve seen over a span of five years now (is) reductions in the length of XPT and Xplorer trains.

“They’ve gone from seven carriages down to five which is squeezing people out of trains because these trains do fill up.”

The government has also recently been winding up TrainLink’s third party contracts with other service providers, including coach companies, according to Mr Mehrtens.

TrainLink workers are also used to provide those services and the union fears the winding up of the contracts will give the government another excuse to make the cuts.

“If these staff are only servicing ticket sales or NSW TrainLink it’s an easier case to make for getting rid of them then if they also serviced coach routes, coach ticketing, tourism ticketing and other third party services,” Mr Mehrtens said.

He said union organisers would visit the 12 stations earmarked for closure over the next two weeks to update staff on how the planned cuts would affect them.

The union’s secretary Alex Claassens said that the cuts would hurt towns and leave workers with few other employment options in regions already struggling with unemployment.

“Some of these stations have been operating for more than 100 years, and now the Baird Government will be ripping away jobs and services from our regional communities.”

The union now wants Nationals MPs to voice their opposition to the planned changes.

A spokesman for TrainLink said the proposed changes were subject to consultation with staff and their unions and there would be no changes during the review, which is expected to take three to four months.

“Any staff member affected by the review will not be required to leave the organisation for at least 12 months,” the spokesman said. 

“During this period they will receive the appropriate support including job readiness advice, retraining and general financial guidance.”

The BDT attempted to contact Member for Barwon Kevin Humphries yesterday but was told he was in an area where there was no phone coverage.

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