Rallying for our railway

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EXCLUSIVE: Yass Junction Railway will change to an unmanned station under a NSW TrainLink proposal to take advantage of increasing online bookings.

Eleven coach and train stations across NSW will become unmanned stations, while another 20 will have significant staff cuts, it’s proposed.

Yass Junction will lose its one daytime employee, while stations at Goulburn, Canberra, Wagga Wagga, Junee and Cootamundra will have reduced staff.

Scoop has been told voluntary redundancy packages are already being calculated and sent to some staff, although TrainLink Chief Executive Rob Mason disputes this.

The proposal aims to modernise regional rail services and provide “better value for money” in areas where there are low level face-to-face ticket sales, patronage and workloads.

Yass Junction was founded in 1876, and is situated several kilometres north of the town. At the time, tram and steam locomotive services connected the junction to the town centre.

It is currently open from 10.30am to 4pm weekdays and receives about 25-30 customers each morning, many of them commuting via coach from Canberra, and continuing by train through to their destinations.

It remains unclear whether the stations will be locked up or left open but unsupervised. There are concerns both ways.

Locking up the buildings will force commuters to walk around the back of the entrance building to get to the platform, and force travellers to wait in typically gusting high winds year-round and freezing conditions in winter. They would also be denied access to toilet facilities.

If left open but unsupervised, the valuable historic buildings become more vulnerable to acts of vandalism.

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There are concerns removing station staff will disadvantage the elderly and disabled who rely on face-to-face assistance too.

Mr Mason told Scoop TrainLink was prepared to listen to community views on the matter, and stressed it was just a proposal at this stage.

“It’s only a proposal, the station itself won’t close. If this was to become an unattended station, nobody would leave the organisation for 12 months. We would go through a re-deployment process in the public transport sector … and try as much as possible to find another role for the person.”

In the meantime, there would be no change to the XPT or coach services using the station.

He was aware of the potential problems of leaving an open station unattended, but hoped in the future that technology would assist.

This included CCTV and the installation of “help points” that would remotely open toilet blocks or where travellers could speak to an operator in Wollongong.

Yass Railway Museum chairperson Robert Frank told Scoop he thinks Yass Junction should remain staffed, although Railway Heritage Centre member Alf Atkin said he is surprised it has lasted this long considering the automation of services back in the 1990s.

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“It should be manned. I think it’s nice to have some sort of security there, particularly when you get there 3.08am in morning and you are on your own, there’s not a sole around the place,” Mr Frank said.

“I know it costs a lot of money [to staff], but people’s security is another thing. It’s handy to be able to go out there and buy your ticket, as I’m not an online person. Over the phone is hard too, especially if you don’t have a bankcard or credit card,” he said.

He feels he will now be without a means to purchase a ticket.

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But Mr Atkin, opposed to the move, conceded we’ve been lucky to have it manned as long as this.

“We were very lucky to have anyone out there for past 10 years. When they automated the Junction in the 1990s, they were supposed to lose all staff then.

But they brought someone in from Countrylink – in some ways it’s surprising it lasted as long as it did.”

He felt it was discriminatory to computer illiterate people to limit bookings to electronic means.

“To me, I’m opposed to it because not everyone is computer literate.

“It’s the same as the electricity bill, they charge an extra $1.75 per quarter if you don’t get it online and need a paper copy. To me that’s discriminatory.

“Not everyone knows how to use a computer, I know it’s hard to believe in this day and age, but there are still a lot of people out there who are computer illiterates.”

The station is currently unmanned on weekends and during nights.

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Rail, Tram and Bus Union branch organiser Mick Cartwright said elderly and vulnerable travellers will be the worst affected.

“The sad part with Yass Junction station is that it will be closed and there will be no one there to sell tickets, no one there to assist people or help people with luggage.

“The local members of parliament has been saying everyone is booking online; unfortunately most elderly people do not like using credit cards online, don’t know how to use a computer, and a number of families don’t even own a computer.

“They rely on having someone there to help them to book their seats and book their luggage through to their destination. People with wheelchairs rely on someone there to pull ramps out for them.

“The Junction is in an isolated area. Waiting for a train there can be very intimidating, with no telephone access for them, with no supervision there it creates a place where people don’t want to be.”

Mayor Rowena Abbey agreed, saying her major concern was the elderly and or disabled who do not have access to internet services or are unable to use it.

“It is also a problem for many as our internet coverage is not as reliable as most of would like.”

Scoop did not receive a response from Goulburn MP Pru Goward.

Shadow Transport minister Jodie Mckay believes the move to be another example of the National Party abandoning rural and regional railway.

“Eleven coach and train station locations will be closed in regional and rural areas of NSW and a further 20 locations will have reduced man hours resulting in up to 60 job losses,” she said.

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Katharyn Brine

Editor / Publisher

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