Tonight I wish to discuss public transport, specifically train services, in relatively broad terms. Public transport options, or lack thereof, are a major concern for the Blue Mountains community. The last revision of and changes to the Blue Mountains timetable took place in October 2013 without consultation with the community. It is not good enough. Public transport impacts on every aspect of life in the mountains for many people. We are a series of villages spread across a ridge line, and the train network is integral to our moving about.
Consider this: On most days 59 per cent of Blue Mountains residents leave the area to commute and work in Sydney, the Central West or surrounds. Our travelling workforce is faced with two choices to get to and from work. They either travel in their cars, which can take hours on congested roads and is stressful and environmentally unfriendly, or they journey by train—a good choice for the environment and, in theory, the stress-free choice given our train network should offer a high level of certainty that people can travel safely, comfortably and arrive on time.
Currently the trains servicing the Blue Mountains are prone to breakdowns—more breakdowns than ever before—and they are crammed. Trains have only four carriages, a cut from the previous eight, and they are old and run down. Maintenance of trains and our network is not the strength of this Government. During a particularly bad rain storm earlier this year, a train packed with Blue Mountains commuters broke down not far from where I live, between Lawson and Bullaburra, not for 10 minutes but for more than an hour. As if this were not nightmare enough, the trains leaked, and water poured down the sides and from the roofline, leaving commuters stranded in the dark and wet. Our trains should be reliable, they should be regular and, in 2015, they should be waterproof.
The Blue Mountains relies on tourism, and the hospitality industry is one of the top three employment sectors in our community. In this industry people can work long distances from their home at unusual hours, and they work well into the night. Our train service is poor, and the bus service is irregular and non-existent at night. This makes it especially difficult for young people who do not drive. Youth unemployment is growing in the Blue Mountains, and transport is one of the issues exacerbating this. Take the grandson of Christine, who is 17 years old and has casual employment in a cafe at Leura. He is in year 12 at school and hopes to gain an apprenticeship as a chef. The distance from Blackheath Station to Leura Station is 14 kilometres. On Friday evenings, for example—nights he has to work—there is a two-hour gap between trains and there are no buses.
The train timetable for the Blue Mountains needs a significant overhaul. I will be working to ensure the voice of our residents is heard and listened to during the yearly review process. Most specifically I will be arguing strongly for the Westmead stop to be reinstated on our daily timetable. "Mind the Gap: A Report into the Upper Blue Mountains Train Timetable", prepared by Blackheath Area Neighbourhood Centre and The Getting Around in Community Project, which is based at Mid Mountains Neighbourhood Centre, indicate that the upper Blue Mountains needs, at the very least, an hourly train service in both directions.
Let us consider a mother living in Mount Victoria who needs to go to the chemist in Blackheath with two young children in tow. She has a 20-minute turnaround to purchase urgent medication from the chemist and get back to the station for her return trip. A missed train means waiting for two hours for the next train. Let us consider the fact she has two small children so, presumably, has need for a pram. Depending on which station you are near, accessing the station can be impossible if you are in need of a wheelchair, have a disability, are using a bicycle, have luggage or are using a pram.
Most of our most popular train stations are only accessible via a long set of steps. When you do make it onto the train, a general problem for most passengers is the lack of storage and space, and access to the main carriage. We need to ensure access to our trains. The lack of visible security and cuts to security guards on the trains, leaving many passengers feeling vulnerable, are some of the issues I intend to raise in this place on behalf of the Blue Mountains community relative to the large problems that need addressing with public transport.