From the back roads out west to the country music capital of Tamworth, from the far north to the revitalised city of Newcastle – almost everywhere you look across regional NSW, there’s something exciting happening with roads and public transport. Transport Mode meets the proud people behind the projects that are connecting our State.
It’s fair to say over the past few decades that transport in regional NSW has been struggling to meet the needs of the local communities.
For too long our plans focused on getting people on the long journey to and from Sydney. That’s left many locals disconnected from their regional centres and with limited travel options close to home.
But we’ve been working hard to turn this around. Now we have a fresh 40-year vision for roads and public transport in regional NSW. A plan that’s focused on creating better connections between towns and regional centres, as well as providing flexible, customer-focused local public transport. Our plan is also focused on improving the efficiency of our freight network. All of this is making it easier for people to get to work, study and appointments, or even just catch up with friends and family.
The most exciting thing about our plan is seeing it come to life. Right across the State, we’re building and upgrading infrastructure, revitalising communities and finding new and innovative ways to provide public transport services to meet their needs.
Behind every project or new initiative is a dedicated team of people who are passionate about making things better for locals. Here are some of their stories.
The long road north
Colin Solomon has dedicated 35 years of his life to improving roads in regional NSW and has spent the past 20 years with Roads and Maritime on the Pacific Highway upgrade, our biggest regional road infrastructure project.
When asked what keeps him motivated the answer is simple: improving safety.
“Back when this project began, around 50 people were dying every year on the Pacific Highway – that’s about one person every week,” he said.
“This year, we are still in single figures. We haven’t reached our target of zero, but it’s a huge improvement and something that keeps me getting up and going to work every day.
“With the project now 81% complete and four lanes in place all the way from Newcastle to Grafton, it’s amazing to see the positive impact this one project has had on the whole North Coast.
“I’ve seen previously bypassed towns come to life and reinvent themselves, and I’m hearing the community say that a trip to Newcastle or Sydney isn’t as daunting as it used to be because now it’s faster, easier and safer,” Colin said.
Over the years, Colin has worked all over the Pacific Highway, but now he’s back in his home town of Grafton working on the Woolgoolga to Ballina stretch of the upgrade that is due to open in late 2020.
“The end is in sight now and motorists who travel north are looking forward to getting the same time savings and safety benefits we’re already seeing down south.
“On a personal note, this will likely be my last project before I retire so it’s bittersweet. I’m immensely satisfied with what we’ve all achieved, but I’ll also be leaving behind some of the best teams I’ve ever worked with,” Colin said.
Wendy Lee has seen a lot of change in the 34 years she’s spent as a Customer Service Attendant in Tamworth. But the one thing that has stayed the same is the satisfaction she gets from helping customers.
Since March this year, Wendy has been thrilled to be able to offer her customers return coach services from Tamworth to Dubbo, Port Macquarie and Newcastle, as part of NSW TrainLink’s regional coach trials.
“People are really grateful for these services,” she said.
“In the past if you wanted to go from Tamworth to Port Macquarie you’d have to go to Maitland, wait four hours for a connection and end up arriving in the early hours of the morning. To get to Dubbo you had to stay overnight in Sydney.
“Now we have a customer who’s been able to visit a cousin in the central west for the first time in 30 years because neither of them could manage the drive before – but now it’s possible.
“We’ve got grandparents who can now visit their grandchildren on the coast,” Wendy said.
We’re trialling similar coach services between Goulburn and Sydney, Goulburn and Canberra, and Wagga Wagga and Albury to provide more flexibility and choice for people travelling between regional centres.
Changing lives in Dubbo
Sometimes the impact of what we do in the Transport cluster goes way beyond simply getting people or goods where they need to go. That’s something Justin Brooker is finding out as part of his work with Transport for NSW to build a new regional train maintenance facility in Dubbo.
“Over the next few years, we’re going to replace the ageing NSW regional rail fleet. That will deliver major improvements for customers, but for Dubbo it means even more because they’ll maintain all the new trains,” Justin said.
“The decision was made to build the facility here, not just because Dubbo is an important regional hub, but also because it will create long-term employment and business opportunities in the town.”
TfNSW is working with the local community to ensure we make the most of the employment opportunities in Dubbo. We’re identifying skill gaps and responding with what’s needed to increase local capability. We’re setting important but realistic targets for local employment, including our aim to positively impact the employment of the long-term unemployed, women in trades and Aboriginal people.
Being part of the Aboriginal Working Group set up to help guide this process is one of the things Justin finds most rewarding.
“It’s great to see the positive impact we’re already having just by involving the local Aboriginal community early and in a genuine way.
“The whole project is a win-win really – comfort, convenience and a much better outcome for regional rail customers as well as life-changing opportunities for the people of Dubbo,” Justin said.
Going the last mile
Brendon Reynolds from Transport for NSW knows a thing or two about how the produce we buy makes its way from the farm gate to your local supermarket.
Based in Wagga Wagga, Brendon works with everyone from producers to transport companies and local councils throughout Western NSW to make sure that goods are transported quickly and safely from farmers to supermarkets, cities and ports.
“Quite often it’s the seemingly insignificant first or last mile upgrades that make the biggest difference,” Brendon said.
“When we’re able fix those, it means cheaper products for customers at the supermarket and a better deal for farmers and agricultural businesses.
“For example, extending a rail siding might allow a grain producer to load longer trains to improve their productivity. And upgrading roads around a regional transport facility can provide access for bigger trucks to transport more product.
“It’s so rewarding working directly with farmers and transport companies to come up with the best outcomes in specific regions as well as for the State as a whole,” Brendon said.
Working on a major light rail project had been one of Josh Hartcher’s career goals for nearly a decade. So when an opportunity came up in Newcastle, a city he’s lived in for more than 20 years, Josh jumped at the chance to join the 3,000 individuals who would work on this transformational project.
“I knew that light rail had the potential to transform cities, and Newcastle had been crying out for change for years,” Josh said.
“There’s already been real change since the removal of the old rail line that has opened the city up. We’re now ticking off milestones every week as we work towards opening light rail to customers in early 2019.
“It will change how people move around the city. It will connect people to ferries, the new transport interchange and the bus network. Not to mention Newcastle’s beautiful harbour, beaches and restaurant precincts".
And locals say the light rail is already changing Newcastle for the better.
“We’ve got brand new pedestrian areas, design and landscaping, and I can already see more confidence and investment in the city,” Josh said.
Central Coast connections on demand
You know you’re doing something right when a customer says a transport service has changed their life. That’s the kind of impact a new ‘on demand’ public transport service has had on Central Coast commuter, Doug Sanger.
“Being able to book an on demand shuttle to take me from Ettalong into Woy Woy exactly when I need it has given me back about half an hour a day in travel time and now I get to spend that time with my family,” Doug said.
“I can also use the app as late as half an hour before I want to travel, which means if I get on a train in Sydney I can book my transfer to meet me at the other end,” Doug said.
This kind of feedback is music to the ears of Laurena Basutu from TfNSW who is part of a program that’s already delivered over 60,000 on demand public transport trips through 11 trials across NSW.
“What we’re doing is testing out a whole range of new, technology-based models for delivering public transport. It’s great to hear that customers are getting the flexibility and convenience they want," Laurena said.
“It’s also great to see the transport industry challenging itself.
“The trials have given us an awesome opportunity to partner with some small community transport providers, like the operators in Woy Woy who have proven to be true innovators in their field.”
Stay tuned for more ways we’re helping people to travel in and around regional NSW.