By Paul Hemsley and Julian Bajkowski
Investment levels and the mature age of the equipment running railways in New South Wales have long been the subject of steam-era jokes, but the state’s signal-master-in-chief, Minister for Transport Gladys Berejiklian, has hatched a cunning scheme to turn out-of-date rolling stock into real tourism revenue.
The state government has announced it will create a not-for-profit company called Transport Heritage NSW that will show the history and heritage of the state’s railway system in an effort to attract rail buffs from overseas and over the border.
The proposed state-owned company has emerged as a result of a recommendation from an independent review of rail heritage commissioned by the state government that found that despite rail heritage having an “enormous capacity” to contribute to tourism and regional development in NSW, it has been held back by “poor governance, mismanagement, low morale and in-fighting”.
The heritage findings somewhat mirror the day-to-day operations of the present railway system in NSW, which has attracted criticism because of oddly timed track work interfering with the morning peak-hour rush, administrative problems within the new formed Sydney Trains and NSW Trains and new, airline-style uniforms apparently causing skin irritation for railway employees.
Although Ms Berejiklian’s announcement made no mention of the existing Sydney Tramway Museum and the Sydney Bus and Truck Museum, the state government has pushed for its planned organisation to be its own kind of institution that exhibits the history of trains and the railway in NSW.
The independent review also recommended that the NSW Rail Transport Museum, Trainworks and RailCorp’s Office of Rail Heritage be combined into Transport Heritage NSW; use the “underutilised” rail heritage site at Everleigh; and development of a plan for the Broadmeadow site.
The independent review also recommended that the state government use the establishment of Transport Heritage NSW as a “renewed effort” to recruit younger members.
The state government has accepted all of these recommendations.
Ms Berejiklian said the present arrangements for heritage in NSW are “simply not sustainable” and she is looking forward to a “fresh start for this important area”.
An improved rail heritage system in NSW has the potential to rake in significant revenue to the state economy if it performs in a similar manner to other states.
Ms Berejiklian cited that the independent review found that the rail heritage operator Puffing Billy in Victoria is a popular tourist attraction that contributes $50 million a year to the state.
“But in NSW the review found there are many lost opportunities, and it is time to change the way rail heritage is managed to realise its full potential and boost the contribution it can make to NSW,” she said.
“Rail has a long and rich history in NSW and the NSW Government is committed to ensuring that important heritage assets are preserved and maintained for generations,” Ms Berejiklian said.
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