The Politics of the Shitkansen

Newcastle has been a Labor party stronghold pretty much forever - and people have been blaming all Newcastle's problems on this for about as long. "Sydney/Canberra takes us for granted, does nothing for Newcastle, because they know we'll always vote Labor. We need to kick them out to get anything done here!", so ran the thinking. Well, since the last NSW election, we've finally gotten the chance to put the theory to the test. For the first time the state electorate of Newcastle voted in a Liberal party representative, Tim Owen. And have things changed in Newcastle - the state issues of schools, hospitals, transport? Like fun they have, and nothing illustrates this better than the pitiful state of our rail link to Sydney, the notorious Shitkansen. Look. Don't we deserve better than this? Filthy carriages thirty years old, appalling toilets, no food or beverages available; all that could be borne, I guess, if the train didn't take up to three hours to travel the 165 odd kilometres between Sydney and Newcastle. And that's when it manages to complete a journey with no delays.

I've written fairly extensively on the Shitkansen's woes, and having invoked the wrath of the Shitkansen gods, I seem to have a curse placed on my head whenever I travel. Something always happens to screw up the trip. I've been "delayed indefinitely" for dead bodies and police operations; delayed at Gosford for hours on end with a tired cranky one year old after a train got tangled in the wires. I actually finished that post with "see you next time something goes wrong", and sure enough; on Saturday, heading to Sydney to see my aunt, uncle and cousin for the first time since 1995, my train was delayed because of emergency track repairs...then someone threw a rock at a window and we had to wait for the police...then finally at Gosford (always at flipping Gosford), someone stood too close to the edge of the platform and was sucked under the train as it pulled in. We were all ordered off the train and on to an all stops service, and got in ninety minutes late. Again.

What has changed in the two and a half years since the change of state government? Nothing at all. Now, there's not a lot they can do about the emergencies (although as the delay last year showed, the contingency plans when something goes wrong leave a lot to be decided). But why, for the love of god, is the train so bloody slow? High speed rail is touted as a solution, and it will be wonderful if it ever gets built, but we need and deserve faster trains now. There are things that can be done. Run a couple of down XPTs in the AM and back up in the evening, run a breakfast buffet, no stops between Morisset and Hornsby, charge maybe $25 each way; I guarantee you it would be successful. Even the V-sets that currently work the route can travel up to 160km/hr; whilst the track isn't up for that, I'm sure there's great stretches of the journey where the train can go much faster. Run more express services, with fewer stops (there is absolutely no reason why a train from Newcastle needs to stop at Epping and Eastwood, say, or even Wyee or Woy Woy). These are all things that could happen now, or soon, but neither Tim Owen nor the state government seems interested in doing any of them.

Buoyed by Owen's success, the Liberal candidate for Newcastle in the upcoming federal election, Jamie Abbott, is throwing her all behind an embarrassingly fervent saturation marketing campaign. The woman and her campaign volunteers are everywhere, at every event and in every shopping centre (including ones not even in the electorate) in the lead up to the election. But I don't know anyone planning to vote for her. The few I've heard say anything about it, though, parrot the same line "Labor has neglected Newcastle for too long - we need to kick them out to get our voice heard!". Really? That hasn't worked out too well so far, has it. No one who travels by Shitkansen would want to vote Liberal.

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