This month Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced Westmead Hospital would be transformed into a modern, multi-level facility under a major redevelopment for western Sydney putting $120 million on the table and asking the Coalition state government to match it in a dollar-for-dollar scheme.
But the Blue Mountains health professionals relying on peak hour trains to get to work at the hospital say it won’t matter much if the new state government timetable, now set to be released on October 20, cuts out services to Westmead and some stations in the Mountains.
Opposition Minister for Transport Penny Sharpe said Blue Mountains access to Westmead Hospital will be cut under the new timetable. The draft timetable, the first major significant change to Sydney’s rail system since 2005, was leaked to Fairfax Media back in May.
Westmead Children’s Hospital Care and Support Project co-ordinator Wendy Edmonds met with Ms Sharpe last Friday at Lawson Railway Station to discuss the timetable changes. She commutes three hours a day and may now need to add an extra five hours commute to her week.
The proposed timetable changes could see six services a day skip the following stations: Bullaburra, Lawson, Woodford, Linden, Valley Heights, Warrimoo and Lapstone.
Ms Edmonds relies on a 6am morning train at Lawson and a return train at 4.23pm from Westmead, trains she says “are both going”. She and others in her small department commuting from the Mountains had changed their working hours to fit around the trains which will now not stop at Westmead.
Limited work opportunities mean she may have little choice but to drive —”and there’s a seven year waiting list for staff parking at Westmead”.
“I’ve emailed every politician I can think of,” Ms Edmonds, 50, said.
“There isn’t employment in the Mountains. It’s really important to recognise so many people in the Mountains need to work away from the Mountains, all of us need to advocate for far more frequent train services.”
Ms Sharpe said “health facilities are one of the largest trip generators and that this hasn’t been taken into account in the timetable is grossly inadequate. If the state government had actually deigned to talk to the people ... this would have been ironed out beforehand.”
Ms Sharpe visited the Mountains back in June saying commuters would face increased travel costs next year when the pay-as-you-go Opal card is brought in. At the time State MP Roza Sage told the Gazette her government had “already delivered eight additional weekend train services to Mountains commuters since coming to office.” “Ms Sharpe seems to forget train services in the Mountains were slashed under Labor.”
Labor candidate for Macquarie, Susan Templeman, said the state government’s decision to skip Westmead has been “the most talked about issue at Mountains railway stations for weeks [with] one Mid-Mountains man already talking about having to move away to be able to catch a direct train to Westmead”.
“The stops to Westmead were put in by Labor when the hospital was developed. How appalling that at the same time we announce Federal funding for a major redevelopment of the hospital that the fight is on again.”
Mrs Sage said the new timetable “remains in draft form meaning any changes are yet to be locked in. I know the Minister for Transport, Gladys Berejiklian, is continuing to work with transport experts who are developing the timetable based on demand.”
She said thousands of changes had been made to the draft in recent months and more were possible in the lead-up to the release of the final timetable.