There’s the draft Local Environment Plan issues, the battle against coal seam gas and now Mountains environmentalists have turned their attention to the uncovered coal wagons making their way up and down the train lines.
“There are 16 coal trains every week, each with approximately 45 uncovered coal wagons, that pass very close to our homes, schools, preschools and shopping areas,” says Libby Blackburn of Cover the Coal Wagons, Blue Mountains. “That makes 736 wagons every week shedding coal dust in the air that we breathe.”
A 2013 Senate inquiry into the health impacts of air quality recommended that state governments instruct the coal industry to cover wagons.
Ms Blackburn wants “local MP Roza Sage to explain why this simple recommendation which would provide some protection for many Blue Mountains residents has not been implemented”.
“Our villages sit along the mountain ridge shared by the train line which means many Blue Mountains residents have a great exposure to coal dust,” Ms Blackburn, of Wentworth Falls, said.
Mrs Sage said she has not been directly approached but said the government “takes matters of public health extremely seriously”.
“This is why the NSW Environmental Protection Authority had the Australian Rail and Track Corporation investigate in 2012 and 2013 the effect of coal trains on air quality in the Hunter — where volumes of coal trains are significantly higher than in the Blue Mountains ... [but] University of Technology, Sydney Professor Louise Ryan’s recent analysis of the data found covering coal wagons would not significantly improve air quality.”
And the NSW Minerals Council has queried the value of covering wagons, saying research suggests it would be “an extremely expensive action” that would have little or no effect.
But Ms Blackburn has pointed at the inconsistency between road and rail haulage requirements, with the Roads and Maritime website insisting on secure tarping to cover loads.
Her small group is in the process of collecting signatures following a Hunter Valley community campaign to get 10,000 signatures to trigger a debate in Parliament.
Ms Blackburn said her group will “continue to try to force the state government to follow the recommendations of the inquiry”.
Mrs Sage said she would welcome hearing the group’s concerns “in more detail”.