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Friday, 8 May 1942

Mr PERKINS (Eden) (Monaro) . - Some time ago, I directed a question to the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) regarding the inconvenience caused by the curtailment of country train services, and the honorable gentleman said that on account of the war that must be expected. I find it difficult to understand why the State authorities have drastically reduced country train services. On the Cooma line, there were formerly six trains a week, and I recently saw a train arrive at Cooma from Nimmitabel with 16 or 18 persons in one compartment. Trains leaving Cooma for Sydney have been similarly crowded. The station-officer at Cooma stated that it was practically impossible of late to pack into the trains all of the persons who wished to travel in them. The Cooma service has been reduced to four trains weekly, and on the section from Cooma to Bombala only three trains a week are running. Bega, an important coastal town which is serviced from Nimmitabel on the Bombala line, has had a daily mail service from Nimmitabel, but this has now been reduced to three mails a week. In the last few days, the mail contractor agreed to carry the mail from Cooma, on the fourth day free of charge - but the Postal Department has declined that offer, although Bega is the largest town in Australia not connected with a railway. In the early stages of the war, Bega supplied more recruits for the fighting forces than even Canberra, which is four or five times larger in population. Cooma made the highest contribution per capita to the Liberty War Loan of any town in New South Wales, and the reward of both centres is to have their mail services curtailed. Can it be shown that much saving is possible by leaving an engine and carriage idle on alternate days? All that could be saved would be a few bucketfuls of coal. Railway transport has considerably increased during the war, because of mistakes made by various Government departments. Men who enlist in New South Wales are frequently sent to training camps in Victoria, while Victorians are often despatched to New South Wales for training. This has contributed largely to the crowded conditions now experienced on all trains. Passengers are frequently seen standing in the corridors. I cannot see that that is going to win the war, or help in the winning of it. It is very hard if country folk are to be punished by having railway services curtailed because coal-miners may go on strike. I ask the Minister to look into this matter with a view to seeing whether some relief cannot be granted while still maintaining our war effort. The people are prepared to pay their fares, and it cannot be claimed that there is a shortage of rolling-stock, because the carriages are idle when these trains are not running.

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