NSW, Festival running out of steam
NSW, Festival running out of steam
13/10/2008 8:30:00 AM
Escalating costs continue to cloud the future of Hunter Valley Steamfest as the popular event heads into its 24th year in 2009.
The cost to hold the event has more than doubled since 1999, with increasing price tags attached to a newly introduced Rail Corp fee and to bring heritage engines to Maitland.
The trains alone have increased from $35,000 to $110,000.
The viability of the event could be further affected by the availability of the Newcastle engine road to allow return steam train trips between Maitland and Newcastle.
RailCorp has indicated that the line, which allowed trains to “run around” the carriages and change direction, would be unavailable in 2009.
Scrapping the journeys, cutting the trips at Broadmeadow or bringing in another engine to run push/pull services could affect the lucrativeness of the long-established service and one of the most popular during the Steamfest weekend.
A report will be presented to tomorrow’s Maitland City Council meeting to enlist the help of Maitland MP Frank Terenzini, tourism minister Jodi McKay and transport minister David Campbell to find a solution.
The report suggests approaching RailCorp for a capped fee of $5500 for the next five years to ensure the medium-term viability of the event, as well as requesting a Train Operating Conditions Waiver for the use of the Newcastle engine road.
Steamfest chairman Peter Garnham said Rail Corp introduced the fee because of increased costs to the organisation associated with holding the event.
He said initial quotes were more than $20,000 before action by Mr Terenzini resulted in a reduced $5500 fee last year.
“What they (Rail Corp) are saying to us is they have the costs of extra security at every railway station that they are required to put on under their duty of care,” Cr Garnham said.
“We’re saying to them, that’s fine, but we don’t get any other support (to hold the event).”
Maitland Tourism manager Rachel MacLucas said a five-year agreement would allow organisers to forward plan.
Steamfest attracts more than 80,000 visitors to Maitland and the Newcastle trips were among the most popular.
“They give people flexibility to spend some time in Newcastle, then come back again,” she said.
Cr Garnham said opening the engine road was not only important for Steamfest, but for bringing heritage services to Newcastle.
Newcastle City Council has also written to the transport and the tourism minister to support their bid for the restoration of the engine road.
“We fought the fight last year to have it opened,” Cr Garnham said.
“Obviously for us, it’s a significant cost to bring another engine to Steamfest (to run a push/pull service).
“I’d rather it be used to pull extra carriages than following another engine to Newcastle.”
Next year’s Steamfest will be held on April 18 and 19, with limited train excursions on April 17.
A draft timetable is expected to be available soon.

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