ROCK RODENTS

The lat­est in a num­ber of rock-throw­ing in­ci­dents along the north­ern stretch of the Newell High­way in New South Wales has led to re­newed calls for the au­thor­i­ties to act.

Owner Driver - - Front Page - Cobey Bar­tels re­ports

IT WAS 4AM on Oc­to­ber 8 and, for Queens­land-based op­er­a­tor An­drew My­ers, it was look­ing like a reg­u­lar trip south through Moree along the Newell High­way.

Then, sud­denly, three males started throw­ing large rocks at his Mack for no ap­par­ent rea­son.

“One broke my weather shield, one hit the driver’s door, and one came through the wind­screen and split my head open,” My­ers tells Owner//Driver.

The re­sult for My­ers was a trip to hos­pi­tal and six stitches, which he says would have been a lot worse if he hadn’t slowed to 40km/h af­ter see­ing the of­fend­ers.

“The rocks are bal­last off the rail­way line, so they’re big rocks – if I were do­ing 100km/h, I wouldn’t be talk­ing to you.”

Ac­cord­ing to My­ers, the is­sue isn’t get­ting any bet­ter and the wire fence sep­a­rat­ing rock throw­ers from the road is be­ing cut within days of re­pair.

“I’ve got blokes who have had it now hap­pen in day­light, so it’s es­ca­lat­ing.

“There’s a fence on the rail­way side and they just keep cut­ting that.

“When I got hit, it had been cut for a while and they did go on to fix it but it got cut back open within a day.”

Op­er­at­ing as a small busi­ness owner run­ning three trucks, with a fourth on the way, has put My­ers in a dif­fi­cult po­si­tion be­cause he isn’t will­ing to send his driv­ers along that strip of high­way.

“I limit driv­ing through there and, if I do have to, it’s dur­ing day­light hours.

“I don’t send my driv­ers through there, I’m putting them at risk of a known is­sue if I do, and I won’t do it.”

The Newell High­way be­tween Moree and Bog­ga­billa has long been known as a no­to­ri­ous stretch of road within the road trans­port in­dus­try.

Act­ing gen­eral man­ager and di­rec­tor of plan­ning and com­mu­nity devel­op­ment at the Moree Plains Shire Coun­cil, An­gus Witherby, says he’s aware of driv­ers avoid­ing that area and tak­ing the wide ve­hi­cle by­pass in­stead.

“We have com­mu­ni­cated with the RMS [Roads and Mar­itime Ser­vices] and sug­gested that if driv­ers do use that route, could the RMS tread lightly,” Witherby says.

“With­out en­cour­ag­ing that, I fully un­der­stand if driv­ers make that choice.

“Our town ab­so­lutely de­pends on freight, we de­pend on agri­cul­ture and we are ut­terly de­pen­dent on the truck­ing in­dus­try.”

My­ers has been in dis­cus­sions with the Moree Plains Shire Coun­cil, the RMS and the local com­mu­nity about the rock-throw­ing is­sue, a com­mit­ment based on his own ex­pe­ri­ence.

“On be­half of the kids that are do­ing it, they just need to stop be­cause some­body is go­ing to get killed.

“Peo­ple have died from rocks in the past, there’s been about three I know of, one in a car two in trucks.”

Truck driver Mark Evans was a vic­tim back in 1998 when four large rocks smashed through his wind­screen while trav­el­ling un­der the Glen­lee Road over­pass on the Hume High­way south west of Syd­ney. Evans was killed in­stantly.

My­ers says truck driv­ing is dan­ger­ous enough as it is.

“My father passed away 21 years ago in a truck ac­ci­dent,” he says. “We go to work to do a job and we want to get home safe.”

From a coun­cil per­spec­tive, Witherby says the is­sue is be­ing taken very se­ri­ously and it’s an is­sue that’s af­fected him per­son­ally as well.

“I know from my own ex­pe­ri­ence, af­ter I got a rock through my wind­screen driv­ing a truck, I flinched through there ev­ery time for 20 years.

“We take this very, very se­ri­ously as an is­sue.”

Witherby ex­plains that the fence on the rail­way side of the high­way is con­trolled by the Aus­tralian Rail Track Cor­po­ra­tion (ARTC).

“Fun­da­men­tally, this is an is­sue in­volv­ing the Aus­tralian Rail Track Cor­po­ra­tion’s line, and the RMS by­pass,” he says. “ARTC lit­er­ally re­pair the fence daily. “The coun­cil role is fun­da­men­tally one of fa­cil­i­ta­tion and also en­sur­ing co­or­di­na­tion be­tween the bod­ies.”

The Moree Shire Plains Coun­cil is tak­ing a big­ger pic­ture ap­proach to the is­sue of rock throw­ing, start­ing with greater po­lice num­bers and a fo­cus on both ed­u­ca­tion as well as en­force­ment.

“We be­lieve the sit­u­a­tion can be man­aged, and cer­tainly the num­ber of re­ports I’ve been get­ting have dropped off since the in­creased po­lice pres­ence has com­menced,” Witherby con­tin­ues.

“They’ve been suc­cess­ful in making a num­ber of ar­rests and this is send­ing a very strong mes­sage that you won’t get away with this in the long run.

“The po­lice view is also that there’s a ma­jor role for com­mu­nity en­gage­ment.

“They’re balancing it nicely be­tween the ed­u­ca­tion and reg­u­la­tion stuff, the two parts of com­pli­ance.

“We’re also work­ing with our Road Safety Of­fi­cer to pro­vide a pro­gram into schools next year.”

Witherby says that, in con­junc­tion with the polic­ing fo­cus, a grant from the RMS re­ceived in De­cem­ber is be­ing rapidly put to use, of­fer­ing prac­ti­cal so­lu­tions to the rock­throw­ing en­force­ment.

“We have a grant that we’ve se­cured from RMS and they put $95,000 on the ta­ble for CCTV and ad­di­tional light­ing,” he says.

“The po­lice force un­der­took and has re­cently com­pleted a site au­dit to iden­tify the best way in which CCTV can be used to pro­vide ad­di­tional mon­i­tor­ing along the cor­ri­dor.

“We’re ex­pect­ing to have this up and run­ning within a cou­ple of months.”

Witherby be­lieves chronic so­cial dis­ad­van­tage is con­tribut­ing to the rock throw­ing and this stems from changes to agri­cul­ture in the last 10 years where school leavers are un­able to find work.

“In ad­di­tion to what the po­lice are do­ing, we’re also work­ing with the Moree Boomerangs Rugby League Club, and they’re propos­ing a num­ber of pro­grams for kids in the af­ter­noons and evenings,” he says.

“We also had a visit from the Deputy Premier of NSW … and we dis­cussed th­ese is­sues with him as well.

“The un­der­ly­ing fac­tors be­hind it are re­ally quite com­pli­cated – how we deal with th­ese move­ment is­sues, th­ese cor­ri­dor is­sues, the noise.

“In the fu­ture, we need to of­fer that move­ment path that peo­ple re­ally want.”

The Moree Plains Shire Coun­cil has set up a data­base of ev­ery­body that has put through a com­plaint.

That data­base will con­tinue to ex­pand, al­low­ing bet­ter en­force­ment and plot­ting of in­ci­dents.

A spokesper­son from the RMS com­mented on the is­sue, urg­ing truck driv­ers that have ex­pe­ri­enced rock throw­ing to con­tact the au­thor­i­ties.

“Safety is the key con­sid­er­a­tion for Roads and Mar­itime Ser­vices, which is work­ing with NSW Po­lice, Moree Plains Shire Coun­cil and the Aus­tralian Rail and Track Cor­po­ra­tion into al­le­ga­tions of rock throw­ing along con­struc­tion of the Moree Town Cen­tre By­pass,” the spokesper­son says.

“Truck driv­ers who are aware of in­ci­dents of rock throw­ing or other crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity when driv­ing through Moree should con­tact the NSW Po­lice or emer­gency ser­vices.”

Head­ing south on the Newell through the Moree Plains Shire – the start of ‘rock-throw­ing’ coun­try

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