ACT News

Constitutional reform mooted as ACT's heritage railway society changes track

Two members of the council that runs Canberra's historical railway society have already stepped down to make way for new blood ahead of a general branch meeting in six weeks.

Garry Reynolds, the secretary of the ACT branch of the Australian Railway Historical Society, said all council positions would be declared vacant when the fresh elections were held.

President Peter Anderson says the ACT branch of the Australian Railway Historical Society will have to make difficult ...
President Peter Anderson says the ACT branch of the Australian Railway Historical Society will have to make difficult decisions about the activities it can take on.  Photo: Jeffrey Chan

"We are looking at a managed transition to ensure continuity and stability [for the organisation]," he said. 

The current council had been staring down the barrel of a vote of no confidence at its next general meeting following a virtual membership revolt at a special general meeting that lasted for 6½hours on December 19.

Speakers at that meeting, the minutes of which were leaked to Fairfax, said there was a disconnect between current management practices and the challenges of running a business with 32 staff, an annual wage bill of $900,000, and $2.5 million in annual turnover.

"The society is now a 24/7 business and has outgrown itself," one member reportedly said.

Mr Reynolds said the resignations, made at a meeting of the 10-member council on Tuesday, were the first step in creating a fresh council with a clear mandate and the full support of the membership.

A transitional group, made up of some serving councillors and possible candidates for election, will manage the branch in the interim, with more members standing down to make room for candidates in the coming weeks.

"The best way [to prepare for the election] is to bring candidates on board so they can get some hands-on experience," Mr Reynolds said. "That way, whoever ends up on council will have an understanding of the issues."

Some current and former council members are expected to contest the election.

The council is to meet again on Thursday to discuss operational matters, including the business plan, that have driven the high level of dissent.

The society's chief executive, Alan Gardner, on Wednesday reaffirmed previous assurances the organisation was viable.

"The numbers of passengers [on train tours] was up by 47 per cent in 2015," he said. "The number of people visiting the museum has doubled. This is because the recommissioning of the City of Canberra [the largest operational steam locomotive in the southern hemisphere] has attracted national and international interest."

The society had also locked in a contract with Access Recycling to ship almost 100,000 tonnes of scrap steel from Canberra to Sydney annually.

A strategic business plan, which will make binding recommendations over the ways in which income is spent, is seen as crucial to the organisation's future.

Many speakers at the December meeting said they were concerned about the way limited resources were being spread across a wide range of refurbishment and restoration projects to the detriment of the society as a whole.

One speaker, who took part in a comprehensive audit of rolling stock in 2011, said earlier attempts to rationalise assets had failed.

"People resisted making the hard decisions [if it involved getting rid of their favourites]," he said. "The outcome was no cars were disposed of due to the vested interests of various members."

Branch president Peter Anderson agreed: "Council will have to make hard decisions regarding activities [to be] pursued and equipment [to be] refurbished within the society's resources. Some people who have favourite projects or pieces of rolling stock may be upset."

Mr Gardner said the primary challenge was to shift the organisation on to a more commercial footing so it would have the means to continue its work as a society of enthusiasts dedicated to preserving the ACT's rail heritage for decades to come.