What is interesting to me is that it was something I never heard about, at that time I was at Delec & working primarilly as a relief Chargeman while also driving. Mid year I got my drivers appointment on the ETR, & that section was in turmoil as well. As a group of Senior inspectors from both Mechanical & Traffic branches, where formed as hit squads, provided with cars to travel around the state, & raid depots, yards Stations, Signal boxes, or anywhere they saw fit, an open licence to drop in & were given authority to suspend without pay any employee they saw reason to do.
I spent four and a half years in the Orange District as a relief ASM between 1975 and 1980 including two periods as Acting Senior Traffic Inspector at Broken Hill. I have never heard of the hit squads referred to by a6et.
What did happen, though, was that in about 1974 the government repealed the legislation restricting competition between road transport and the railways. There was no way the railways were ready for this as it came as a surprise. But even if they had known about it well (like 2 or 3 years) in advance, they would not have been able to compete on branch line traffic.
Branch lines were diabolically inefficient and generally had too little traffic to warrant upgrading. For example, Bulk Loading (The main inwards freight to most country destinations from Darling Harbour) came up to Dubbo overnight but then took another full day to get to Cobar or Bourke. It took a full shift to go from Dubbo to Nyngan and then another shift to Cobar or Bourke. Then there was the same performance coming home.
One station I worked at a number of times was Brewarrina. The line had been washed out in 1974 and the service had been replaced by PTC trucks. We ran two semi trailers and a flat top truck for fast freight from Bre with passengers being catered for by a half passenger/half freight bus based at Nyngan. We could send a semi to Nyngan, do a pick up from a consignor's wool shed, unload at Nyngan, load if anything was available and be back home in one shift. The driver would assist with loading and unloading. Compare with the train where the grazier would have to bring the wool to the station, load it before the train got there. The train would arrive and any loading would be checked and rectified by the train guard.(Roping wool bales is a bugger of a job but at least when I leave Bunnings my load always stays on. I learned well) Then the train with 3 men on board would dawdle off to the main line and ultimately complete a one way trip in the time a truck could do a round trip.
And so it went on. Branch lines were too expensive to operate and gave the customers a lousy service. The cuts in the country were necessary to stop wasting taxpayers money that could be better spent on hospitals and schools.
People may have hated Shirley, Reiher and the rest but they did a necessary job on an organisation that had been run largely by people who had no external experience and no incentive to be imaginative.
I could name the loco inspectors involved in the hit squads but not the 4 traffic inspectors. Several of the Locomotive Inspectors have now passed away, but a couple of them one of them especially were fairly reverred by railway fans. It would do no good in naming them in public.
Two of them though I worked with on several occasions when the squads were disbanded, one of them when being passed to go from ETR back to the Diesel section, along with several test load situations. During one of the times when we were on the loco together on those tests we talked about the squads, where he told me that out of the group which included 5 from the diesel section along with one from ETR along with 3 from the traffic branch in the main hated the role they were assigned to do, when the squads were disbanded which followed a late night raid on Rozelle goods yard, where prior information was given regarding the inspection, when the 2 loco inspectors along with 1 traffic inspector got towards the top of the yard short of Victoria road bridge the lights went out, & the three of them fell down the embankment but sustained no injury, after a short while the lights came back on, but they had dissapeared.
The inspector told me that was the catalyst for the disbanding of the squad. Those involved found it difficult to adjust back into their jobs which was reorganised.
The aspect with some of the branch lines, & Bre certainly was one of them, that by the time of the road transport had gained their second wind, following the much earlier removal of the road maintenance tax which had been put onto road transport to make it harder on them to compete with road, along with the more powerful rigs, road certainly offered a service that could not be bettered by rail, for the reasons you mention.
Thing was that were quite a few other branch lines that were doing the opposite, where they existed in areas where grain of various types was grown, along with the other quanities of general goods as well. Under Shirley these lines were targeted by mass withdrawal of old 4 wheel RS, without any new bogie vehicles coming in to replace those withdrawn, it created an artificial shortage of RS, with clients, many of them long term being turned away. The concept of Low volume branch line came about, with the rider saying they needed to be grain lines. The next step was the turning away of grains such as sorghum, oats, barley from rail haulage with wheat the only grain being hauled, this led to the Hill edict which was the final axe when he had them classified as Low Volume seasonal wheat only lines were not sustainable. They had already turned away all other products that built up the lines with full loads being the norm, the death by slow and systematic strangulation achieved what had been planned in the days of Shirley.
Thing is all is in the past now, but the worst of it is that nothing was nor has been learned from what happened. By the end of Shirley's first year the big achievement was the simple fact that the cancellations of goods trains was becoming a thing of the past, no more shortage of locomotives or goods rolling stock, owing to less trains were needed through lower goods haulage. That can be seen in the annual reports that had to be published & made available to the public & put to the state government for the budget.