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It took just one newspaper headline for all hell to break loose.
On January 17, 1979, West Australian premier Charles Court announced the closure of the Perth-to-Fremantle passenger train line.
He blamed low ticket sales and suggested ripping up the tracks to make way for a "super freeway" and a new bus service.
It triggered the biggest public backlash Perth had experienced up until that time.
"There was no prior notice, no warning, no report, no letter saying it was going to happen," Curtin University transport expert Peter Newman said.
"There was just a front page saying, 'we're going to close your railway'."
Professor Newman was a 33-year-old Fremantle councillor when he picked up the paper that Tuesday morning and quickly became the face of the "save the train" campaign.
Local historian Lucy Hair said protests broke out in the streets in the hours following the announcement.
"It was immediate; there was a very strong and swift response," she said.
"There was a petition organised and it reached 110,000 signatures in a very short space of time.
"The community was very clear that it was a very unpopular decision and they were going to do whatever it took to reverse that decision."
Turkey blood, sweat and tearsProfessor Newman established the Friends of the Railway group, and for eight months it campaigned for the railway to be kept open, expanded and electrified.
The campaigners tapped local bluegrass group Turkey Sweat to record a protest song called The Great 1979 Train Robbery.
"It seemed to be a very hot topic — articles were appearing daily in the major newspapers," Ms Hair said.
"This wasn't just a Fremantle issue, this was a much wider community issue."
In the meantime, unions banded together to enforce a blanket ban on contractors ripping up the tracks.
Russian invasion fearsProfessor Newman said Court government insiders leaked confidential and explosive information to him about the decision.
"A public servant came to me and said, 'look, I've got to tell you the real reason behind this'.
"He said, 'we need to build this freeway to get tanks from the Special Air Service Regiment in Swanbourne very quickly down to the naval base in Rockingham for when the Russians invade.
"He sort of whispered it to me because it was difficult for him to say.
"He really did think that was about to happen at any day.
"I looked at him and I just said, 'I've heard of some pretty stupid reasons for political decisions that bring governments down, but that beats them all'."
Last train to FremantleOn September 2, 1979, more than 1,200 people turned out to watch the train make its final journey from Perth to Fremantle.
"It was packed; we walked through the gates for the last time and they shut those doors," Professor Newman said.
"It was a very sad thing to see.
"A lot of people were wearing black, wearing black armbands — they felt this very deeply."
The campaign continued for almost four years until then-opposition leader Brian Burke pledged to reopen the line if he won the 1983 election.
"The morality of the Court government at that time was defined by closing the railway down," Professor Newman said.
"I always thought they would change their mind because it was so stupid.
"But in the end we had to admit they had made up their mind and they were going to sink or swim with it — and they sank."
Reopening a 'huge party'Labor surged to power off the strength of the train campaign, and by the end of July 1983 the people of Fremantle got their wish.
"It was a great treat when those gates reopened," Professor Newman said.
"I sat in the crowd and I just smiled."
Ms Hair said the city celebrated well into the night.
"There were people dressing up, there were special events, hotels in Fremantle were offering special railway lunches, there were souvenir tickets and booklets issued," she said.
"It sounded like a huge party. There was a lot to celebrate."
Train well used 40 years onIn 2018, almost eight million journeys were made on the Fremantle train line.
"The fact that a major railway line closed for almost four years is almost inconceivable today," Ms Hair said.
Professor Newman said: "You talk to people on this railway now, they love it.
"You take it away and they've lost something that is deeply part of them.
"This was something people loved, and they still do."
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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