IT’S a bit like the elephant in the room which few want to talk about.
Its name is Woodville Junction, and if there will ever be peace in our time on Newcastle’s volatile rail debate, many say Woodville Junction will be the deal-maker.
Woodville Junction is the expansive triangular section of land where rail services from Sydney and Maitland meet, to the west of Hamilton station.
The junction itself is no stranger to transport studies – numerous have included it in transport masterplans.
More recently it formed the basis of recommendations made by the Newcastle Herald-sponsored Hunter Independent Transport Study.
The centrepiece of the argument is simple: build a proper transport interchange in an area with enough room to accommodate it and run a light rail service out of there all the way into Newcastle along the existing heavy rail corridor.
To many, from all sides of the current rail debate, it is the answer, the compromise, the only workable solution to the region’s transport issues. The state government, however, remains staunchly opposed and is sticking solid to its plans for a Wickham interchange and a light rail route which will switch off the existing rail corridor at Worth Place and onto Hunter Street for its journey into the city’s east end.
Architect and urban designer Edward Duc was among those who worked on the independent transport strategy and is convinced Woodville Junction is the only way forward.
‘‘Most people outside of the state government agree that the Wickham interchange will be a disaster,’’ Mr Duc said. ‘‘The light rail down Hunter Street means spending tens of millions of dollars that don’t need to be spent.
‘‘Light rail can run on heavy rail tracks and that could be happening in Newcastle in just a few months. All the fences will come down, the corridor will be protected, the city will be connected to the waterfront.’’
A Woodville interchange could accommodate multiple storeys of commercial or residential space above it, he said, which could be sold to fund its cost. And the light rail route could be expanded in the future with links to the airport, the hospitals, the university, the beaches, the suburbs, the shopping centres.
‘‘You get a better public transport outcome when you build a properly designed public transport interchange, which Wickham isn’t,’’ Newcastle Greens councillor Michael Osborne said. He’s not alone in that view. The Herald has spoken to members of Save Our Rail and the Property Council who wholeheartedly agree but won’t speak publicly because their charters or boards have a different public line.
Kim Cross from Save Our Rail said her group’s preference was to keep the existing heavy rail service, construct new and improved ground-level pedestrian crossings, and build a bridge or tunnel at the congested Stewart Avenue intersection. But there’s a slight public nod to the Woodville Junction option.
‘‘In comparison to the Wickham plan [Woodville Junction] is a far superior option,’’ Ms Cross said. ‘‘I can see the validity in it. Save Our Rail doesn’t support it, but it’s better than having light rail in Hunter and Scott streets which is the worst option.’’
Asked why she thought the Wickham plan was better than the Woodville Junction option, Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian said: ‘‘The NSW government has worked with the community and consulted every step of the way on the revitalisation of Newcastle CBD, including the new light rail network and the Wickham interchange. We are committed to transforming the Newcastle CBD and boosting jobs and the economy with high quality, modern transport infrastructure and services.”
Nothing about cost, efficiency or operating comparisons.
A spokesman for Transport NSW said the Wickham interchange would ‘‘offer a seamless transport connection’’.
‘‘Woodville Junction was among the locations considered for a new transport interchange for Newcastle but was not selected for a range of reasons including: limited urban renewal benefit for the city centre due to its location; no significant customer attractions nearby; limited pedestrian access and limited residential catchment; and limited opportunities to extend the light rail in the future,’’ he said.
The location and final design of the Wickham interchange ‘‘will allow for the potential extension of the light rail network in the future’’, he said, while the associated light rail option ‘‘strikes the best balance of providing a quality transport outcome for customers while supporting revitalisation of the city centre and allowing the city and its waterfront to be reconnected’’.
And that makes for two elephants – one in the room and another outside which won’t be moved.
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