WITH the state election over there is an opportunity for Newcastle rail issue stakeholders to put polarised positions to one side and consider whether there is a better way to proceed in this once-in-a-generation opportunity to get rail infrastructure right.
Hunter Transport for Business Development proposes light rail in the existing corridor to Newcastle Station, as the way forward to achieving the middle ground. It could be a first step in installing a fully integrated public transport system extending the light rail network to Callaghan campus John Hunter Hospital, Jesmond and Wallsend
Effective public transport, notably rail, makes modern cities work and drives their development. All around the world cities are investing in better transport systems and building transport services first, knowing that commercial and residential development will follow.
Business people, developers and commuters need a fast, effective rail service to get people to and from work and to facilitate them spending money in the businesses and developments.
Infrastructure decisions are very important for governments, which have a serious responsibility to consider long term impacts.
It is vital to get this right to avoid the experience of so many American cities that removed rail and later had to spend billions of dollars resuming land and demolishing buildings to install new or light rail systems, desperately needed to make the cities work effectively.
Modern light rail systems are most efficient if they are built on dedicated corridors. As disclosed in the cabinet papers, the government was advised by its own Transport Department experts that light rail running in the existing rail corridor would be a superior option to light rail running in Hunter Street and cheaper by almost $100million.
Newcastle is fortunate that we have the existing rail corridor and a former rail corridor to Callaghan Campus and Wallsend that can be used for light rail.
Light rail along the corridor is a middle ground approach because it enables fences to be removed, crossings to be controlled by traffic lights and for people to walk across the lines.
This enables opening up the city to the harbour while retaining the vital rail services to Newcastle Station. If heavy rail services are retained the fences would have to remain.
We suggest that the heavy rail advocates consider the advantages that light rail offers and consider accepting light rail on the corridor to Newcastle Station providing the interchange is designed to enable crossing an island platform to join a waiting light rail vehicle for the journey to Newcastle Station.
If you make it harder to get into a city, people will not come. Businesses need people.
Cutting the rail and requiring people to use buses has already made it harder to get into the city. This will be exacerbated when the city campus and new court precinct become operational.
Light rail in the corridor can rectify this situation provided it is efficient.
The government has said its proposal is not about transport but about urban renewal.
This misses the point that effective urban renewal depends on effective public transport.
The middle ground approach requires some compromise by all stakeholders, and leadership. So, who will lead?
Alan Squire is a spokesman for Hunter Transport for Business Development. He will be among speakers at the Newcastle Institute ‘‘The Rail Stalemate’’ forum at Newcastle City Hall on Wednesday, May 13, at 6pm. Visit newinstitute.org.au