Trackless trams are not worth pursuing for Newcastle and the NSW government should press ahead with a light rail extension, state Labor's transport spokesman Chris Minns believes.
Mr Minns, who has been critical of the government all but ditching a planned second stage of the Parramatta light rail, has likened that situation to Newcastle where the government explored an extension of the city's 2.7-kilometre line but appears to have very little interest in pursuing the project.
"It's in now, so we think the government should be getting on with really detailing how the light rail route will expand and how they'll pay for it," Mr Minns told the Newcastle Herald on a recent visit to the Hunter.
"This is a bit of a perennial issue, particularly when it comes to light rail, they sort of get halfway - like Parramatta - and stage two, stage three get cancelled, but they can point to a little bit of progress and they can say, 'oh well, job's done'."
In a sign of the government's waning interest in capital-heavy light rail, Transport Minister Andrew Constance recently touted trackless trams as an option for Parramatta's second stage instead of a fixed line.
Asked if that technology was more suitable for Newcastle rather than extending the existing tracks, Mr Minns said: "No, I don't think so."
"I think that was a pretty cynical excuse not to go ahead with what was a solid promise," he said of Mr Constance's comments.
A recently released Transport for NSW review of trackless trams found there were a number of impediments to using the technology, including a lack of suppliers.
The review warned that using trackless trams in Parramatta, likewise Newcastle, would "add travel time and inconvenience penalties for some trips" because passengers would have to switch to conventional light rail.
The government labelled a line to John Hunter Hospital as the "most suitable" extension route in a report last year, but said there was "no urgent need" for the project.
It said the 6.6-kilometre extension would cost between $900 million and $1.5 billion and "several prerequisites", like infill housing and the development of the Broadmeadow sports precinct, were required to reach a benefit-cost ratio above 1.0.
However, Mr Minns said it made "eminent sense" to begin planning an extension now, including acquiring necessary properties, even if it did not proceed for years.
"Then people can make investment decisions about where to build and buy, and [council] can make decisions about how they shape the city into the next couple of decades," he said.
"Taxpayers, people always say to me, governments think too short term. They don't lay out a plan or a vision.
"If capital is put to one side to eventually get the infrastructure in, it shouldn't be a huge stretch to put out plans for the future."
On the one-year anniversary of Newcastle light rail services commencing, Sydney-based transport and urban planning expert Garry Glazebrook told the Newcastle Herald the city's line risked becoming an "orphan" if it was not extended.
He said a potential extension lacked "a head of steam behind it", but was possible.
Mr Minns agreed.
"I take instruction from the MPs up here because it's their area and they tell me they don't want this to be a Disneyland train that people come and ride once," he said.
"We want to see it integrated so people can get, for example, from home to work.
"We know that the rolling stock is there, we know that it works and there is a staff that are already deployed and working, so to scale up and talk about future plans is not as much of a stretch if you are basically inventing a new mode of transport."