A freight rail line between Fassifern and Hexham should be planned to cater for future passenger services and to be extended to the proposed Port of Newcastle container terminal via Tomago and Kooragang.
They are the predominant views of Lake Macquarie and Newcastle councils' submissions to the NSW government about the Lower Hunter Freight Corridor, a proposed 30-kilometre rail bypass of urban Newcastle.
The project's consultation period closes today with hundreds of submissions expected to have been lodged since the government unveiled a preferred alignment for the 60-metre wide rail corridor in July.
Some residents living alongside the route have already spoken out about their concerns of potential property impacts, which the government acknowledges some of which would be unavoidable if the line is ultimately built, but the two councils' submissions - obtained by the Newcastle Herald - mainly focus on the project's potential benefits.
While the government only wants to confirm and protect a corridor, and admits the rail line could be decades away from being built, the two councils have taken a visionary view of their own in providing feedback.
Lake Macquarie council wants the government to plan for the line to carry passenger trains, as well as freight, and consider where stations could be built and how surrounding land might be able to accommodate future population growth.
City of Newcastle wants the line to be integrated with the huge industrial estate planned for Black Hill and has also called for the government to consider extending the line to the former BHP Steelworks site where the Port of Newcastle wants to build a container terminal.
The council has proposed a route through Tomago and Kooragang that would require three new rail bridges over the Hunter River.
Lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes said the council supported the Fassifern to Hexham route but the project needed to be broadened to meet the region's future needs.
"City of Newcastle sees huge benefits from the development of the Lower Hunter Freight Corridor, and the need to identify and protect land for its future development," she said.
"But it's crucial the future alignment of the corridor responds to the region's needs over the long term, particularly in servicing the Port of Newcastle and our emerging Black Hill industrial precinct."
The council's proposed route for the port link is a departure from past plans for a line alongside the river's south arm between the container terminal site and the existing Kooragang branch.
The Port of Newcastle envisions more than 50 per cent of container movements to and from its planned terminal to be by rail, but it has said it plans to use the existing rail line that runs through Mayfield and Tighes Hill.
A port spokesperson reiterated that view when the Herald asked for the company's submission, saying Port of Newcastle "believes that existing rail and road infrastructure is more than adequate for our future plans" but "recognises the advantages that a dedicated freight corridor would offer the region in the long-term future".
The preferred alignment for the freight rail bypass deviates from the Main North Line at Fassifern, utilises a 1.6-kilometre long tunnel and then cuts between Killingworth and Barnsley before mostly skirting the M1 Motorway until Black Hill.
It was one of four alignments shortlisted from a study that initially identified 11 possible routes.
Lake Macquarie council believes the future line should be able to accommodate passenger train services, calling for the government to consider station locations and surrounding land uses as part of the preparation of a business case for the project.
"It is recommended that transit-oriented development and multi-use opportunities are considered at this stage ... to ensure that the corridor can adequately deliver and service both freight and passenger services in the future," it said.
"This consideration needs to include train station locations.
"Opportunities for co-location of supporting industries that would benefit from direct access to the rail line should be investigated and planned.
"This could include maintenance yards, heavy industrial precincts, and multi-nodal logistics and freight distribution centres."
The council also wants the government to secure the required biodiversity land offset, which could be up to 1000 hectares, as a matter of urgency and expressed concerns about the line's impact on private properties and Aboriginal heritage sites.
Newcastle council said environmental, noise and heritage issues should be addressed now, rather than at the detailed design phase.
Both councils expressed concern about how the future rail line, extended M1 Motorway and Richmond Vale Rail Trail would integrate, but the government has stated all three infrastructure projects can proceed without greatly impacting each other.