PROPOSALS for a new railway line to take freight trains out of suburban Newcastle and Lake Macquarie have been around for decades.
The bypass gained new impetus more than 20 years ago when BHP unveiled the first plans for a Newcastle container terminal, joined to the main rail system by a spur line along the river to Hexham.
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Since then, the Lower Hunter Freight Corridor, as it's now officially known, has been at the top, or close to it, of the Hunter Region's "big projects" wish-list.
Even so, it's taken until this year for the NSW government to release its preferred route for the 33-kilometre bypass, and to open its plans to comment.
Despite the historic support this project has enjoyed in the Hunter, the details now available indicate that without a spur line joining the Port of Newcastle to the bypass, a rail freight bypass might help Sydney more than it does the Hunter.
The main planning document released so far, a Draft Strategic Environmental Assessment, says that as well as a bypass helping shift freight from road to rail: "There would also be improved access to markets from regional areas, particularly export through Port Botany."
As far as Adamstown and Clyde Street level crossings are concerned, congestion may not ease as much as expected.
The same assessment says removing freight trains will allow an "increase (in) capacity for passenger rail services in suburban Newcastle".
The NSW government's hostility to a Newcastle container terminal is well known.
Unfortunately, however, the track joining Mayfield, Tomago and Hexham requires three bridges across the Hunter River, as a map of the council's proposed route shows above.
Alternatively, Tomago could be joined by its own spur line, needing only one bridge.
Government progress on the bypass is undeniably welcome.
But the best planning result would be to continue the route past Hexham, and on to the port.
To not do so, looks like an act of wilful blindness.
Transport for NSW Lower Hunter Freight Corridor website here
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