NEWCASTLE councillors have endorsed the NSW government's preferred alignment for the Lower Hunter Freight Corridor but are divided over how the future rail line might be extended to the port.
The council unanimously passed a lord mayoral minute at Tuesday's ordinary meeting which expressed support for the government's proposed Fassifern to Hexham freight rail line.
The minute noted how the 30-kilometre line could help "dramatically alleviate" traffic congestion at the Adamstown and Islington railway crossings, and service the Port of Newcastle's proposed container terminal and the emerging Black Hill industrial area.
The minute followed council's formal submission about the project which includes a proposal for an extension to the port.
The proposed route runs through Tomago and Kooragang and requires three new rail bridges over the Hunter River.
It is a departure from a previously supported route along the Hunter River's south arm, which links the container terminal site with the existing Kooragang branch line.
Lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes (ALP) admitted development at the Steel River industrial estate in Mayfield West and the sale of old BHP land to the east had potentially prevented that route from now being used.
"Unfortunately there has not been a lot of investigation work on that corridor, nor preservation," she said.
While it was worth exploring whether that option was still possible, Cr Nelmes said much of the new route was already zoned to accommodate rail.
"We've almost been limited out of any options," she said.
"It's a win for the residents and their livability if we can remove freight rail from all of the suburbs of Newcastle.
"But it's also a win for the Port of Newcastle in that it protects their future operations. It allows them to be truly 24/7 with much less impact on surrounding residents."
Greens councillor John Mackenzie said the south arm route could make use of "some existing rail infrastructure" but the new proposal passed through the Tomago industrial area which had additional potential benefits.
Tomago Aluminium has been slated as one potential user of a Newcastle container terminal.
Cr Brad Luke (LIB) expressed concern that the Tomago-Kooragang option cuts through "quite valuable ecological land", but he said the freight rail bypass was of "extreme value to Newcastle" with or without a new link to the port.
Cr John Church (IND) said he doubted whether the new route would "economically stack up" given the bridge infrastructure that would be required and the area's environmental sensitivities.
He said he supported the freight rail bypass but took issue with the "promise" of it being used to "defer" any plans to address the traffic "bottlenecks" of the Adamstown and Islington railway crossings.
He said plans for an overpass at Adamstown had been "shelved" in recent decades on that basis but the freight line was still "at least a decade away, at best" from "becoming a reality".
Cr Mackenzie said regardless of which route the port link might follow it was a "a complementary piece of infrastructure" that went "hand in glove" with the long-planned freight rail bypass.
He said if a new port link was not built, and the Port of Newcastle ultimately developed a large-scale container terminal, "the [railway crossing] gates at Adamstown and Islington would never open".
He said it was not councillors' responsibility to decide which route was best, but to advocate for the link to be part of the Lower Hunter Freight Corridor project.
"I don't think it is productive for us, as councillors, to decide where the rail line goes - I think it's beholden on us to make the cases, to the extent that it doesn't make itself, for the need for that.
"Once we advocate the importance of that, then we can begin the process of identifying the best possible route."
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