Work start urged as rail talkfest rolls on, poll

THE state government has been urged to kickstart urban renewal in inner Newcastle using the original $120million it promised more than a year ago to truncate the heavy rail, while it decides on a light rail route.

Property Council of Australia Hunter director Andrew Fletcher said the government could start work on the heavy rail corridor and open up new connections across it, using $120million it allocated from its Restart NSW and Hunter Infrastructure and Investment Fund in December 2012.

At the time, the money was committed towards covering over the rail tracks and building a transport interchange at Wickham, with buses to replace heavy rail.

The government has since announced it will lease the Port of Newcastle and use $340million of the at least $700million in anticipated proceeds to install light rail instead.

Now, about a year out from the next election, there is still no construction date for the project.

But UrbanGrowth NSW, which is involved in the GPT redevelopment in Hunter Street, will begin consultation about three light rail routes, including a new ‘‘hybrid’’ option combining two initial proposals of using either the heavy rail corridor or Hunter Street to Pacific Park in Newcastle East.

Trains will terminate at Hamilton or Broadmeadow while the new interchange is built.

A shuttle bus service would run either via Hamilton or express to Newcastle station during peak-hour.

It appears light rail would be built after the interchange is done, with the information stating ‘‘customers will be able to use the interchange to exit their train and walk a short distance to a bus’’ that would run a shuttle to Newcastle.

Mr Fletcher questioned why work to remove the heavy rail and corridor intersection upgrades couldn’t start almost immediately ‘‘if we are going to have to use buses instead anyway’’.

‘‘There’s plenty the government could be doing while it consults about its light rail option,’’ he said.

Hunter Transport Improvement Association member Graham Boyd said it had written to Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian seeking assurances bus services down Hunter Street wouldn’t cease at the Wickham interchange to inflate patronage once light rail was built.

Cost estimates have not been disclosed, although the Hunter Street light rail route would cost significantly more.

A Transport for NSW spokesman said the detailed estimates were still being compiled as part of a business case.

UrbanGrowth’s information points to cost being a crucial factor.

The new hybrid route ‘‘costs less to build than the Hunter Street option but more than the rail corridor option’’.

Yesterday Ms Berejiklian talked-up the government’s swift progress with its $176million extension of light rail in Sydney’s inner west.

‘‘When we say we are going to build a project, we will build it,’’ she said.

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