Newcastle rail bypass mooted in freight and ports strategy

 A NEWCASTLE rail bypass would be investigated as part of efforts to separate passenger and freight trains and get rid of bottlenecks, under the state’s first freight and ports strategy.

A draft of the strategy, which is open for comment until February next year, was released this week.

The strategy does not specify a route for the bypass, but previous proposals have specified a Fassifern-to-Hexham route.

A bypass would remove freight trains travelling through the Adamstown and Islington rail crossings.

The strategy also says a proposed fourth coal terminal at Newcastle is still needed, with suggestions ‘‘port constraints may impact on production as soon as 2015’’.

The final version of the strategy will be released in the first half of 2013.

Ports and roads minister Duncan Gay said the expected doubling of the NSW freight task to nearly 800million tonnes by 2031 highlighted the need for the plan.

But the government was accused of short-sightedness in state parliament, when Labor and the Greens criticised the move to lease Ports Botany and Kembla for 99 years.

Legislation enabling the privatisation passed the upper house late on Wednesday after the government did a deal with the Shooters and Fishers Party MPs for changes to duck hunting laws.

The government said the lease of the ports was vital to free up funds for new infrastructure.

Greens MP Cate Faehrmann said the government’s lifting of the cap on container movements through Port Botany to maximise the lease proceeds would kill off plans for a container terminal at Mayfield and clog the roads at Botany with traffic.

‘‘The government has provided no compelling reason as to why it is not investing in Newcastle, for example, upgrading port facilities and rail capacity in that regional city,’’ she said.

Ms Faehrmann cited the comments of Greg Cameron, a former BHP Newcastle executive, that the need to export increasingly more empty containers was a significant commercial opportunity for northern NSW but a logistical problem for Port Botany.

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