MPs vow to find a solution to rail question

THE Hunter’s Coalition state MPs insist they will find a way to work together on plans to revitalise inner city Newcastle, despite a dispute about the future of the rail line creating a clear divide.

Four of the region’s five Liberal state MPs publicly backed blunt comments from Infrastructure NSW chairman and former Liberal premier Nick Greiner this week that the rail line had to be removed for the city centre to improve.

‘‘So you’ve got a choice. You leave the CBD looking a bit like Beirut on a bad Friday night, or you get rid of the rail line. I do think it’s as simple as that,’’ Mr Greiner told a Hunter Valley Research Foundation function in Sydney on Wednesday.

Mr Greiner couched the remarks as his ‘‘personal view’’ and said the rail line was not within the purview of Infrastructure NSW, which Premier Barry O’Farrell has tasked with drawing up a 20-year infrastructure strategy for the state.

Planning Minister Brad Hazzard is instead considering plans for the rail line and the city centre.

MPs Andrew Cornwell (Charlestown), Garry Edwards (Swansea), Craig Baumann (Port Stephens) and Tim Owen (Newcastle) said yesterday Mr Greiner was ‘‘stating the obvious’’ and they had put similar views to Mr O’Farrell.

However, Maitland MP Robyn Parker and Upper Hunter Nationals MP George Souris, both ministers, remain against the idea, based on the potential impacts on rail users in their electorates.

Mr Owen said he disagreed the city resembled Beirut but reiterated he supported a move to light rail.

Mr Cornwell said the region had an unemployment rate of less than 5 per cent, but ‘‘from the city centre you’d think it’s 25 per cent’’.

Removing the rail line would improve urban design, he said.

Mr Edwards said he wanted to see the rail corridor and adjacent land retained as public space but backed removing heavy rail.

Mr Baumann said the rail line ‘‘should have been removed years ago’’ and cost estimates produced under the former Labor government of up to $500 million for its removal and a new Wickham terminus were ‘‘ridiculous’’.

Ms Parker is refusing to support changes to heavy rail services unless they are replaced with light rail.

She said yesterday Maitland’s roads were under pressure from commuter traffic and the government should be encouraging transport use rather than removing infrastructure.

Ms Parker said the city could still be revitalised with the rail line in place, as it could help move students into a proposed city centre university campus.

Mr Edwards said he ‘‘can’t get my head around where Robyn and George are coming from on this’’.

But the MPs insisted they ‘‘work well together’’ and would respect their varied positions.

The federal Coalition’s regional development spokesman and Paterson MP Bob Baldwin backed Mr Greiner as ‘‘talking sense’’.

Mr Baldwin said yesterday the O’Farrell government should not wait until the ‘‘11th hour’’ before the next state election to announce plans for the city, and the federal Coalition would, if it won office, be keen to receive any NSW funding submission for Newcastle.

Wallsend Labor MP Sonia Hornery gave notice of a motion in state Parliament yesterday calling on the government to explain how removing transport infrastructure would benefit the city.

She opposed former Labor Newcastle MP Jodi McKay’s efforts to have the rail line removed to Wickham.

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