OPINION: See the light and embrace a bright future

WHAT does the future hold for the Lower Hunter in the form of public transport?

Well, unless the five Lower Hunter councils – Newcastle, Port Stephens, Lake Macquarie, Cessnock and Maitland  – plan for the future as a team, it will always be a disjointed, unproductive effort.

They need to look outside their local government boundaries.  A vision for a modern transport system for future generations is needed;  one that includes a  light rail network – an  efficient and environmentally friendly form of travel.

The five councils have the opportunity  to work as one    through their membership of Hunter Councils Inc.

That organisation  could oversee the establishment of a working party of professional people, including representation  from the NSW Government, to form a  public transport strategy for the Lower Hunter. 

Any such strategy should include planning transport corridors and making them sterile for future  light rail systems.

The plan should include an investigation into the possible use of existing rail infrastructure as a starting point – then opening up closed rail infrastructure, for example, the rail line to Cessnock. 

It also would provide a service to the fast-expanding new residential townships like Gillieston Heights and Heddon Greta. 

I envisage Kurri Kurri will be developed as a major commercial and residential area in the future, mainly due to its location near a freeway and the possibility of this giving the nearby Economic Development Zone the impetus to proceed at a faster pace. 

The opening of the former Toronto rail link to light rail would have the same benefits.

Light rail would be ideal to service the approved new town of Huntlee-Sweetwater near Branxton with a population of 25,000.

Then you have the approved expansion of Lochinvar, with a forecast population increase of 13,000 people, and soon  the large residential development at Farley to the south-west of Maitland.

The almost built-out area of Aberglasslyn-Oakhampton in Maitland on the northern rail line has no rail station for  its  new 12,000 residents. The possible expansion of a light rail to the townships of Paterson and Dungog may provide the incentive to service Aberglasslyn by reopening the former Oakhampton railway station.

A loop line to Newcastle University  would be a huge convenience for students  and will give them more flexibility in choosing accommodation. 

Finally, those future rail corridors need to service the residents of Raymond Terrace and Newcastle Airport at Williamtown and eventually Port Stephens.

The five Lower Hunter councils need to make this happen through Hunter Councils Inc, working as a team to achieve a first-class light rail transport network. 

With a plan on the table there is opportunity for  support from the federal government in funding for a regional infrastructure project.

The state government could share costs. It should also   give serious support to the formation of a working group to consider all transport options for the Lower Hunter and work closely with Hunter Councils Inc.

That would include funding any investigation. A possible  source of funding is the coal royalties collected from the Hunter mining industry.  

Ray Fairweather was a Maitland City councillor for 35 years.

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