Beach destination for light rail project, poll

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NEWCASTLE will get a light rail link to its coastline, with the state government narrowing route options down to two which would both end at Pacific Park in the city’s east, a short walk from Newcastle beach.

VISION: A map showing the two options for the light rail route in Newcastle and an artist’s impression, from 2010, of a new Wickham interchange.  Interchange artwork: AECOM

Light rail would run down either Hunter Street and through the mall or along the existing rail corridor and then Scott Street, under plans to be unveiled today  and opened for  consultation early in the new year.

But the government is sticking with Wickham as its preferred interchange location despite looking at sites at Hamilton and Broadmeadow.

It has decided that a new interchange further west would not provide as significant a boost to development activity and investment in the city.

Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian said the government had carried out a ‘‘rigorous assessment of a range of options’’ for the interchange that showed Wickham was best to deliver ‘‘urban renewal outcomes for Newcastle’’.

All transport services would be located  within a one-level interchange at Wickham, where there were  more than 11hectares of undeveloped land within 400metres and where the government was proposing a new central business district would be established.

Light rail services would run at least every 10 minutes.

‘‘An interchange at Wickham will offer customers convenient public transport with direct access from trains on the Hunter and Central Coast lines,’’ Ms Berejiklian said.

Other options  explored included a combined Wickham and Hamilton East proposal, under which Sydney and Central Coast  trains would terminate at Hamilton and Hunter line services would end at Wickham.

But that was ruled out because it would duplicate heavy rail and light rail services to Hamilton.

And  though a study done  for the previous Labor government indicated a Wickham interchange could force the closure of the Beaumont Street level crossing, the latest plan hopes to keep the Hamilton crossing open.

‘‘It is our intention at this stage that the Beaumont Street crossing would remain open and we are considering options that would minimise train movements across it, due to the potential location of stabling facilities,’’ a Transport for NSW spokesman said.

‘‘More detail will be released during consultation in the new year.’’ 

The government is now considering up to 11 new pedestrian or road connections across the current rail corridor to open links between the Hunter Street strip and the harbour foreshore.

Possible pedestrian links include between Hunter Health and Hunter TAFE, west of Civic Station, Wolfe Street, Market Street and Bolton Street.

New road crossings could be built at Bellevue Street, Steel Street, Worth Place, Darby Street, Argyle Street, Perkins Street and Newcomen Street.

Planning Minister Brad Hazzard said the light rail would connect the city to its beloved beaches and activity hotspots, including Honeysuckle and Hunter Street.

Newcastle MP Tim Owen said the link would address concerns  about transport access being reduced for people going to the beach. 

‘‘It’s a very pleasing outcome and it’s something I’ve pushed hard for,’’ he said.

‘‘This takes the link closer [to the beach] than the heavy rail.’’

The public will be consulted about its preferred light rail route, but not on the interchange site.

There is still no date for when work to remove the heavy rail infrastructure will begin, as the government heads into the last full year of its term before the March 2015 election and as Treasurer Mike Baird negotiates the lease of the Port of Newcastle.

It has declined to provide the latest cost estimates for the project.

It would need to acquire property at Wickham for the interchange.

A year ago, it put $120million on the table to remove the heavy rail and build an interchange, and has since promised to spend $340million of the port proceeds to install light rail.

Much of the detail for the changes is still being considered.

The government denied it was dragging its feet until the port lease was completed.

‘‘Detailed costings for each light rail route option and the interchange are being finalised as part of ongoing detailed design,’’ a Transport for NSW spokeswoman said, in response to questions put to Ms Berejiklian’s office.

‘‘As with any project of this scale, the government needs to do the detailed work to determine what the costs and timeline will be.

‘‘We are getting on with the job, and have engaged international consulting firm URS to provide detailed advice on the engineering design, including operational requirements and a new stabling and maintenance centre.’’ 

Mr Owen said the government wanted work on the ground to start ‘‘well before the election’’.

‘‘It will happen, it is coming, this is the last phase that we need to get right,’’ he said.

The GPT Group and Urbangrowth NSW are expected to soon outline designs for their city  redevelopment, after the government took a two-third  stake in GPT’s Hunter Street Mall property holdings last year.

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