Motorists are waiting up to four times a day at the Adamstown and Clyde Street level crossings for coal trains that should not even be passing through Newcastle.
The trains are taking coal from West Wallsend mine at the top of Lake Macquarie to Vales Point power station at the bottom of the lake.
But because the trains cannot turn south at the mine gate they are driven 20kilometres north to turn on a ‘‘balloon loop’’ at the Port Waratah coal terminal at Carrington.
Each train makes two crossings of the Adamstown and Clyde Street gates on its 40-kilometre ‘‘U-turn’’.
Industry sources say the problem could be fixed by building a few hundred metres of south-turning track at Teralba but Railcorp says that would be too expensive in the circumstances.
Coal company Xstrata says it sends about 35 trainloads of coal a month from West Wallsend mine to Vales Point.
Empty trains returning to the mine from the power station have to make the same journey.
A Railcorp spokesperson acknowledged the lack of a ‘‘southern connection’’ at the Teralba terminal but said Xstrata’s contract with Vales Point was ‘‘short term’’ and not expected to extend beyond 2014.
In such circumstances, building the southern connection would be ‘‘cost prohibitive’’.
Industry figures say the Teralba junction was built without a south turn because the coal was originally destined for the former Newcastle steelworks.
The Railcorp spokesperson said the cost and time it took to move the coal via Newcastle had led to a ‘‘trial’’ in which the trains were stopped and reversed on a siding at Argenton.
‘‘Due to the effect of the increased noise on the local community, which was not able to be overcome, the original plan of running trains via Port Waratah was considered the best available option,’’ the spokesperson said.
The Newcastle Herald reported on Argenton rail noise in March last year, with residents saying trains were often standing, with their engines running, for hours at a time on the sidings near Sulphide Junction.
Community group leader John Hayes said he sympathised with the Argenton residents but ‘‘shifting the problem’’ into Newcastle was not the way to go.
Mr Hayes, a founder of the Correct Planning and Consultation for Mayfield Group, said the coal industry was “playing one lot of residents off against another’’.
“Trains that should not even be in Newcastle in the first place are adding to the particulate and dust problems, and of course they also add to the delays at the Adamstown and Clyde Street gates,” Mr Hayes said.
Motorists waiting at Adamstown as an empty coal train trundled south through the Glebe Road crossing yesterday said the delays were an obvious problem.
Robert Etheridge of New Lambton said ‘‘everything should have been fixed 20years ago’’.