OPINION: Hunter Region transport vision missing

RECENT NSW Government transport plans are welcome but fall far short of what is needed for the Hunter Region.

The draft NSW Long Term Transport Master Plan, on exhibition until October 26, has failed to provide any detail of the NSW government's vision for transport in the Hunter Region, especially its outer metropolitan and rural areas such as Singleton.

The plan proposes yet more plans and strategies.

With a population of about 800,000 people (more than the combined population of the ACT and Tasmania), the Hunter Region requires its own transport plan and probably a co-ordinating authority. The draft plan gives minimal consideration to key issues relating to public transport in the Hunter, especially intra-regional CityRail services and the provision of rail and public transport access to future urban development.

The draft plan is not a transport plan. For a region with a 20 per cent increase in rail patronage in recent years, high-density urban settlement, significant growth pressures, increasing traffic congestion, and resource development projects, there must be long-term investment in public transport - especially passenger rail services.

While this is recognised in the draft plan, there is no long-term strategy for passenger rail in the Hunter Region.

Community demands for more train services to Singleton and the Upper Hunter have been ignored, as have rail passenger growth trends.

The recently released NSW Infrastructure Strategy recognises that existing transport infrastructure should be used more effectively, and includes a program of $500 million for coal community road and rail schemes. This should provide funding for additional carriages and services to improve the frequency of rail services between Newcastle and Singleton and the Upper Hunter.

A long-term strategy to improve public transport to Singleton and the Upper Hunter must form part of future planning by all levels of government, and it must:

- Distinguish between "country services" and "outer-metropolitan services". Hunter Valley towns like Singleton currently have both types of services.

- Agree on a preferred rail-service frequency to Singleton, both the short-term (four-hourly service) and long-term (two-hourly service).

- Invest in new rail carriages to provide a more frequent rail service to Singleton.

- Retain the existing rail service to Newcastle station.

- Undertake feasibility studies into options for the Newcastle rail bypass and east coast fast rail project, including rail link possibilities such as the Hunter LinkRail proposal, and protect preferred routes from development.

- Implement the proposed NSW rail access review to improve the management of the shared network between passenger and freight trains, to provide for passenger-rail priority on Hunter lines.

- Improve facilities on trains for luggage and bicycles.

- Investigate a railway station site for Singleton Heights and other locations, to be integrated into long-term land-use planning and road layouts.

Regional areas such as Lithgow and the Southern Tablelands have train services that are between three and four times more frequent than services to the Upper Hunter.

The draft plan needs to show how this inequity can be remedied.

Pauline Davoren is from the Two More Trains for Singleton group.

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