Travel back on the rails

RAIL travel on the Maitland line and in inner Newcastle has grown noticeably this decade but patronage between Fassifern and Broadmeadow has fallen by a similar amount.

Rail activists have welcomed the improved patronage but the total number of trips on the Hunter system, about 2.1 million a year, could be achieved by as few as 5000 passengers using rail to travel daily to a full-time job.

Those are some of the conclusions that can be drawn from ticket sales data provided by RailCorp.

Anecdotal accounts given to The Herald suggested that peak-hour use of the Newcastle rail line had increased noticeably.

Railcorp initially provided an overall patronage figure for the system between Dungog, Fassifern and Newcastle, which showed the system carrying about the same number of passengers as it had been six years ago.

A breakdown of the data showed some distinct trends.

The figures provided by Railcorp are "moving annual total journeys based on ticket sales", which reflect the numbers of weekly passes as well as single and return tickets.

On the inner-city line, from Hamilton to Wickham, Civic and Newcastle, patronage rose by 7.7 per cent in the six years to February.

From Singleton to Dungog and Maitland through to Waratah, the number of trips rose by 6.7 per cent.

Between Fassifern and Broadmeadow, however, trip numbers fell by 8.9 per cent.

Save Our Rail spokesman and public transport activist Darrell Harris said the figures were in conflict with the message being pushed by the State Government in the lead-up to the announcement of the now abandoned Broadmeadow rail interchange, when inner-city rail use was said to be on the way down.

Mr Harris said the falls from Fassifern north were unsurprising given the problems that commuters were facing in using the service, hampered as it was by breakdowns, maintenance interruptions, slow services and delays.

He conceded that though the rising trends were pleasing, patronage could be better.

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