On track to rail link

A PROPOSAL to convert a disused West End rail corridor to a major road to ease traffic congestion at Newcastle's Stewart Avenue railway crossing drew mixed reaction yesterday from business and community groups.

The Herald reported yesterday that Newcastle Lord Mayor John Tate and business and planning groups held high hopes of adapting the "Bullock Island" rail link between Carrington and Wickham, eliminating the need for a Stewart Avenue overpass.

Hunter Business Chamber chief executive Peter Shinnick yesterday applauded Cr Tate for "coming up with something a bit out of left field".

"Any solution that provides some sort of alternative to sitting at the railway gates at Stewart Avenue, which I sit at five times a day going back and forth, is a good idea," Mr Shinnick said.

But even with a new road, Stewart Avenue in its existing form was still a problem, particularly with growing traffic volumes around the rapidly developing Honeysuckle precinct, he said.

Newcastle MP Jodi McKay said she was not ruling the proposal in or out. However, the State Government was planning for the city's overall transport needs in line with forecast development and population growth.

"I think there needs to be a broader approach taken and not just about an area that's frustrating motorists," Ms McKay said.

Save Our Rail president Joan Dawson said even if the the proposal progressed there was still a need for a Stewart Avenue overpass.

"Our position is and remains that we feel the rail line should be raised to go above Stewart Avenue," she said. "I think it still would be the cheapest and most practical option."

Mrs Dawson fears talk of an alternative route could reignite a push to cut the line at Broadmeadow, or possibly Wickham.

Hunter public transport advocate Darrell Harris said the bypass idea had faults.

He believes the best option is to raise the line for about one kilometre between Wickham and Civic stations, freeing up valuable land underneath. Crossings could be relocated for pedestrian and cycle access.

He said the Bullock Island plan would only divert "traffic nightmares" to other areas.

Throsby Community Forum chairman John Hayes said the proposal was contrary to the Wickham development control plan which had earmarked the former Bullock Island rail corridor as a possible cycleway or light traffic road.

The forum has suggested a rail bridge over the harbour to enable trains to go to Port Stephens and the airport, a bus interchange at the former museum and the conversion of Hunter and King streets to one-way loop roads.

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