Workers on Hunter Street witnessed the city’s rail history come full circle on Tuesday.
While working on the new light rail line, they unearthed the remnants of the old Burwood railway line, which crossed Hunter Street near the Darby Street intersection. Unlike the incoming line, the Burwood railway carried coal rather than passengers. It was built privately in the early 1850s by pioneering businessman Dr James Mitchell.
According to Newcastle Herald historian Mike Scanlon, Dr Mitchell was looking for a way to transport the coal from his mines at Merewether – through land owned by the Australian Agricultural company – out to the harbour. He wanted to build the ‘tramway’ so he could do away with horse-drawn carts.
“The tramway was a bit of a ruse so he could have a coal line through the AA company land … effectively he was breaking a monopoly on coal,” Mr Scanlon said.
“After some court cases and controversy he got it through.”
Once built, the line travelled through the Junction and Cooks Hill, burrowing underneath Laman Street before reaching Civic Park. It passed the council administration centre on Burwood Street before emerging on Hunter Street and continuing to the harbour. A century later, activity at the Merewether pits was winding down and there was growing angst among drivers, who resented being held up as coal trains crossed Hunter Street. The line closed in 1954 and was tarred over.
“It’s one of the last relics of the early coal industry in Newcastle,” Mr Scanlon said. “I was hoping they might preserve it in situ.”
A Transport for NSW spokesperson said the old railway would have to be removed to enable the relocation of underground services, the installation of new services and the building of the light rail tracks.
“The remains of the former Burwood Coal Company railway were first uncovered during site investigations along Hunter Street in July 2017,” the spokesperson said. “The Burwood Coal Company railway line has local significance, but is not a listed heritage item. Once the remains have been archaeologically surveyed and recorded, they will be removed.”