Wickham interchange about to open

NEW TERMINUS: One of the test trains running in and out of the new Wickham interchange on Friday.  The first public trains run from early Sunday morning, and the state government is hosting an official opening on Monday.
NEW TERMINUS: One of the test trains running in and out of the new Wickham interchange on Friday. The first public trains run from early Sunday morning, and the state government is hosting an official opening on Monday.

CONSTRUCTION workers in bright fluoro safety vests were putting the final touches on the Newcastle Interchange at Wickham on Friday, ahead of the first trains early on Sunday morning and an official opening on Monday.

Test trains have been traversing the new and overhauled sections of track between Wickham and Hamilton for some time now, and the opening of the controversial $200 million project will end the first major section of the state government’s Revitalising Newcastle program.

A painted sign-board replica of the upcoming light rail carriages stands at the south-east corner of the interchange, where the light rail tracks will leave to cross Stewart Avenue. A bus layover is still to be built on the site of the old Store building, but the heavy rail side of the interchange looks ready to go.

The first train to depart the interchange will be a 1.44am Sunday service to Fassifern.

Transport for NSW was tight-lipped on Friday as far as arrangements for Monday’s opening ceremony is concerned, but the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, Andrew Constance, is expected to attend.

“The opening of Newcastle Interchange is a game changer for Novocastrian public transport customers, creating a new gateway for the city that links trains, buses, taxis, pedestrians, cyclists and the new light rail in 2019,” Mr Constance said on Friday.

“The $200 million interchange is a major part of the revitalisation of Newcastle, delivering a once in a generation upgrade to local public transport.”

The loss of the heavy rail line is still a controversial issue, and on Friday a small group of Rail, Tram and Bus Union members held a footpath protest outside the interchange, calling on Mr Constance to resign.

 Only 15 or so people took part in the protest, but the union’s state secretary, Alex Claassens, said there was statewide dissatisfaction with Mr Constance, who had recently told a business gathering that he looked forward to driverless buses and trains because it meant he wouldn’t have to deal with unions.

VOCAL FEW: RTBU officials Alex Claassens and Chris Preston with union members at a protest outside the interchange on Friday.

VOCAL FEW: RTBU officials Alex Claassens and Chris Preston with union members at a protest outside the interchange on Friday.

Mr Constance was also the target of some rowdy questioning from Labor in state parliament on Thursday, with Maitland MP Jenny Aitchison, Port Stephens MP Kate Washington and Labor’s transport spokesperson Jodi McKay all ejected from the chamber.

Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp said on Friday that he was pleased commuters would be able to ride one station closer to the Newcastle CBD.

“The original estimate for the interchange was $73 million but it has blown out to nearly three times that amount with still no adequate provision for buses, interstate coaches or commuter car parking,” Mr Crakanthorp said.