THE opening of the Newcastle Interchange at Wickham has been hailed by the state government as a “glorious day” and a “major milestone” in its revitalisation plans, as attention now turns to the future of The Store building, which has been earmarked for demolition.
More than 1000 days after the rail line was cut on Christmas Day, 2014, a passenger train again took off from Wickham about 2am on Sunday, followed by a steady stream of passengers filling the concourse throughout the day.
Revitalising Newcastle program director Michael Cassel declared the $200 million Newcastle Interchange had been “well and truly worth it”, despite controversies over the price tag and bitter debate over the truncation of the rail line.
“You only have to stand here today and talk to a few people around to know it has been well and truly worth it,” he told reporters.
“This is the first major milestone for that $650 million [investment in Newcastle]. If we can get the outcome for the rest of the corridor to this standard, we’ll be quite happy.”
Mr Cassel said the opening of the interchange was a “glorious day” and symbolic of Newcastle’s westward march.
“This part of the city was chosen as the CBD moves further west,” he said.
“We’re right now in the centre of where the CBD will be in the future, as the east becomes more of a residential village.”
The next step of public transport infrastructure in the West End is the construction of the bus interchange on the site of The Store.
Planning approval for development on the site, which includes the demolition of The Store’s striking facade, is expected to be made known early next year.
However, Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp said every avenue possible should be investigated before the “iconic” Hunter Street facade is demolished.
Commuters give tick of approval
Called a multi-transport “node”, the location of Newcastle Interchange at Wickham is seen by the government as pivotal to servicing commuter needs in the inner-city.
The construction of the bus interchange on the former site of The Store, adjacent to Newcastle Interchange, would add to the heavy rail and future light rail lines, which meet on Stewart Avenue.
Jo Minter, of Woodbury, told the Newcastle Herald the station’s opening had made a “big difference” to her morning commute.
“It will be a quicker trip,” she said, with services previously terminating at Hamilton station.
“The facilities look good, and you can see what they’re trying to do with the light rail. At the moment, it looks like somebody cares about Newcastle.”
Beresfield’s Sharon Leigh made the trip specifically to test the new interchange.
“So far, so good,” she said.
Murray Love, of Merewether, said it was “fantastic” to be one of the first passengers to use the new interchange.
“It’s a great day to be here,” he said. “It’s the first step of what’s about to happen in Newcastle. Once the light rail is up and running, I think it’s going to be brilliant.”
Ross Young, of Hamilton South, was surprised the government was yet to commit to any new parking facilities at Wickham.
“Parking seems like something you’ll need,” he said.
The transport department also won praise from Joyce Foster for the restoration of the Wickham World War I honour roll, which has pride of place near platform one.
The Great Lifestyle of Wickham community group, championed by Ms Foster and Lyn Kilby, lobbied the department to restore the marble and granite structure, which was in pieces.
The monument was funded by the parents of fallen soldiers after the war.
“People sacrificed everything they had to get their sons’ names on there,” Ms Foster said.
“We were absolutely relentless in our determination to salvage this monument … because it’s more than just stone, it’s blood.”
Mr Crakanthorp welcomed the station’s opening but criticised the total cost.
Asked about The Store’s future, Mr Crakanthorp said the government should further investigate the retention of the facade.
“The facade is iconic; it holds a lot of memories,” he said.
A government report originally found retention would present “ongoing structural risk” and “significant constraint” on the site’s potential.
Meanwhile, the shuttle bus service will now terminate at Wickham.