Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Transport Minister Andrew Constance have declared Newcastle's new tram service will attract "unbelievable" passenger numbers after they took their first ride on the line on Friday.
Ms Berejiklian and Mr Constance sat with a group of students, elderly people, fellow politicians and media as the tram ran the 2.7 kilometres from Newcastle beach to the Wickham interchange.
The tram will be open to the public during a free community day on Sunday before regular services start at 5.05am on Monday.
The $368 million light rail project has attracted criticism from the NSW Audit Office for its cost and from business people concerned about dwindling trade during and after construction.
Hunter Street was largely devoid of pedestrians during the maiden journey just after 10am, but Mr Constance said it was a "historic day" in the city's "revitalisation".
"We have seen Sydney trains get an extra 100 million passengers because of unbelievable growth in transport, and I know that in Newcastle there'll be unbelievable patronage on the light rail," he said at a media conference on the interchange platform.
"And all those businesses along the route are set to benefit from that, so it's great news for everyone."
State Cabinet documents from 2013 estimated 1800 people a day, or 657,000 a year, would use the tram, which would represent a significant decline on the number of people who used the heavy rail line and free inner-city buses the light rail is replacing.
Ms Berejiklian, who was transport minister from 2011 and 2015, said on Friday that she was confident the trams would "attract people like never before".
"I remember when I first became the transport minister, nobody's used public transport in the CBD of Newcastle. The buses ran around empty and the services didn't connect," she said.
"We knew when we made the decision to rip up the old rail line and put in the light rail that there would be different views in the community about it, and now those same people who told us not to do it are saying when can you extend the light rail line."
Services will launch with a reduced frequency of 10 to 15 minutes as the fifth vehicle to arrive has not been commissioned yet and the fleet's sixth and last tram has not arrived from Spain, but Mr Constance said the frequency would fall to 7½ minutes "in the next couple of weeks".
"We're going to have five trams in play and we phase it up over the next couple of weeks, so there's no drama here. It's just planned to do that."
Ms Berejiklian said the "vast majority of people in Newcastle, not only are they excited by this, but they know what it means for the future of the city and the future of the region".
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Both politicians took issue with what they perceived as the Newcastle Herald's negativity about the light rail project and the government's broader Revitalising Newcastle urban renewal project.
"Since we've taken the heavy rail up there's been $3 billion of private sector investment in this city," Mr Constance, the member for Bega, said.
"The fact that there is thousands of new apartments into this city, and everyone across this state - even in Bega - is talking about what's happening in Newcastle.
"You've got a city to be proud of, and, you know what, I think there's an obligation on the part of the Herald to be very positive about this town ….
"And there is new businesses flourishing. I had [Hunter parliamentary secretary] Scot MacDonald say to me just before he went to two restaurants last night and couldn't get in.
"Business people are going to obviously adapt to a change in infrastructure that goes in, and this city for too long has had too many naysayers. Now look at it: it's booming."
The state government was eager to open the Newcastle line before the state election as it battles a host of issues with its $2.1 billion Sydney CBD and south-east light rail rollout.
Ms Berejiklian said the government was "hopeful" the Sydney tram, which has been plagued by delays and budget overruns, would be running by the end of the year.
"I'm really pleased with the progress we've made in Sydney, and of course the Sydney project is much more complex than the Newcastle one," she said.
"But I'm excited by the progress we've made. The major works are finished. It's really just the minor works left, and I can't wait for the people of Sydney to experience what the people of Newcastle have experienced today."
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