I’ll be upfront. I was against the light rail from the word go and I was against the removal of the heavy rail as it would put not only people with a disability at a disadvantage, but elderly people who can’t drive and students. I have cerebral palsy, and I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to our ever-changing community.
I have ridden on the light rail twice, and love it. This little traditionalist, a sceptic you might say, has changed her mind. As a person on the disability support pension, public transport is the most affordable way to travel, but it’s not always the most convenient, especially if you have to be somewhere in a hurry or live in the suburbs. After all the trouble with the new bus system, more and more people are at a disadvantage, and the on-demand bus doesn’t service all areas.
When the plans for the light rail were announced I was so sad because the existing rail system was working fine.
The light rail system has a unique feature; all the platforms are level with the light rail vehicles. A person in a wheelchair can access the tram without a ramp and essentially can board or alight just like other passengers. In addition, there are two dedicated wheelchair entry points (indicated by the universal disability symbol) with one at either end of the platform.
There is ample room to park a wheelchair inside the light rail carriages. Many wheelchairs have a large turning circle so that the user can park their wheelchair easily and safely. The designated spaces also have a yellow button if the user needs assistance. The staff at the stations are very helpful and accommodating.
It is a well thought-out system overall. But, I can see wider potential. I would like to see a light rail extension, possibly to Civic Park to not only reduce congestion in King Street but to allow people to access to the library and the art gallery. Parking is already at a premium and with the University of Newcastle’s plans to expand into Honeysuckle, reliable public transport will be essential to keep order in a growing community.
Newcastle City Council has a strategic plan to have Newcastle as a smart and sustainable city by 2030. I can see this vision becoming a reality by the proposed date, if not sooner.