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Newcastle’s Problems – The Rail

Downtown Newcastle is about halfway between a seedy late-night no-go zone and a hip vibrant small downtown core. At the seventh largest city in Australia, Newcastle commands great beaches, a great lifestyle and affordable living, but downtown is a mess. Here’s my take on why… 

Rail

Newcastle is geographically challenged for passenger rail. With a line that runs east to the coast and stops, there is no alternative but to have an end of line terminus. At least that’s what the advocates for keeping the rail will say. The Newcastle line combines the electric line from the Sydney metropolitan area and the hunter service which runs diesel two carriage trains.

I’ll try to get a link to a satellite image, (windows live writer is playing up) so you can have a look. You can immediately see that the heavy rail line dictates the extent of any development in a North-South direction. On the harbour-side, or on the city-side. With near empty trains stopping congested roads at frequent level crossing, users of the roads are getting frustrated.

“Sitting at a crossing for five minutes in traffic, waiting for three trains to come through with 20 people on each… that’s a joke”, said one gentleman I interviewed who wished to remain unnamed. And this typifies the sentiment of many regarding the usefulness of the rail corridor. Read more after the jump…

Options

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So what are the options? As far as I can see there are a number:

  • Do Nothing – Retain the existing infrastructure and passenger rail stock. This may appear to be the cheapest and easiest option. People do use the existing system, some rely on it for all their commuting, just not enough people use it for the size of the infrastructure.
  • Find another site to terminate the rail – Some where near Hamilton, where the two lines join would appear to be the ideal location for some sort of hub, there is land available, there just seems to be enough political opposition to the idea that it continually stalls.
  • Replace the existing rail with light rail or buses – This is almost an extension of the above point. By terminating the line early, public transport solutions would likely need serious upgrading for the leg into the city. Buses or light trains or trams would be able to serve this purpose, either on the existing roads, the rail corridor, modified to suit or an alternate route if one were available.
  • Succumb to the fact that people want to drive – take out the rail and commit to providing additional parking spots in it’s place. This is my favorite from the contention that it serves up. Really, no one thinks that cars are the answer, do they? So why do the city workers continue to rely almost entirely on cars? Because when they want to go somewhere, they can, right then, and in a direct manner. Would this be feasible? Who knows, wait for tomorrow’s post for more contention on parking!

The history of the rail extends back beyond the current passenger line to the days when the whole harbour was a working port, not just the northern portion of it, as it is now. Things changed back then to allow for passenger commuters to quickly get into the downtown area using the appropriate level of technology available at the time, so why can’t we do the same and make a decision that reflects current requirements and yields benefits for the whole of the community?

Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.