Author: By MICHELLE HARRIS and IAN KIRKWOOD
A $1.1 BILLION spend on rail freight improvements between Sydney and Newcastle is being hailed by governments as a win for train commuters but is due to bring more pain for motorists already stuck at the Adamstown railway gates.
The capacity of the 160-kilometre corridor is due to increase by about half, from 29 to 44 freight trains a day, once work is completed on the Northern Sydney freight corridor project, which the state and federal governments announced yesterday.
But it does not provide for the Fassifern to Hexham freight bypass of Newcastle that would get freight trains off the tracks in the inner-city and eradicate long waits for motorists at the Clyde Street, Islington, and St James Road, Adamstown, level crossings, where gate closures would become more frequent with train movements.
The federal government would provide $840 million and NSW $214 million.
The works would begin in February and finish in 2016, and would include a Hexham rail loop – a siding to hold freight trains as passenger trains pass – that would cost $24 million.
The upgrade is designed to increase freight train movements, cut carbon emissions by more than 100,000 tonnes a year and take 200,000 trucks a year off the state’s roads.
Premier Barry O’Farrell said yesterday the project would be a “real benefit for commuters travelling into the city from the Central Coast and the Hunter”.
Infrastructure NSW chief executive Paul Broad said the works were a win for the Hunter as they would also help businesses remain competitive through efficient freight movements and attract more economic activity to the area.
But he said planning for a Fassifern to Hexham bypass was needed given the increasing freight movements and congestion they would bring, and should be considered as part of the 20-year Infrastructure NSW plan he was helping to draw up for the O’Farrell government.
Newcastle lord mayor John Tate said it was good that the state and federal governments were co-operating on transport but that any further impact on Adamstown was “intolerable as far as the city is concerned”.
Hunter Business Chamber chief executive Kristen Keegan also applauded the state and federal collaboration.
“Separating freight and passenger trains and taking trucks off the road is good news although the chamber acknowledges the problems at the Adamstown crossing,” Ms Keegan said.
“The two levels of government will have to work collaboratively to handle the impact of increased freight transit through Newcastle, which is problematic and needs to be addressed in the next stage of the project.”
Newcastle federal MP Sharon Grierson said the works were “good improvements for passenger and freight rail”.
“The next big step should be a Fassifern to Hexham freight bypass and connection to the Port of Newcastle but before that can happen we need to know what the state government’s plans are for the Port of Newcastle,” she said.
Mr Broad believed the increasing economic activity in the Hunter and nearby regions could sustain a case for a container terminal at the Port of Newcastle in the future regardless of the state’s plans to significantly increase
Port Botany’s container capacity.
A spokesman for federal Transport and Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese said a freight bypass was a matter for the NSW government and it had not been in touch about the matter.
A Transport for NSW spokesman, who responded to inquiries put to Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian’s office, said future freight projects “will be considered as part of the NSW Long Term Transport Master Plan development process”.