06 Apr, 2012 04:00 AM
IN a series of reports this week, the Newcastle Herald has looked closely at the longstanding proposal for a west-of-Newcastle rail bypass between Fassifern and Hexham.
Although some have suggested different start and finish points for the link, the Fassifern to Hexham tag is the one that’s stuck since Hunter business leaders presented it in 1998 as the centrepiece of a draft transport study. At the time, they argued the line was crucial to the success of two major industrial developments, an underground coalmine at Wyong and a ‘‘multi-purpose’’ shipping terminal on the BHP steelworks site.
Fourteen years on and the rail line, the mine and the Newcastle terminal are all far from safe bets. The Wallarah 2 mine was rejected before the 2011 state election but has been resubmitted to the Coalition government. Former premier Bob Carr promised Newcastle would be the state’s next container terminal once Port Botany reached capacity in about 2020 but a new plan to more than double the southern port will not help Newcastle’s cause.
But the rail link does not need these industrial developments to be justified. Diverting long coal trains and even longer container trains out of Newcastle and Lake Macquarie would make life more bearable for residents and dramatically ease congestion at the Adamstown and Clyde Street level crossings.
At an estimated cost of $330million, plus land, it is not a massive project by national standards, and the benefits it would bring should be apparent to all.
But after years of plans, reports and investigations nothing material has eventuated. Everybody in power says they support the bypass but no-one has taken a lead to ensure it becomes reality.
The $1.7billion Hunter Expressway shows what can happen in a hurry when governments turn their minds to things.
For the region’s sake, the Hunter’s federal, state and local representatives need to decide once and for all whether they want the project, and then go all out to get it.