Premier’s Taskforce Report

Below is the full text of the Hunter Transport Taskforce Report from the NSW Premier’s Department in February 2006.

Hunter Transport Taskforce Report

February 2006

Recommendations

  1. Maintain existing rail services to Newcastle, while further work is undertaken on options for Modified Light Rail.
  2. Improve current rail corridor to:
    1. reduce waiting times for road traffic and pedestrians at level crossings;
    2. improve connectivity between CBO, Honeysuckle precinct and the waterfront; and
    3. change rail procedures, including investigating the reduction in the number of non-passenger carrying rail movements currently using the Newcastle branch line.
  3. The Rail Corp actively promote the rail service into Newcastle.
  4. Further consideration be given to the concept of the new diesel trains being used as Modified Light Rail. This includes discussions with United Group (Goninan) to determine the requirements for the new diesels to operate in this mode and also consideration of safety issues.
  5. The Infrastructure Implementation Group be given:
    1. The short term task to establish a project control group to facilitate and monitor the implementation by RailCorp of the improvements to the rail corridor. The works will include modifications to signalling, level crossings, overhead wiring, and the operations of the rail service. The modifications will improve the permeability across the rail corridor for both pedestrians and road traffic.
    2. The longer term task of the detailed feasibility and scoping of the modified light rail option between Hamilton and Newcastle, and further detailed work on the other options for rail services, including electrification to Warabrook (Newcastle University).

Background

Terms of Reference

The Terms of Reference for the Taskforce were defined at its first meeting on 8 November 2005, in accordance with the Premier’s speech to the Hunter Business Chamber on 28 October 2005 and his further guidance to the Chairman. They are:

  • Review all previous and current studies on transport options for public transport for the Newcastle CBD.
  • Undertake brief consultation process with key stakeholders to refine previous work.
  • Advise on a sustainable, practical future for public transport in the CBD.
  • Provide advice to the Premier on a strategy which can be incorporated in the 2006/2007 budget.
  • Report by February 2006.

Membership

  • Task Force
    • Col Gellatly, Director General, Premier’s Department (Chair)
    • Sam Haddad, Director General, Department of Planning
    • Jim Glasson, Director General, Ministry of Transport
    • Kerry Schott, Executive Director, Treasury
    • John Dermody, Executive Director, Premier’s Department
    • Greg McDowall, Project Director, Premier’s Department (Executive Officer)
  • Senior Officers Group
    • John Dermody, Executive Director, Premier’s Department (Chair)
    • Ben Chard, Regional Director, Premier’s Department
    • Lyall Kennedy, A/Executive Director, Ministry of Transport
    • Sue Power, Director, Treasury
    • Ziggi Lejins, Director, Treasury
    • Steve Brown, Regional Director, Department of Planning
    • Greg McDowall, Project Director, Premier’s Department (Executive Officer)

Both the Task Force and the Senior Officer’s Group were assisted by other staff, advisors, and consultants who attended meetings as required. The Task Force met on 5 occasions and the Senior Officers Group met on 8 occasions.


Review of Previous and Current Studies

Previous Studies

Key studies undertaken by the State Government and local organisations over many years were reviewed to inform the Taskforce Review.

Recently Completed Studies

Lower Hunter Transport Working Group (LHTWG). This study, chaired by Dr Bill Dunbar, was commissioned by Minister Costa in early 2003. Other members, all from Newcastle, were John Tate (Lord Mayor), Gary Kennedy (Secretary, Trades Hall Council) and Glenn Thornton (CE, Hunter Business Chamber). In relation to the future of the CBD rail line, the LHTWG’s preferred option was removal of the service from Broadmeadow to the CBD, and its replacement with a free bus service, subject to detailed feasibility studies.

Newcastle Transport Options Planning Study. This study was undertaken by Kellogg Brown and Root Pty Ltd (KBR) for DIPNR, also in 2003. The KBR study confirmed the current heavy rail line created severance between key activity areas in Central Newcastle however it considered that the creation of a new rail terminus at Broadmeadow would divert growth from the current CBD. KBR’s preferred option was to terminate the heavy rail service at Civic station.

Broadmeadow Transport Interchange Feasibility Studies. These studies, recommended by the LHlWG, were undertaken by the Transport Infrastructure Development Corporation (TIDC) in 2004 using a number of specialist consultants. The studies confirmed the feasibility of the Broadmeadow interchange and the cost savings of the Broadmeadow option.

Economic Impact of Rail Closure in Newcastle. This study, undertaken by GHD for the Ministry of Transport in 2004, identified net economic benefits arising from the removal of the severance caused by the heavy rail line of $1.53B and 2,920 jobs over a ten-year phase-in period and ongoing annual benefits of $288M turnover and 2,920 jobs.

Current Studies

Public Transport Plan. The Ministry of Transport was developing a 5-year plan for public transport in the Lower Hunter. The work has been suspended pending the outcome of this review.

Lower Hunter Regional Strategy. The Department of Planning has completed and exhibited for public comment a draft Lower Hunter Regional Strategy is to be completed in April/May 2006. The Draft Regional Strategy does not identify infrastructure needs but is intended to inform infrastructure investment priorities. The Strategy predicts growth of the region’s population from 505,000 in 2004 to 630,000 in 2031. One of the features of the draft Strategy is that three of the seven large new residential land releases, at Thornton, Lochinvar, and Wyee, are adjacent to the existing heavy rail corridors. Further infill growth is expected along the Newcastle-Maitland corridor and longer-term growth is expected further west in the corridor as far as Branxton.

Lower Hunter Integrated Transport Plan. A number of past studies, including the LHTWG, recommended the development of a Lower Hunter Integrated Transport Plan. The former Department of Infrastructure, Planning (DIPNR) and Natural Resources commissioned the Lower Hunter Integrated Transport Plan, which was undertaken as a working draft in November 2005. Following the restructure of DIPNR the working draft is now being reviewed by a number of agencies including Department of Planning, Premier’s Department, Ministry of Transport, and Treasury, and will take into account the Taskforce’s deliberations.

Conclusions

The large number of studies undertaken (and the various opinions and conclusions expressed therein) on the Newcastle Rail Line in recent years both reflects the intractable nature of the issue and the conundrum caused by the fact that the public transport system, divides the old business centre from the Honeysuckle redevelopment of the old harbour precinct and impedes the flow of road traffic (which is the predominant mode of travel in Newcastle). This increases tension and differences of opinion between various sections of the community which have differing expectations of the Newcastle CBD.

Studies that focus on public transport to and from the centre therefore deliver different recommendations than studies that focus on the development of the city centre.

No solution other than undergrounding the train line will please everyone, and the patronage is simply insufficient to justify the expense of putting the line underground, not to mention the technical and operational problems of doing so and the major disruption to existing services and to the CBD itself that this would entail. Any practical and affordable solution will require compromise between the competing requirements of public transport access to the centre and north-south connectivity issues. To some extent the problem is a result of Newcastle’s successful history as a commercial port and heavy industry site, which made the existing heavy rail system vital, whereas its more recent reinvention following the BHP closure and its increasing importance as a major diversified (and geographically dispersed) economy does not now rely so much on heavy rail. Significant developments planned for the region will have some major impacts on the public transport requirements.


Consultation

Representatives of the Taskforce met with key stakeholders to ascertain their views on the options and spent the equivalent of three days in Newcastle consulting with local interest groups.

  • Ministers Costa, Watkins and Sartor
  • All Hunter MPs
  • Lord Mayor Tate, General Manager, Janet Dore and Newcastle City Council
  • “Save Our Rail” (President – Ms Joan Dawson)
  • Mr Alan Squires (Newcastle Transport for Business Development)
  • Hunter Business Chamber
  • Newcastle Trades Hall Council
  • Maitland City Council
  • Lake Macquarie City Council
  • Commuter Council
  • Paraquad
  • Honeysuckle Development Corporation
  • Hunter Chapter of the Property Council
  • Lower Hunter Councils Transport Group
  • United Goninan Ltd

Public Submissions

The Taskforce did not invite public submissions over and above those already received throughout 2004 and 2005 which have been made available to the Taskforce; however 65 written submissions were received. Almost all submissions received were opposed to the removal of the rail service on the Newcastle branch line and, although a small number of submissions provided some alternatives, the bulk of the submissions were totally against any alteration to current operations. The most frequent concerns were expressed by elderly and mobility-impaired persons who rely on the rail service and have difficulty negotiating steps to use bus services. Other frequent concerns were expressed by Stockton residents who interchange from the ferry to train for journeys to Sydney and elsewhere, and by passengers who transport bulky items such as bicycles and surfboards that are difficult to fit on buses.

Conclusions

Local stakeholders overwhelmingly favour retention of a rail service to Newcastle station.

Some stakeholders insist that the direct heavy rail service must be retained to avoid the interchange, others would be happy to see it removed, provided it is replaced with a light rail service.

The Modified Light Rail option is a recent compromise proposal by the business community that seeks to retain a rail service with modified operational requirements while permitting some reduction of the rail line barrier.

There is no longer local stakeholder support for replacement of rail with bus services.

If Newcastle branch line heavy rail electric services are to be terminated outside the Branch Line requiring passengers to interchange, additional community transport services will need to be provided for elderly and mobility-impaired travellers.

Only continuation of the current arrangements provides direct interchange from the Stockton Ferry to rail services.

All agree that the heavy rail line barrier is a problem. If the heavy rail is retained, improvements to the crossings and the corridor itself are essential.


Assessment of Options

The Taskforce looked at ways of assessing the various options under consideration. The Taskforce ranked and weighed each option against certain criteria. These performance criteria were developed to take into account as far as possible the issues of importance to the various stakeholders. The criteria were as follows:

Criteria

Considerations

Connectivity CBD-Harbour
road • Freedom of traffic flow across the public transport corridor
pedestrian • Freedom of pedestrian flow across the corridor
visual • Visual impact of public transport infrastructure
CBD traffic flow
Reduce impediments • Removal of causes of traffic congestion through the CBD
• Impact of additional on-road bus/light rail public transport, if applicable
Increase public transport share • Likely total mode shares to public transport (bus and rail, and light rail if applicable)
Transport Outcomes
Local public transport outcome • Effectiveness of resultant local (Newcastle City) public transport network in meeting patron needs
Regional public transport outcome • Effectiveness of resultant regional (Lower Hunter) public transport network in meeting patron needs
Inter-regional public transport outcome • Effectiveness of resultant inter-regional public transport network in meeting patron needs
Interchange effectiveness • Effectiveness of interchange between all modes – bus, rail, coach, light rail, air, taxi, private car, cycle.
Operational outcomes • Practicality and manageability of resultant public transport networks
Accessibility • Accessibility for elderly/disabled transport patrons
Delivery factors
Delivery time • Ability to implement changes in a reasonable time
Construction impacts • Adverse impacts on transport services and traffic during construction
Sustainability • Greenhouse and other environmental outcomes
Cost
Net Present Cost • NPV from Conceptual Scope of Works
Revenue (not included in NPV)
Value capture • Potential revenue from capture of increased CBD property values
Economic Development • Expected CBD development and jobs growth
Other • Additional criteria could be inserted and ranked by agencies.

This Options Assessment has not been able to identify a definitive solution that is superior, over the entire range of criteria, to the current arrangements.


Conclusions

Despite all the reports and studies completed on public transport to the Newcastle CBD there is not, at this stage, an alternative to the status quo that could be said to be clearly preferable and has its scope of works, benefits and costs determined to the detail required to be recommended.

The recent proposals to use diesel trains as light rail is attractive as it enables rail services to continue to the CBD but enables removal of the visually intrusive infrastructure required to operate electric trains. However, there is still considerable work to be done on evaluating this option.

The preferred solution at this time is to maintain the existing heavy rail services, with some capital investment in enhancements to minimise traffic delays at level crossings and to provide other improvements to the connectivity between the CBD, the Honeysuckle precinct, and the waterfront.

There should also be a determined effort to increase patronage on the current rail system through such things as integrated ticketing, also currently under development.

One of the difficulties over the years in producing a definitive study on the public transport solution for the Newcastle CBD has been the lack of a committed entity devoted to the task.

There are many stakeholders – the community, the public transport users, the business community, the City Council and regional councils, transport and planning agencies.

A solution would be to resource the Premier’s Department Infrastructure Implementation Group to take full time responsibility for the continuing work on this project.

Col Gellatly
Director General
Premiers Department
February 2006