Save Our Rail submission on Newcastle Light Rail REF

A summary of SOR’s submission to the Newcastle Light Rail REF is given below.

The full SOR submission can be found here (PDF document).

The Newcastle Herald is maintaining a list of submission on its website.


Transport needs were identified by Save Our Rail at workshops in 5 locations prior to writing major submissions on behalf of the community. (Appendix to submission)

Needs were expressed as follows:

  • Retain rail to Newcastle Station ( This need for direct transport still exists according to feedback following the closure of the rail services.)
  • Reduce trip time between Newcastle and Sydney.
  • Greater frequency of all public transport services.
  • Provide at least one night running train on both Hunter Lines.
  • Lack of consultation – transport not meeting needs e.g. Airport link lack , system imposing decisions e.g. timetable changes.
  • Bus provision – need some express services, some “meandering.”

Distinction between types of transport

  1. Intercity (long haul);
  2. Internal commuter services

Light Rail project internal transport cannot replace lost “heavy rail” intercity services

Objectives of Light Rail Project

Save Our Rail  records a “failure” for all 5 objectives outlined in REF summary

  • Connecting people, places and businesses to the CBD and waterfront.

Direct connections removed with rail line closure. Businesses struggling as a result. Which “waterfront?”  Beach link for inland towns cut off. Harbour access could have been improved with rail line still operating.

  • Creating great places linked by new and improved transport solutions.

Newcastle does not need “creating” -it was always a great place with natural beauty- a tourist advantage. Places that were linked to Newcastle are now disconnected. A cute tram jamming up the streets for a short distance will not bring people back into the city. A “transport solution” this is not.

A “transport solution” would provide heavy and light rail in available transport corridor ( as San Diego). Unlike Sydney Newcastle HAS a transport corridor, now idle, does not need to acquire land or cut down trees. Buses could be complementary and include express services.

  • Helping create employment opportunities and grow new jobs in the city centre.

CBD businesses are putting off staff, some closing. Punctuality a factor in job losses. No evidence how new jobs will be created by light rail. Newcastle becoming a ghost town.

  • Creating new public spaces and community assets.

A public amenity for private use – removal of a public utility for a privately run light rail. This is the opposite. Where is the “new public space?”  A toy train running to nowhere is hardly a community asset.

  • Preserving and enhancing the city centre’s heritage and culture.

Newcastle heritage buildings are an asset for tourism. This project is proposing to destroy some important items – Wickham, Civic and Newcastle Stations. This is a historic rail line. This is the exact opposite outcome from the above objective.

The submission examines in more detail the following aspects:

Use of the Existing Rail Corridor

Gladys Berejiklian is quoted as stating that the cutting of the rail services and the light rail project were “Planning decisions, not transport decisions.”

The secret cabinet document ( Document 7 1) left behind in newly elected Tim Crakanthorp’s office backs up her statements.  It clearly states the decision was to install light rail in the existing corridor and explains the adverse impacts of a Hunter Street light rail.

On- street Parking

Technical Paper 1 admits to 280 lost parking spaces in Hunter Street and 83 in King Street. However there are many other currently available car parking spaces being lost, including some temporary car parks, the planned demolition of David Jones building and adjacent to Civic Station. SOR estimates approximately 1,500.

The mitigation proposes a parking station on the rail corridor.

A game of Put and Take

This is like taking the rail out of the rail corridor and putting it in Hunter Street, then taking the parking out of Hunter Street and putting it in the rail corridor.

Traffic Congestion

Increases in traffic are already evident, in tail-backs from Stewart Avenue back to Carrington roundabout. Beaumont Street is suffering increased congestion and further increases are predicted. Two projects near closed Civic Station are expected to cause massive increases: the new court complex was built with 13 parking spaces and the University campus is under construction with very few car spaces.

Connectivity of Transport Services

“Connectivity” has been applied exclusively to the ability to cross the Newcastle rail line. It has a much broader meaning when applied to the links between parts of the city and suburbs and to connections between Newcastle and other communities.

If we are to benefit from a light rail it needs to go much further than this project – an extension of 200 metres from the previous rail terminus. Save Our Rail’s 2010 “Westrans” proposal would run it on an unused corridor past the University Callaghan Campus to Glendale, linking many educational facilities.

This light rail project does not address the need for the long haul needs. Light rail lacks the capacity and capability to provide transport to Sydney, Hunter towns and for future extension to Taree or Tamworth.

Socio-Economic Factors

This program will not bring people into Newcastle. Already there is evidence of an opposite effect. The disadvantages outweigh the benefits.

  • People most needing public transport are in lower socio-economic spectrum. Youth from outer areas being forced into car ownership – often in the form of substandard vehicles, contributing to air pollution and accidents. These are needed for access to educational institutions, for job interviews and to the beach. No Hunter Line trains return after 5.45 p.m. – late lectures, social activities require the use of cars.

The light rail proposal will eat up funding needed for improved intercity services.

  • Disability has not been considered in forced interchange to access the light rail from outer areas. Many cannot physically undertake interchange.

Property Values

Presence of direct rail increases property values according to experts.  The REF Technical Paper 6 states an unlikely land value change from proximity to light rail.  SOR believes any benefit would be to minority compared to overarching benefits to property prices and the city’s economy that fixed direct rail was able to achieve.

Impact on Business

Loss of parking, increased car use and added congestion are affecting businesses.

From Mr McCloy whose input into this Hunter Street route was considerable ( SOR has copies of letters) we now have his media statements that the plan to run  light rail in Hunter Street  is “killing Newcastle.”  Save Our Rail quotes a prediction in a Kellogg Brown Root report that stated “Any removal of heavy rail would mean the preservation of the CBD’s role as the regional centre would be compromised.”

Many business owners are expressing concern over downturns. There have been meetings with the local MP and the Frontline Hobbies owner saying he may move out of the CBD after 37 years in Hunter Street.

Tourism

Already there has been a fall in tourist numbers with backpackers choosing destinations that do not involve the inconvenience of a change of mode.

The trip time has been increased when there needs to be an emphasis on decreasing the time to  travel from Sydney to Newcastle.

A trip time closer to 2 hours than the current 3 hours would do more to encourage tourists to visit our city than an interchange at Wickham and a dinky light rail will achieve.

Heritage

An objective of “Preserving and enhancing the city centre’s heritage and culture” is stated surely with tongue in cheek.

The entire Newcastle Rail Line also known as The Great Northern Railway was nominated in 2006 for listing as a Historical Engineering Marker, by Engineering Heritage (Australia.)  The NSW Government takes the view that because they have removed the trains from the line its heritage value no longer exists. The history cannot be denied. This project proposes to remove the heritage listed buildings, including Wickham, Civic and even Newcastle Station.

Technical paper 3 states “ the light rail vehicles and light rail stops are assessed to have minor visual  impact on the identified heritage items.”  These identified buildings will either be demolished or undergo significant adaptability or transformation which makes nonsense of the above statement.

The demolition of heritage buildings is not only a loss of history and heritage value but also is uneconomic. The cost of actual demolition, the cost of removal of the rubble and the loss of a viable useful building are reasons to reconsider. Moving large brick buildings is an option, as has been achieved in many other cities.  A cathedral, Our Lady of Lourdes in Chicago, was put on rollers and moved across town, in Iowa a 100 year old church was moved on hydraulic rollers and even in Hornsby NSW  a heritage signal station was moved.

Conclusion

SOR recommends reinstating heavy rail in the existing transport corridor and reviewing the cost of the Newcastle light rail project.  The cost of replacing rail in the corridor is not prohibitive, in Sydney a rail line built from scratch cost $25 million for 5.3 km. Compare this to the $ ½ billion for half the distance for Newcastle light rail.

No cost/benefit analysis of this project has been provided and is urgently required.

A light rail could be placed in the existing transport corridor along with the restored heavy rail services at far less cost and fewer disadvantages to the city and community.

For access across the line to the harbour various methods are suggested – a section of raised line or underground rail.

This project moves a rail line only a half block from an existing corridor, does not bring people into the city and runs a very limited distance. It gives no evidence of improved transport for the future.  The wastage of public money is unjustifiable.