2km of the former heavy rail service in inner Newcastle has been replaced with a toy light rail service which opened on 18 February 2019. The light rail does not operate in the small hours, despite several trains scheduled for that time. It was originally supposed to be only the beginning of a larger suburban network but no details of the expansion have been made public.
Rail services to Newcastle - NSW's second city - were terminated by the NSW government on 25th December 2014. The next day, buses took over between Broadmeadow/Hexham and Newcastle. The overhead wires and level-crossing boomgates were removed and the land is to be handed over to the Hunter Development Corporation. The government's intention was that the Hunter Development Corp would be able to remove the rails however the NSW Supreme Court held on 24th December 2014 that it was illegal to remove the rails without an Act of Parliament formally closing that part of the railway. The government appealed, arguing that closing two kilometres of track did not constitute closing the railway. In July 2015 the Court of Appeal upheld the government's argument.
Replacing trains with buses and/or light rail for some of the trip means changing vehicles, with inconvenience and delays, and is not in the interests of passengers. It also requires a suitable site for interchange, something that is not always easy to find in cities.
Of course the trains should have been retained. But even if the site of Newcastle station and the corridor nearby really was required for urban redevelopment (officially called "revitalisation"), there was no need to close the full line. The next station, Civic, is convenient to cultural and educational facities and should have been converted to be the terminus.
Even better, a subsurface transport corridor could have been reserved between Civic and Newcastle stations and any new buildings be required to provide easements for train tracks through their basements.
Oddly, both the then Minister (Gladys Berejiklian) and the then Premier (Mike Baird) said on 4th December 2014 that they received many letters in favour of the rail closure and therefore they thought the majority supported the closure.
Meanwhile, on 18th December 2014 a select committee of the NSW Legislative Council, inquiring into planning in Newcastle and the Hunter area, recommended that the Boxing Day cuts not proceed. The committee's final report on 3 March 2015 recommended actions including re-instating the heavy rail services. Learn more ...
Learn more about how Newcastle residents see the problems.
Watch this EcoTransit video dated 1 June 2014 which looks into likely motives for the government's policy. And see its sequel video dated 12 June 2014.
According to a report on 17 February 2015, leaked cabinet documents showed that the best light rail route was not chosen; the actual route chosen was that preferred by developers. Interestingly, the documents were apparently found in the former office of a disgraced former MP.
For a possible explanation of the policy, see http://www.busaustralia.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=79326.
On 21 February 2015, a council by-election was held to fill the seat vacated by the Lord Mayor who replaced Jeff McCloy following the latter's appearance before the Independent Commission Against Corruption. The election strengthened the Labor-Greens alliance, meaning the council was against the rail truncation and associated re-zonings. Learn more ...
The NSW government introduced legislation to close the railway which was debated in October 2015. It amended the Transport Administration Act, a technique that could not be blocked by court action. It passed the upper house late on 14 October. The Supreme Court's decisions are now academic.
On 5 November 2015, the NSW government announced its intention to privatise Newcastle's ferry, light rail and bus services under a single operator. Learn more ...
In February 2016, the NSW government tabled legislative changes that would allow the Minister to close railways arbitrarily. Learn more ...
Several commentators expressed doubt that the light rail would ever be built. Digging up Hunter St to lay tracks was obviously going to be very unpopular, especially after the example of Sydney's George St which apparently requires three years' work to install tracks.
The NSW Minister for Transport said on 5 April 2016 that Newcastle's transport system was broken. Whose fault is that?
Meanwhile, there appears to be a groundswell of resentment against the Liberal government for reasons including that most of the $1.7 billion raised by selling the port was spent away from Newcastle.
For a snapshot on how the locals see it, watch this video, posted on 18 April 2016.
In a Newcastle Council meeting on 13 October 2016, Labor councillors joined Liberals in voting for rezoning the corridor.
On 21 September 2017, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on a leaked document showing just how low the benefit/cost ratio of the heavy rail closure and the light rail construction was. The project should never have been approved. Learn more...
In a Newcastle Council meeting on 12 December 2017, Labor councillors again joined Liberals in voting for rezoning the corridor.
For 2018 perspectives see this article and this video. Also see the discussion by Even Greater Newcastle.
Judging whether the light rail is (or will become) justified is not a simple exercise. Does it get people out of their cars? Does it increase the number ot people around the former rail terminus as compared to when the trains ran and more buses ran than is the case in 2019? How much damage has been done to Hunter St businesses by banning parking? Have connections to the waterfront been improved significantly by removing the trains? When the rail corridor is developed, what will the resultant centre look like? If "revitalisation" is an expected benefit of the light rail, quantitative assessment should be carried out before success is claimed.
Evidence so far suggests that motorists seem quite happy using King St instead of Hunter St. Will this continue?