OPINION: City’s future depends on rail returning

NEWCASTLE city has enjoyed four smoothly working transport interchanges: Hamilton, Wickham, Civic and Newcastle, the final destination.

It has a ferry link, a tourist ‘‘tram’’ and a bus station gracefully unobtrusive among giant pines. Newcastle Station has no steps. Its many top destinations are tightly set around it, minutes away on foot, and easy with a bike, surfboard, walker or prams and small kids.

At business peak hours, the four stations distribute passengers, saving the terminus from congestion. This level of provision and efficiency is rare worldwide.

But Newcastle also connects bush to beach, inland to ocean. It is where the regions meet their regional city, and the only beaches they can reach without driving.

But some want Newcastle station to appear useless. They said the railway was in the way of something, and the city would be more vital without it.

Left off their maps were: four beaches minutes from the Newcastle Station, famous YHA, extensive harbourside gardens, rock pools, the baths, fishing spots, grass amphitheatre, Nobbys and Fort Scratchley. Newcastle East blows every tourist’s mind.

We reminded the government how Newcastle Station is packed at surf festivals, fun runs, celebrations and events. Up to its full capacity (169,000 seats arriving per week) is used over days of crowd activity on the foreshores. We were ignored.

So was the obvious principle that big development needs mass transport, or it fails in a mess of congestion on this tiny peninsula.

Government is ditching the best tourist future in NSW, employing city and country people, young and old.

Deloitte Access Economics says tourism will take over from coal. Best model example, Newcastle.

The Hunter rail line is heavily used. On the Scone branch, trains are full at mid-journey. We have maximum usage of present passenger capacity now, let alone when populations grow. Rail capacity at Newcastle gives the city a future.

Some were fooled into worshipping light rail. But the shortest tramline anywhere, with negative cost benefit, is pathetic beside the trains’ 169,000-seat capacity entering Newcastle each week with nothing to spend.

Young people I have met were devastated that their carefree easy movement was to be strangled.

The traffic has increased in town, country people have only a tiny window of time before two or three hours’ travel back again.

Maitland boys say they will be stopped from unsupervised beach visits without the station only four minutes’ walk from the beach.

Less able people will never reach that shoreline again, unable to make a mode change. For the inlanders, the only regional city and beach is Newcastle. Chaos, grief, anxiety and depression pervade Hamilton now. Newcastle’s four tracks don’t fit into two at Hamilton.

We have three rocks of hope: the parliamentary inquiry, the court challenge and the claim by Aboriginal elders.

Newcastle’s future depends on rail returning. But so does the shared economy between regions and city.

So does the health of regional people – with the worst heart disease in the state – whose exercise at the beach costs the government nothing.

So does the mental health of coal miners who need beach days for recovery, safely off-road. So do the lives of youngsters driving because boards and bikes don’t fit on buses. Enough have died on our highways. Certainly at stake is the reputation of governments, which only pretend to care.

They are in danger now.

Bev Atkinson holds a Bachelor of Architecture and lives in Scone

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