EDITORIAL: Hiccups on the rail line

AS soon as the government announced a new rail terminus for Newcastle, transport buffs began asking whether the proposed Wickham site could accommodate all the necessary facilities.

That was an operational question, they were told, and such questions would have to be carefully analysed by rail experts.

The first hints of where some of that analysis might lead are now emerging, with suggestions that the new arrangement may not be a mere substitution of one terminus for another.

It appears possible, for example, that Broadmeadow may become the new terminus for Sydney trains.

Reports to the government have apparently warned that extra rail traffic generated by empty trains from a Wickham terminus, now kept on the Newcastle line but likely to go to Broadmeadow for stabling in future, may force the permanent closure of the Beaumont Street level crossing.

Terminating Sydney trains at Broadmeadow station could help keep Beaumont Street open but might create other unexpected and possibly unwelcome effects for travellers on both the Sydney and Maitland lines.

And, as the government is acutely aware, interfering with the convenience of Maitland commuters has the potential to create a worse political headache than upsetting Newcastle’s Save Our Rail lobby and its adherents.

Meanwhile, reports of a possible cost blowout on the proposed Glendale interchange have transport planners and Hunter politicians understandably worried.

The cost of the basic first stage of the project – a bridge over the rail line at Pennant Street and associated road links – was estimated two years ago at $50million, but Lake Macquarie City Council is in the throes of revaluing the job.

The biggest problem with the project has been the difficulty in getting state and federal governments to commit enough funds.

With $15million from the state, $10million from the council and a paltry $7million from the federal government, the project is already short of cash. Any blowout will sorely test its viability.

Charlestown MP Andrew Cornwell got it right when he said the job needed to start as soon as possible in order to attract developer contributions and avoid further cost inflation.

Even the first stage of the interchange stands to benefit the Hunter by unlocking new opportunities for private investment on both sides of the railway line.

The region can’t tolerate more delays, and tight cost control will be crucial.