The NSW government has released a summary report of the strategic business case for the extension of the Newcastle Light Rail.
The summary concludes that the most suitable route for an extension would be from Newcastle Interchange to the John Hunter Hospital via Broadmeadow, however there is “no urgent need” to extend stage one, following from economic assessments of an extension.
In preparing the strategic business case for the extension of Newcastle Light Rail, Transport for NSW identified 17 corridors, with four priority corridors chosen for further investigation. The four priority corridors all lead from Newcastle Interchange and radiate out to Wallsend, Mayfield, Charlestown, and John Hunter Hospital, via Broadmeadow.
The route to John Hunter Hospital was preferred due to a series of factors: the development of the Broadmeadow Urban Renewal and Entertainment Precinct, as well as the John Hunter Hospital redevelopment; the 1.15 per cent per annum growth in employment, the highest of any of the corridors; the need for public transport connectivity to John Hunter Hospital; the economic potential of the corridor; and the potential to fast track the development of new housing along the corridor.
“The preferred corridor has the potential for better employment growth, more housing and higher public transport usage than other potential routes,” said a Transport for NSW (TfNSW) spokesperson.
“It would also support the future Broadmeadow Urban Renewal and Entertainment Precinct and the redeveloped John Hunter Health and Innovation Precinct; important strategic centres for lifestyle and specialist employment opportunities in Newcastle.”
Despite these advantages, the strategic business case found that due to the pace of transformation in the Newcastle City Centre, dedicated bus corridors could be implemented in the shorter term, and then upgraded to light rail in the future.
“Transport will also investigate the initiatives identified in the 2018 Greater Newcastle Future Transport Plan, such as rapid bus and bus headstart initiatives, to deliver improved transport services in the area,” the spokesperson said.
The summary report identifies a number of reasons to continue to invest in public transport in Newcastle. In particular, Newcastle has a lower share of public transport usage than Sydney and Wollongong, the lack of visible connections between the city and employment clusters such as the John Hunter Hospital, and the need to manage population growth in Newcastle, which is forecasted to increase by 20 per cent in the next 20 years.
When conducting the economic analysis of the options, the report found that the route to John Hunter Hospital had a positive benefit cost ratio, however there were constructibility issues, particularly the steep gradient up Russel Street.
“Further investigations are needed to determine an alignment that is safe and technically feasible, particularly given the steep gradient between New Lambton and the John Hunter Hospital,” said the TfNSW spokesperson.
The existing Newcastle Light Rail has been credited as reshaping the city centre in Newcastle and driving urban renewal along its route.
Operated by Keolis Downer as part of the Newcastle Transport integrated transport provider, since its installation in early 2019, the Newcastle Light Rail has carried over a million passengers and public use across the entire network in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie in 2019 was 23 per cent higher than in 2018.