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Transport-hungry Downer wins Newcastle Light Rail

NSW transport minister Andrew Constance has announced Downer EDI as managing contractor for the Newcastle Light Rail project, a week after the engineer signalled its desire to go after more contracts in the public transport sector.

Constance on August 9 announced Downer had been selected from a shortlist which also included CPB Contractors, John Holland, Laing O’Rourke, and McConnell Dowell.

Under the contract, Downer will partner with Transport for NSW to design, construct and commission 2.7 kilometres of light rail track, six stops, a stabling and maintenance facility, road works and associated precinct works.

Downer chief executive Grant Fenn was delighted with the news.

“Downer has a long and proud history in Newcastle,” he said on Tuesday.

“Downer works closely with Transport for NSW and we look forward to helping them deliver the signature project for Newcastle and to contribute to the revitalisation of the state’s second largest city.”

Fenn last week told the Australian Financial Review the company would target passenger rail and bus contracts after it announced a 14% drop in net profit to $180.6 million, and said it faced “continued pressure” in its resources businesses.

Struggles in a depressed resources sector necessitate the ASX-listed engineer’s further diversification into other areas.

As Downer said in its August 4 Investor Presentation: “The company is progressing well in repositioning to service increased investment and outsourcing in roads and rail, public transport, utilities, defence and communications”.

The ASX responded well to Downer’s update, with the company’s share price climbing from a $4.16 close on August 3 to roughly $5 a share to start this week.

Along with the Newcastle Light Rail project, Downer is also in the hunt for the $2.8 billion NSW Intercity Fleet deal, and Victoria’s $2 billion contract to deliver 65 high capacity metro trains.

Downer is partnered with Changchun Railway Vehicles in both bids, and Rail Express sources suggest a winner could be announced for one of the rollingstock contracts in a matter of days.


Changes in store for Newcastle network

Constance said Downer was chosen for the Newcastle Light Rail project “following a competitive tender process, which was overseen by an independent Probity Advisor”.

The minister also announced a trio of changes to the existing plans for the line, made as a result of public consultation.

Instead of raised tracks, all tracks along the route will be built flush with the road.

The second change will see a slight alignment shift at Worth Place “to ensure a smoother turn and quicker travel time”.

Finally, as a result of the consultation, a second track will be built across Stewart Avenue near the new Wickham Interchange to reduce disruption when future extensions are built to the light rail network.

Constance said the changes were a sign the state government was taking on board suggestions from the public, and was committed to working with everyone involved “to make sure green space, footpaths, cycleways and parking are front and centre as the final designs are progressed”.

“These improvements are a win-win for customers and local residents,” Constance added.

Newcastle Light Rail will run from a new transport interchange at Wickham – where the heavy passenger line from Sydney ends – to a terminus at Pacific Park on the other side of the Newcastle CBD.

Spanish manufacturer CAF will supply six of its Urbos trams for the new network.


  1. This project will have to be hugely subsidised to make it work and be profitable for the contractor. Future extensions which could potentially make it viable are a long way into the future. I’d still like to see the business case made public.

  2. Well, unfortunate as we have to admit it, light rail is coming to Newcastle; albeit for the wrong reasons.

    As a former patron of the heavy rail passenger service that once made its way from as far afield as Dungog, Scone and Sydney, right into the heart of the Newcastle CBD, I am disappointed that the ‘best’ option was not adopted.

    Whilst opinion is divided on the topic in general, there is a genuine opportunity to develop a truly world-class light rail system that will actually benefit the residents, workers and visitors of Newcastle.

    I would like to believe that in adopting light rail transit (LRT) for Newcastle, the developers, designers, engineers and planners have looked to existing successful systems, particularly in Australia, as a basis for the template for Newcastle’s system.
    Whilst it is understood that the terrain of Newcastle and its inner suburbs may not be directly comparable to that of other systems, say the Gold Coast for example, the routes they have adopted for their system seem to make sense and appear to be grounded around the general philosophy of developing a light rail transit system that is user friendly, the routes capture the maximum possible patronage for the area served and the system lends itself to further expansion.
    The system complements the existing transport network and does not aim to replace it.

    Previous studies undertaken had highlighted the opportunity of developing transport hubs around the former site of the Hamilton locomotive depot (Woodville/Islington triangle) and Broadmeadow Station that would have provided the possibility of all mainline rail transport having direct access to the proposed light rail as
    well as bus services. This would have negated the need to maintain heavy rail through Hamilton to Wickham and eliminated disruptions at Beaumont Street level crossing.
    An interchange around either of these locations would benefit future expansion of the LRT network to take in a much larger potential commuter catchment compared with Wickham which is located too far towards Newcastle CBD.

    It will be interesting to see, once the novelty of light rail transit in Newcastle wears off, whether the system actually functions as an effective replacement for heavy rail passenger services, and whether the simple fact of having the LRT system in place is sufficient to draw the masses back into the city centre when
    the majority of consumer development is located in the mid-to-outer suburbs.

    The ongoing development of super centres by the major developers away from the Newcastle CBD will certainly do nothing to aid the negative vacuum of shoppers to those areas seeking a relatively low-cost means of doing the weekly shopping.
    After all, why would anyone take the time to catch the heavy rail to Wickham, providing you have convenient access to a station, and then change to the LRT to travel into Newcastle, when you could easily jump in the family car and drive to Kotara Westfield, GPT’s Charlestown Square, Glendale Supercentre or Stockland Greenhills?

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