Described as a key component in Newcastle's infrastructure plan and forecast to be completed in 2019, the Newcastle Light Rail is set to bring reliable transport to the main drag of the city. The second biggest city in New South Wales, Newcastle is expected to be revitalised and reinvigorated once the project has been completed.
Comprised of stations at Wickham, Civic Crown Street, Honeysuckle (near TAFE), Market Street and Pacific Park, the high capacity rail is part of a $500 million program to bring life back to the city centre as the local population continues to grow.
Having begun work in in August 2017, the construction of the project is well underway, resulting in closures of most of Hunter and Scott streets. Access to the city harbour has also been altered. Along with the changes to traffic, the construction work will also involve a renewed sewerage infrastructure on key points along the section. With the existing sewerage system sitting six metres below the road and dating back to approximately 1909, the century-old structure is in desperate need of replacement.
The project has however come across some significant issues already. Having begun groundworks on Hunter Street, Transport for NSW quickly uncovered cancer-causing coal tar, used as a binding agent in the asphalt in the 1970s and 80s. The tar, classified as a carcinogen under the Safe Work Australia guidelines, is directly associated with an increased risk of skin, lung, bladder, kidney and digestive cancer.
"The station is part of the fabric of Newcastle, and the community has told us that it has a vision of it becoming a hallmark destination, a community meeting place and somewhere you must visit when you come to Newcastle."
When describing the substance, a Hunter Street shop owner said the air "absolutely stank of tar" after the first few days of excavation. Peter McPherson, the Unions NSW spokesperson stated that the prevalence of the substance has caused fresh negotiations between Downer EDI, the contracted business, and the NSW government.
The carcinogenic tar hasn't been the only bump in the road either. Local businesses along the work site have been outspoken about the impact the construction has had in the everyday operations of their business. Shane McCulloch, the owner of Newcastle Coins on Hunter Street, has been outspoken about the impact the works have had on his business.
"Customers have told me first hand they will not be coming in till after light rail is completed. This will more than likely be too late for me as I will be closed,” Mr. McCulloch told the Newcastle Herald. “Since the start of construction, the only signs that have appeared direct people away from Hunter Street.”
Nonetheless, the twelve kilometres of rail, weighing 646 tonnes, is pushing ahead to meet the 2019 deadline and provide an excellent method of modern transport to Newcastle citizens. Able to transport more than 1200 people an hour, an equivalent of approximately 20 busses, Hunter Development Corporation (HDC), is confident the project will significantly boost the integrity of Newcastle for years to come.
Michael Cassel, the Chief Executive of HDC, is pleased to see the new era of Newcastle come around: "The station is part of the fabric of Newcastle, and the community has told us that it has a vision of it becoming a hallmark destination, a community meeting place and somewhere you must visit when you come to Newcastle," he said.
"Bringing people into the city centre is one of our key objectives, as is creating great places and celebrating unique heritage and culture."
"Bringing people into the city centre is one of our key objectives, as is creating great places and celebrating unique heritage and culture. Some short-term disruption is unavoidable, but in less than two years light rail will be built, commissioned and up and running and locals will be reaping the benefits of frequent, reliable light rail services connecting key activity precincts and breathing new life into the city centre."
With a population of 437,874 and an average growth rate of 1.91%, Newcastle is predicted to be an important hub for New South Wales' residence. The city, surrounded by sandy beaches, will continue to receive infrastructure upgrades, such as the light rail, to ensure it builds on its rich Australian history.