Concerned public transport commuters attended a meeting on Saturday to discuss plans to expand the number of coal train lines at Hexham.
Save Our Rail, an advocacy group for public transport, is concerned about the number of extra freight lines that could be added to the precinct without affecting passenger services.
Group president Joan Dawson, who attended the meeting, told the Mercury there was talk of up to 15 tracks being built at Hexham, which she said would significantly impact on the narrow area that was bounded by the Hunter River, the Hexham Swamp and the highway.
The Australian Rail Track Corporation plans to build five relief roads (coal train sidings) to store a minimum of 90 coal wagons at Hexham and has lodged an application to do so with the state government.
Queensland National also has plans for Hexham. The company wants to build a coal train provisioning centre.
Ms Dawson said careful planning was vital to ensure commuters were not disadvantaged.
“I feel freight facilities are more and more taking precedence over passenger services,” she said. “There had been a rule that freight trains would give way to passenger trains, however this has been changed, so now passenger needs take second place.
“There’s more profit from coal than passengers.”
Ms Dawson said a designated passenger rail line that was completely separate from freight lines was the only way to ensure rail commuters were not disadvantaged.
She said the government should make the line available and provide sufficient car parking facilities at Hexham to encourage more people to park and ride.
“This is the closest that area is to rail and there has been housing growth in the council area with more approved by the NSW government such as at Kings Hill, north of Raymond Terrace, which was listed in the Lower Hunter Regional Strategy,” she said.
“The road is restricted from Hexham down to Sandgate therefore traffic congestion is a constant problem from where the Pacific Highway from Raymond Terrace joins the New England Highway from Maitland. It is for this reason that passenger rail provision needs to be ensured.”
Ms Dawson said university students would also benefit from a designated passenger line.
“Hexham needs the rail provision to relieve the car congestion and enable workers to arrive at work punctually,” she said.