Maitland and Cessnock mayors have pledged in-principle support to put passenger trains back on the South Maitland Railway line to service their cities’ booming populations.
Housing development has mushroomed along the old rail line at Gillieston Heights, Heddon Greta and Kurri Kurri, evidenced by massive traffic jams at the Maitland station roundabout.
Maitland City Council, in a submission to the NSW Master Plan for Transport, said a station was necessary at Gillieston Heights to ease traffic congestion.
Maitland councillor Ray Fairweather said the government had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fix the Hunter’s transport woes, starting with the SMR line.
“I just think there are some things that need to be done immediately; a station at Oakhampton is one and the Cessnock line is another, as well as the Toronto line within five years,” Cr Fairweather said.
“By including all the Lower Hunter councils in this master plan you would be able to work with Cessnock to reintroduce that service and even work with Port Stephens.”
The mayor of Maitland, Cr Peter Blackmore, said traffic was a huge problem and refused to rule out possible solutions.
“Just look at the Tarro to Newcastle traffic jam; we have to encourage people to use the existing rail network,” he said. “A station costs a couple of million to put in place, so you have to ensure people are going to use it.”
Cr Blackmore, the Hunter Infrastrucure and Investment Fund chairman, said that with five new people landing in Maitland every day, the SMR line warranted consideration.
“The line is privately owned and my knowledge of the line is there are wooden sleepers and small bridges in places that would have to be addressed,” he said. “In principle we could look at it.”
The mayor of Cessnock, Cr Alison Davey, said the city’s residents were calling out for public transport.
“I’ve already said that if someone can advise me of the costs I will look at it; we certainly need public transport,” she said. “It would have to be a fast train, if anyone can find money to do it, if it’s too slow people will just drive and that won’t take traffic off the roads.
“If people couldn’t ride the train all the way into Newcastle then there’s no point.”
Cr Fairweather called for the matter to be discussed at the May 30, Hunter Councils meeting, involving 13 mayors from across the Hunter.
“I hope Hunter Councils will progress the issue because rail is something that councils should be demanding from state government,” he said.
“The government will argue there is no money, but the time has come for the coal royalties to stop with us, not Sydney.”