ADVOCATES of the Richmond Vale Rail Trail have welcomed the NSW government's plans for a freight rail line between Fassifern and Hexham despite its potential conflict with the proposed cycling and walking track.
Government documents put on exhibition last week show four short-listed routes for the 30-kilometre Lower Hunter Freight Corridor.
Three routes use part of the Richmond Vale Railway, an old private coal line earmarked for use a cycling trail since closing in 1987.
One of the three would extensively use the old railway alignment between Stockrington and Hexham, while the other two would use a shorter northern section.
The preferred route for the freight line has the least interaction with the defunct railway and planned rail trail, crossing it only at Lenaghan and Hexham, but the route is by no means locked in.
Terry Lewin, vice president of advocacy group RVRT Inc, said the government progressing plans for the future freight line was a "positive" and his members supported the preferred alignment.
"It's been in the pipeline for decades and it's decades away as well," he said.
"The documentation makes it quite clear that infrastructure like the rail trail will already be in place when the freight rail corridor goes through.
"Even those proposed alignments that would actually directly overlap with the rail trail ... essentially, they would build those [rail lines] adjacent to the rail trail."
The government only wants to preserve a corridor for the freight line and has said construction could be 10 to 20 years away.
A report says using the old railway alignment "could be advantageous" but it would require "detailed" geotechnical and environmental studies.
It describes the rail trail as "assumed to be constructed and operational before the construction of any future rail freight infrastructure".
The proposed 32-kilometre shared path, between Shortland and Kurri Kurri, passes through the Newcastle, Lake Macquarie and Cessnock council areas.
Newcastle exhibited a development application for its 18-kilometre section last August and has been working to address stakeholder concerns. It met for a briefing in March with the Hunter and Central Coast Regional Planning Panel, which is now expected to determine the DA before the end of 2021.
A council spokesman said the "construction methodology and timing" of the freight rail line and M1 Motorway extension "need to be considered" before that occurs.
Cessnock council has been meeting with landholders impacted by the trail and has prepared concept designs and planning documents which will go on exhibition "prior to the end of 2021", a council spokesperson said.