GREG RAY: Rail transition needs to be seamless

By , 10/02/2019 20:10

LIGHT rail from Wickham to Newcastle station is OK with me, on one small condition.
Nanjing Night Net

That is, I wouldn’t like to see them stop the heavy rail until the light rail is ready to go.

It would be a bad result to have the heavy rail out, then hear the government say that we would have to wait until funds were available from the privatisation of the Port of Newcastle before the light rail could follow.

That would be a bad result because, well, shucks, what if the government was to say in future that it didn’t get quite as much money as it needed from the sale and now the light rail thing wasn’t possible any more?

Or that, good golly, now we need that money to buy votes to win an important seat in Western Sydney and the Newcastle light rail has to go in the pie-in-the-sky forward estimates forever.

Just saying …

So, yep, sounds like we’ve got a plan to move the city forward and give everybody a bit of what they want. But let’s make sure the whole plan gets done.

Borrow the money, if you have to, to get the light rail happening, and repay the loan when you sell the port authority. That shouldn’t be a big deal, to keep everybody sweet.

Do that, and the O’Farrell government might yet be remembered as the one that finally found a workable compromise solution to the knotty and seemingly endless argument over Newcastle, its rail line and its connection with its harbour front.

And I will be among the first to applaud.

It’s not lost on me, of course, that this is another instance where Newcastle can’t seem to get state money spent on it without having to furnish the funds itself, one way or another.

We can’t have money out of consolidated revenue, because that belongs to Sydney. But if something of ours gets sold, we can have a portion of the proceeds. Same old story.

But I’m not inclined to be too churlish about that right now. At least they aren’t just planning to pocket the lot.

While we are talking about fair deals, though, how about that harbour-front land?

Remember how former minister for the Hunter, Jodi McKay, promised to stop the Hunter Development Corporation extending its “Great Wall” around the Wickham corner if the heavy rail got cut?

That beautiful big parcel of land on the harbour, just opposite Stewart Avenue, is the one we’re talking about. Can we have a handshake on Jodi’s deal?

Well, what about it, Libs?

And if the Port Corporation is sold, what happens to Nobbys?

About time it came under the control of the city, I reckon. Time to transfer it to Newcastle ownership, along with an annual budget to look after it.

Seems to me there ought to be a bit of loose change left from the port sale.

The government reckons it will earn about $700million from the deal and it reckons the light rail conversion will cost $340million.

That leaves another $360million, more than enough to give the art gallery a leg-up, I’d say, and refurbish the old Post Office too.

As for selling the port, or at least a long lease over it, I’m not sure if there is a downside.

It might even be positive.

Maybe in private hands the port corporation would be in a better position to compete for non-coal business, which the government has never seemed keen to have located in Newcastle.

Remember how the Obeid-Tripodi government (I forget which one of their premiers was warming the seat at the time) stopped car importers putting a terminal here?

The government forced the importers to walk away from their preferred Newcastle option in favour of Port Kembla, for political reasons.

And they’ve never wanted us to have a container terminal either, and that’s something a private operator might change.

Depends on the fine print, I suppose, as it always does.

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