For all of my life I have been a frequent visitor to Newcastle and a routine traveller through the area. From my earliest memories, regular visits to relatives in Newcastle are constant joys. The 4.40pm UP Newcastle Flyer was a much loved old friend.Les, rail was only transporting 5% of passengers in the first place. Even your claimed reduction of 66% (it isn't) of 5% is not going to be noticeable to the visitor. I live in the city and I can tell you the change since truncation has been wonderful. It is easier to move around the city by foot, bike, car or bus. Retailers are reporting an increase in revenue. Investment has increased by eight fold since truncation was announced and there is over a billion dollars in private investment about to start. Those with skin in the game don't share your observation. As for Hamilton, it is a temporary arrangement and the sooner Wickham is finished, the better. In the interim, it is a very good interchange with a walk of 30m from platform edge to bus.
With 6 months of the new transport arrangements it was time for a visit to see how the objectives promoting the line closure were progressing towards fulfilment. The changes can only be described as profound. Had somebody predicted them 12 months ago they would not have been believed. The proponents of the line closure and their supporters must be beside themselves with delight.
The most striking change east of Stewart Ave is the absence of people. The area around Hunter/Watt/Scott Sts is like a ghost town – totally deserted. The bus terminus is a lonely and empty place with a few buses standing over and no people. The route 110 shuttle buses barely have enough passengers to justify their operation. The normal services along Tudor St and Maitland Rd can easily handle the demand. There is no justification for a tramway.
Prior to the line closure it was predicted that the downturn in train passengers would be about 25%. Anecdotally, it appears to be about 66%. The only people now travelling into downtown are those who must; employees and those needing to keep appointments. Just about all travel by choice has ceased. The visitors are now going elsewhere.
We were told that an objective of the line closure was to rejuvenate the retail trade. The closure has certainly brought fundamental change to retail. Without the passing pedestrian traffic, many surviving retailers are fast going broke. There is no longer enough business to remain financially solvent. The visitors who have gone will not be coming back.
A second objective of the line closure was to open up the town to the riverbank. The new crossings of the railway “right of way” are tradesmen’s masterpieces. The sun reflects brightly off of the green grass and black bitumen of the crossings. Nobody is using them. They are deserted. Recently another 7 story building was approved for construction on the riverbank in the Honeysuckle precinct. Undoubtedly this will enhance the attraction of the riverbank from Hunter St. The enhancements will be complete when all of the space between Hannell St and Honeysuckle which is north of the railway line is filled with 5 or 7 story buildings. A wonderful achievement of the claimed objective.
It is almost awe inspiring to observe the management of train movements at Hamilton. You do not need to be a railway minded person to understand that convenient interchange is of major importance to passengers. The connection at Hamilton between Sydney and Maitland trains has never been good, let alone perfect. I had the spectacle of a Maitland train departing and being held at the first junction signal to allow the train from Sydney to cross in front of it. Passengers from Sydney being denied a convenient connection to Maitland. The inconvenience made worse by the Maitland train continuing to be held to allow an UP freight to cross in front of it at Islington Jct. This was a wonderful display of how to arrange matters for the comfort and convenience of passengers.
Then there is the spectacle of carsets sitting in the Railway St reversing lines preventing arriving trains from moving forward from the platform which of course blocks further arriving trains from entering the station. The confected issue of running empty trains continues. Trains arriving at the end of their journey need to be cleaned and serviced. The necessary facilities are not at Newcastle nor at Hamilton so they must return to Broadmeadow. The serviced carsets must then return empty. This practice continues as a necessity. The Beaumont St gates close against road traffic on average every 6 minutes. When road traffic is stopped by the traffic lights at Tudor St or Maitland Rd., it banks up and vehicles stop on the railway tracks. Newcastle road users are such wonderfully safe drivers. The whole spectacle at Hamilton is like something from Alice in Wonderland.
The proponents of the line closure and their supporters should be delighted with the progress being achieved since the line closed.
By any measure; Newcastle has ceased to be a city. Retail is in its final death throes; as office leases expire it remains to be seen if they will be renewed; visitors have stopped coming; there has never been a lot of recreational/sports/arts facilities in the downtown area and the viability of any proposals looks doubtful.