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PARTLY hidden beyond the view of passengers in passing trains, and behind houses, businesses and a school in Broadmeadow, is a huge parcel of idle railway land.
The 18-hectare site was once the second-largest rail depot in NSW but has largely been abandoned since it closed down in 1994.
Dozens of locomotives, carriages and other historic items sit dormant on two giant turntables within a railway precinct that makes up more than a third of the site.
The rest of the site is mostly unused grassland that adjoins existing residential properties on Kings Road.
The land is owned by Transport for NSW and under the control of Transport Heritage NSW, but a group of Novocastrians is pushing for it to be transformed.
Transport officials recently gave Newcastle council's Liveable Cities Advisory Committee a virtual tour of the site, after Cr John Mackenzie moved a motion for an update on its "current status" and the transport agency's "future plans".
Transport for NSW has previously confirmed the rolling stock at Broadmeadow will be moved to Chullora in Sydney where it is establishing a central facility to house most of the state's heritage railway items.
It also labelled the land surrounding the heritage-listed railway turntables as "surplus to operations" in 2016, sparking concerns at least part of the site would be sold off for development.
Despite various calls over the years for the site to be opened up for community uses, it remains a weed-infested wasteland with no real purpose other than housing rundown rolling stock.
Former University of Newcastle Classics lecturer Dr Bernard Curran is among a group pushing for new life to be breathed into the site.
The group is calling for a local steering committee to be established to push for the railway infrastructure's preservation and reuse, and the broader site's activation.
"It would be tremendous to get together in the one place for a meeting to explore the extent to which there is interest, support and a way ahead," he said.
"So that we can come up with an agenda that is practical, has a lot of foresight and vision to it and is not expecting anything to happen overnight, but is letting Transport for NSW know that people of Newcastle have hopes and aspirations [for the site]. Newcastle has a major place in the state's railway history."
Dr Curran said there was potential for the site to be used for heritage train activities and as part of a dedicated railway or broader museum.
The vacant land could potentially be used for business or educational purposes, or even social housing if it was rezoned, Dr Curran said, suggesting university architecture students could be challenged to design concept plans as part of a community consultation process.
"Perhaps you could weld something with the Broadmeadow sports and entertainment precinct," he said.
Cr Mackenzie said the site was worthy of renewed attention to ensure the best possible future uses were identified.
He said the Hunter and Central Coast Development Corporation, which is represented on the council committee, might be best placed to make the most of the "opportunity the site presented".
"There's quite a lot of enthusiasm across the board about the possibilities for that site," he said.
"It's in a catalyst area of the city and is a priority."
Broadmeadow is identified in the Greater Newcastle Metropolitan Plan as a catalyst area slated to accommodate 1500 new houses and 550 jobs by 2036.
The plan moots redeveloping the vacant depot land for "medium-density housing and business uses which do not impact on heritage values".
The land, which is only a short walk from the proposed sports and entertainment precinct and both Broadmeadow and Adamstown train stations, would undoubtedly attract significant interest if it became available.
It is also only a block from the Lambton Road corridor identified as the "most suitable" light rail extension.
A Transport for NSW spokesperson said work on the Chullora heritage hub had commenced, as had minor track work at the Broadmeadow depot for the rolling stock to be transferred "in the first half of next year".
"The Broadmeadow Locomotive Depot and surrounds are important landholdings," the spokesperson said.
"Transport for NSW is exploring options for the precinct in the context of medium to long-term plans developed by the NSW government and City of Newcastle.
"Transport for NSW acknowledges interest in the area and any future plans will involve consultation with the community and stakeholders."
This article first appeared on www.newcastleherald.com.au
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