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Editorial: Time to see the rail papers

THE parliamentary committee chaired by Fred Nile MLC may not have any powers when it comes to stopping the state government from cutting the Newcastle rail line at Wickham.
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But it has been able to use a parliamentary ‘‘order for papers’’ to amass a substantial amount of government information about the Wickham project and related subjects.

This material, unsurprisingly, is being pored over by the government’s critics and a number of predicted shortcomings about the Wickham decision are being belatedly confirmed.

Four years ago, predictions arose that Railway Street, Wickham, would have to close if the rail line was to terminate at Stewart Avenue.

Now, traffic modelling shows that the Railway Street closure will compromise Stewart Avenue traffic flows to the point that three of the four right-turn options where it crosses Hunter Street will have to go to manage traffic flows at peak times.

Findings such as this, emerging in an ad hoc manner, are unlikely to bolster confidence in the government’s decision-making powers.

Other documents prepared for the government may well show the Wickham plan in a better light, but the government has classified at least $4million worth of consultants’ reports as ‘‘cabinet in confidence’’, putting them beyond the reach of the Nile committee.

The date that the government has set to close the Newcastle line, December 26, Boxing Day, is now less than a month away and attendant rail construction works have begun near Hamilton station.

But the longer the government ignores the apparent shortcomings with Wickham, the louder the calls to re-examine an interchange at Woodville Junction.

This expanse of land, a few hundred metres west of Hamilton station, was proposed in 2001 but cast aside for a Broadmeadow interchange proposed by Labor in 2004 and subsequently abandoned.

Now, the government says Woodville is unsuitable for a range of reasons, including a ‘‘limited ability to extend the light rail in the future’’.

But a light rail from Woodville – or even Broadmeadow – into Newcastle would have a bigger passenger catchment than the existing proposal.

Some people might regard such suggestions as sideshows or distractions, but Novocastrians have voted for federal, state and civic representatives who, under the Labor brand, oppose the Wickham truncation.

At the very least, the Coalition government now has a serious credibility problem after the ICAC hearings.

If it expects to keep faith with an increasingly unhappy Hunter public, it must release all of its railway paperwork, without delay.

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