THE announcement from federal infrastructure minister Anthony Albanese and premier Barry O’Farrell was most notable for what it didn’t say.
Trumpeted by Newcastle MP Sharon Grierson as “a real win” for the Hunter, the $1.1 billion freight rail upgrade managed to completely ignore the much-touted Fassifern to Hexham bypass that is so sorely needed to get freight trains off Newcastle suburban tracks.
Most of the upgrade work will be in Sydney and on the Central Coast and, although intercity rail commuters may benefit from a new ability of passenger trains to overtake slower freight trains, this seems an almost incidental gain.
The real aim of the expenditure is to improve the carrying capacity of the state’s freight rail system, widening the Sydney bottleneck that has constrained rail freight movements between Melbourne and Brisbane.
This is no bad thing, but the omission of the Newcastle bypass is such a glaring slight on the Hunter that it can only serve to further underscore this region’s growing feelings of political powerlessness.
Dramatically increasing the number of trains on the line will have a major impact at the Adamstown and Clyde Street level crossings, where already long traffic delays can be expected to get much worse.
By one estimate, the change means an extra two hours a day during which the Adamstown gates will be closed, bringing the total to more than eight hours.
Like the very fast train and the Glendale interchange, the Fassifern to Hexham freight rail bypass has been on the books for years with no sign of serious action.
Ms Grierson – while trumpeting the fact that the federal government is paying the lion’s share of the rail upgrade – has deflected blame for its great flaw onto the state, asserting that “the next big step should be a Fassifern to Hexham freight bypass and connection to the Port of Newcastle, but before that can happen we need to know what the state government’s plans are for the port of Newcastle”.
Many may conclude that neither government is particularly interested in a major piece of rail investment that will chiefly benefit people in Newcastle.
Orica leaks again
ANOTHER month, another leak at Orica’s Kooragang Island chemical plant.
While the company and the government are anxious to reassure the public that neither health nor the environment are at risk from the latest spill – apparently the result of a failed valve – the incident won’t improve confidence in Orica and its facility.
Orica had just been given permission to get its plant operating again after a string of earlier controversial mishaps. While authorities insist the latest incident doesn’t affect equipment involved in the earlier leaks, the repeated mechanical failures create an impression of a plant with a seeming multitude of problems.
The government may want to get the supply of explosives moving again, so mining output – and coal royalty income – won’t be affected. That’s fair enough.
But Newcastle people will be hoping no corners are cut in the rush to restart.