Overdue Newcastle Airport runway upgrade a good start, but a rail connection is still needed

Post No. 5 'Overdue Newcastle Airport runway upgrade a good start, but a rail connection is still needed' was published on 07 May, 2021.

The federal government has finally committed to funding a $66 million upgrade to Newcastle Airport’s runway to bring it up to international flight standard.

This opens up the possibility of direct flights from the Hunter to Singapore, the Middle East and the US within the next two years. This will deliver a great boost to the local aviation and tourism sectors, with the economic benefit expected to include the creation of 4,500 jobs and an estimated $12.7 billion in economic activity over the next 20 years. The upgrade will also increase the competitiveness of exporting businesses in the Hunter.

While I have reservations about air travel due to its environmental impacts, I see this as a necessary project to reduce Newcastle’s dependency on Sydney for tourism and aviation, as well as for its enormous economic benefits to the region. It has taken a lot of lobbying by business groups across the political divide to get this commitment and I am glad to see it materialise in this year’s budget.

The campaign to upgrade Newcastle Airport’s runway is one I mentioned in my post about the Hunter’s infrastructure needs being ignored. The federal government’s commitment to the runway upgrade is a good start however Macquarie Street is still yet to commit to preserving the corridor for a future heavy rail link to the airport. This leaves tourists to use buses and rideshare services to get to the CBD from the Airport, an unattractive proposition for people with large amounts of luggage and, importantly, an environmentally unsustainable one.

The case is clear for a heavy rail link between the CBD and the Airport. An electrified rail line would make the trip to our isolated Airport more environmentally sustainable. There are a number of possible routes this line could take, my proposal is the following:

Proposed Airport Rail Link map

My proposal for the Airport Rail Link would diverge from the Main North Line at Hexham and have stops at Tomago, Heatherbrae, Raymond Terrace, Grahamstown, Medowie, Medowie South, and Newcastle Airport.

Example Timetable:

  • Newcastle Interchange: 0700
  • Hamilton: 0702
  • Waratah: 0707
  • Warabrook: 0710
  • Sandgate: 0712
  • Hexham: 0716
  • Tomago: 0719
  • Heatherbrae: 0723
  • Raymond Terrace: 0727
  • Grahamstown: 0730
  • Medowie: 0737
  • Medowie South: 0740
  • Newcastle Airport: 0746

Total trip time from Newcastle Interchange to Newcastle Airport: 46 minutes. The trip currently takes 26 minutes by car or 39 minutes by bus.

The big difference in time is because my proposed route goes via Medowie and Raymond Terrace. It would be possible to have a shorter trip time between the Interchange and Airport with a route similar to this proposal but skipping Medowie, or a route going via Kooragang Island and Fern Bay. However, I believe it’s important to connect the growing urban areas of Raymond Terrace and Medowie to the heavy rail network and the Airport Rail Link is a good opportunity to do this.

The Airport Rail Link would also open up the opportunity for a future rail connection to Port Stephens.

The preservation of the corridor for a heavy rail link will save an enormous amount in future costs when it becomes necessary to build the link. The state government must follow the federal government’s lead in envisioning a bright future for Newcastle Airport and commit to preserving the corridor.