AS I stood facing Transport Minister Andrew Constance on Tuesday morning, my attention was repeatedly drawn to the view of Hunter Street, a couple of floors below, behind him.
It was about 11.30am, and every so often, a car or two would go past. The Newcastle CBD has a lot of problems, but aside from a short peak each morning and afternoon, traffic congestion is not one of them: which is odd, because traffic snarls are one of the main reasons for installing light rail in any city.
I want Newcastle’s light rail to succeed. I really do. But when I look out the window and see an easy flow of traffic up and down the street, I do wonder why we want to take half of that space and give it to a dual set of rail lines.
For starters, those lines will be 100mm – or four inches in the old measure – higher than the rest of the street, as confirmed by bureaucrats after Mr Constance had left. We’ll get seasick driving over all the rises and falls at every corner along Hunter Street.
Or maybe we won’t, because the minister wants us out of our cars, and onto the light rail, when coming into the city.
In a region that loves its motor vehicles as much as the Hunter, we’ll see how well that flies.
Mr Constance also used his visit to Newcastle to formally tell Newcastle’s government bus and ferry workers that their service was being privatised. Unions were upset, saying their members were being “forcibly transferred” to the private sector. They won’t be the only ones being forced. Presently, government buses are free in Hunter Street, but most routes will end at The Store once the new system is in, pushing bus passengers onto the light rail. After more than a decade, it will spell an end to the free trips around town.