Richmond Vale Rail Trail supporters back preferred Hexham to Fassifern Lower Hunter Freight Corridor route

TWO PROJECTS, ONE TRACK: The rail trail and (inset) how it follows the old Richmond Vale Railway, which the freight line could also use (below).
TWO PROJECTS, ONE TRACK: The rail trail and (inset) how it follows the old Richmond Vale Railway, which the freight line could also use (below).

ADVOCATES of the Richmond Vale Rail Trail have welcomed the NSW government's plans for a freight rail line between Fassifern and Hexham despite its potential conflict with the proposed cycling and walking track.

Government documents put on exhibition last week show four short-listed routes for the 30-kilometre Lower Hunter Freight Corridor.

Three routes use part of the Richmond Vale Railway, an old private coal line earmarked for use a cycling trail since closing in 1987.

One of the three would extensively use the old railway alignment between Stockrington and Hexham, while the other two would use a shorter northern section.

The preferred route for the freight line has the least interaction with the defunct railway and planned rail trail, crossing it only at Lenaghan and Hexham, but the route is by no means locked in.

The four short-listed routes for the Lower Hunter Freight Corridor routes. The preferred alignment is shown in yellow.

The four short-listed routes for the Lower Hunter Freight Corridor routes. The preferred alignment is shown in yellow.

Terry Lewin, vice president of advocacy group RVRT Inc, said the government progressing plans for the future freight line was a "positive" and his members supported the preferred alignment.

"It's been in the pipeline for decades and it's decades away as well," he said.

"The documentation makes it quite clear that infrastructure like the rail trail will already be in place when the freight rail corridor goes through.

A map of showing the Richmond Vale Rail Trail project.

A map of showing the Richmond Vale Rail Trail project.

"Even those proposed alignments that would actually directly overlap with the rail trail ... essentially, they would build those [rail lines] adjacent to the rail trail."

The government only wants to preserve a corridor for the freight line and has said construction could be 10 to 20 years away.

A report says using the old railway alignment "could be advantageous" but it would require "detailed" geotechnical and environmental studies.

It describes the rail trail as "assumed to be constructed and operational before the construction of any future rail freight infrastructure".

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The proposed 32-kilometre shared path, between Shortland and Kurri Kurri, passes through the Newcastle, Lake Macquarie and Cessnock council areas.

Newcastle exhibited a development application for its 18-kilometre section last August and has been working to address stakeholder concerns. It met for a briefing in March with the Hunter and Central Coast Regional Planning Panel, which is now expected to determine the DA before the end of 2021.

A council spokesman said the "construction methodology and timing" of the freight rail line and M1 Motorway extension "need to be considered" before that occurs.

Cessnock council has been meeting with landholders impacted by the trail and has prepared concept designs and planning documents which will go on exhibition "prior to the end of 2021", a council spokesperson said.

A mayoral minute at Wednesday's Cessnock council meeting, which asked that council support the concept of the freight corridor and its co-existence with the rail trail, was unanimously endorsed.

"With the release of the Lower Hunter Freight Corridor project, council needs to investigate the effect this corridor will have on the Richmond Vale Rail Trail and how we can find a suitable solution for both projects to co-exist," Cessnock mayor Bob Pynsent said.

This story Freight rail line and long-planned bike track could follow same path first appeared on Newcastle Herald.