Newcastle Light Rail: First Stop to a Global Gateway City

Can Greater Newcastle become a global gateway that connects the community to more opportunities for trade and tourism?

The busy region is steadily moving away from its identity as a satellite city and is well on its way to becoming an independent hub of activity and growth in its own right. The Greater Newcastle Metropolitan Plan 2036 along with the AUD650million NSW Government led, Revitalising Newcastle program set out some of the key initiatives for the transformation of the city in order to attract more people, to live, work and play in the region whilst also  building more public spaces and delivering better transport services.


One of these initiatives was Newcastle Light Rail.


Three months after its completion, the project has helped the city make great strides to becoming a global gateway for economic activity. In the first month of operation alone, patronage numbers on the network were almost double the amount originally forecasted, with businesses also reporting an increase in customers.


With the project already leaving its mark on the city, can we leverage its innovative successes and utilise them across other light rail designs?




The Choice for Light Rail

If we are to design transport solutions for today, the communities needs must always remain front of mind. The light rail solution recognises the necessary integration between land-use and transport planning in the infrastructure we plan moving forward.


With the end goal of a thriving global gateway city in mind, light rail was chosen for its ability to fulfil a need for transport but also to provide a frequent, reliable, comfortable, energy-efficient and sustainable travel option through the city centre that connects the main activity precincts and reunites the city centre with the waterfront.


The light rail line includes six stops running from Newcastle Interchange at Wickham to Newcastle Beach. It provides high frequency turn-up-and-go services during peak times with the capacity to transport 1,200 people per hour.


The project was managed by Downer EDI on behalf of Transport for NSW. WSP was a designer on the project with joint venture partner Aurecon, working on early scoping works through to detailed design and construction phase services, to deliver the project on time and to budget.


Working Together for Community

Starting from the beginning, the various project partners worked collaboratively to achieve the best possible result for the community. The team engaged with stakeholders to maximise available space, addressing concerns around how design would manage road side services, the effects to on-street parking, loading zones, taxi zones and accessibility, as well as the impacts it would have to local businesses.


As one of the first light rail systems in New South Wales that interacts with road vehicles, few guidelines existed regarding how to mark the interactions. The team explored international standards along with approaches on previous projects in Sydney to develop a solution that aligns the best approaches from across the globe with local needs.


Going Catenary-Free

Newcastle Light Rail has received recognition for being the first entirely catenary-free or ‘wire free’ system in Australia. The unique approach uses an on-board power supply and provides charging at stations while passengers board and disembark through a connection to an elevated charge bar at each stop. Implementing this new technological innovation brought its own unique set of challenges with regards to modelling and managing expectations to ensure the system is reliable. The end outcome is a light rail that is decluttered and an aesthetic that reflects a thriving mixed-use global city.


Visualising the End Goal

Advanced visualisation tools were used on the project to enhance understanding of the various elements during detailed design. Using digital engineering models, GIS, Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality and even Google Street View, the team were able to consistently optimise different parts of the project, confirming data accuracy and accessibility for use in 3D software packages and providing a common design to work from. The team created several different animations using the same model, in turn helping the project meet tight deadlines and deliverables.


Managing Assets for the Future of the City

Newcastle Light Rail was the first Asset Information Management System developed in NSW that complied with the Transport for NSW Asset Standards Authority Standards. This was a significant achievement and a result of strong collaboration between the project team, the ASA and Transport for NSW.


Now that the project is completed, comprehensive asset knowledge will be available to the operator for maintenance and management as well as setting up for long-term asset planning.


For more information on the Newcastle Light Rail, please contact Scott Ney here.


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