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~ The Fernleigh Track ~

( The Adamstown to Belmont Rail Trail)

Map - courtesy of Newcastle City Council.

16km of Fernleigh Track is complete!

Fernleigh Track is the most significant local link in NSW Coastline Cycleway.  Construction of the track has taken over ten years and has been funded by both NCC and LMCC councils who share ownership of the line.  State Government funding has been provided via RTA and Dept of Planning Coastal Cycleway project.  Finally a significant injection of Federal Infrastructure funding assisted with the final stages of the track.

The final stage (Stage 5) of the Fernleigh Track through to Belmont was opened on 12 March 2011.  There is now about 16kms of off smooth off road cycleway through bush land.  The gradients are gentle and there are Coffee stop opportunities close to the track at Belmont and at Whitebridge. The track at Adamstown links to marked back streets route through Adamstown Hamilton, Bar Beach and into Newcastle CBD.   Look for the NSW Coastline Cycleway / Fernleigh track signs as well as on road bicycle symbols that mark the route.   

Work is still needed to build better links to connect Fernleigh to other parts of the cycle network, notably the Dudley spur line, John Darling spur, links to Belmont South and Swansea as well as safer access across Glebe Road.  There are also signage and interpretative projects to be completed

The Fernleigh Track, restored platform at Belmont  




2009 News
November 2009 Opening of the Whitebridge to Redhead section


May 2009 - Work to commence on Stage 3 and funding application for completion through to Belmont

2006 - 2007 News
November 4, 2007 - Federal Funding Approved for Stage 3
August 2007 Update - Stage 3 . . . and beyond
Fernleigh Track Survey Report: LMCC has provided a copy of this final report that was included in the recent submission for Federal funding for Stage 3 of the Track. NCM has been commended by both councils for its contribution to the survey.

2004 - 2005 News
2004-2005 Update

2003 News
October 2003 Update
Fernleigh Track (Stage 1) wins a Keep Australia Beautiful Award
Stage One of the Track from Adamstown Station to Burwood Rd is completed
Where to From Burwood Road?

2002 News
Present Situation
The Bicycle - A Means of Transport
Newcastle Area Bike Plan, 1981
Cycling Between Adamstown and Belmont
Benefits of a Cycleway
Proposed Route of the Cycleway (and its connections)
Potential Users

Work to begin on Stage 3 - May 2009

Work should start this month on Stage 3 of the Fernleigh Track from Whitebridge to Redhead.  The winning tenderer, Site Worx Civil Contracting, had the lowest price bid of the 4 local contractors who tendered.  The construction, valued finally at around $2.7m is expected to be finished this year and, depending on weather, may be finished as soon as October 2009. 

Lake Macquarie Council also intends applying for $2m funding under the recently announced Federal Jobs Fund.  The aim is to gain sufficient funding from this source, Coastal Cycleway, RTA along with Council commitments to allow the final stages to Belmont to be completed.  The total funding needed is in the order of $4m.  LMCC is confident of meeting the late May deadline for submissions and NCM will be providing a letter of support for the application.

Federal Funding Secured for Stage 3

The Federal Government Department of Transport and Regional Services recently approved Councils' application for over 750k funding towards stage 3 of the Fernleigh Track. This means total funding of over $1.9m has been allocated to Stage 3. LMCC has confirmed that they will now move to put the full Stage 3 from Whitebridge to Redhead out to open tender. This will happen either late 2007 or early 2008. The indications are that tenders will be assessed by March / April 2008 and construction of the stage could be completed by year-end.

The Fernleigh track recently won a "Highly Commended" Award at the National Parks and Leisure Australia Awards in the category of Management of Open Space Development. This is the highest National accolade the track has received to date. It has won a number of State Awards including Keep Australia Beautiful awards for Community Infrastructure, an Engineering Award for the tunnel development as well as the Parks and Leisure State Award. Part of the aim of entering these kinds of awards is to make the track better known beyond the Hunter and to help to raise the potential of the Hunter as a cycle-friendly region.

Update to Aug 2007: Stage 3 . . . and beyond

It's now 7 years since work began on the Fernleigh track. The issues of funding and cost of construction continue to dominate. From NCM's perspective, funding has not flowed satisfactorily. It appears neither major political party has a great inclination to significantly raise the profile of cycling in the overall transport mix. Councils, at the bottom of the Government funding food chain, appear to be in no position to take the leading role in funding. Indeed, the Newcastle contribution for Stage 3a was only made available by transferring monies previously allocated to the Wallsend Glendale Cycleway.

The last 12 months has seen Lake Macquarie Council progressing work on Stage 3 of Fernleigh. Design work for the full Stage has been completed. Funding is in place for the first part of this. Stage 3a will extend the track from Whitebridge to Oakdale Road at a cost of around $1.2m. The second part, Stage 3b, will go from Oakdale Road to Cowlishaw Street Redhead. It is hoped that Stage 3 will be completed in 2008.

An application for State Government funding was approved for Stage 3a. Funding was not from RTA funds but from the NSW Coastline cycleway budget (DIPNR controlled). The $515,000 granted is the largest single grant so far under the project. It allows expenditure over the following two years.

There was some disagreement on funding allocation between LMCC and NCC during 2006. Some questions were raised by a minority of NCC councillors about ongoing commitment to the Fernleigh Track as it progressed beyond Newcastle boundaries. This appears to have been resolved for the time being at least, following the direct intervention of both Lord Mayors and CEOs. Both Councils have now allocated funds to Stage 3a. NCM was met with Lord Mayor John Tate about funding allocations and mailed postcards to all councillors prior to the local elections.

In 2007, prior to the State election we mailed State reps and spoke personally with three key candidates including Mr Matthew Morris. Shortly before the election, member for Swansea, Mr Robert Coombes announced an additional $272,000 funding for Stage 3b. The funding has now been received by LMCC. It is an additional grant under the NSW State Coastal Cycleways Project.

Despite these grants, there is still not sufficient funding to complete Stage 3b, so LMCC has submitted an application for Federal Regional assistance funds. The request, if successful, could allow completion of Stage 3 to Redhead.

The Federal application included a letter of support from NCM. It also contained results from a survey that LMCC members contributed to earlier this year. Many of our members took surveys and counts of track usage for the application. The actual questionnaire was compiled with NCM input, particularly by Ben Ewald. Results pointed to a very high level of usage with 50% of users being cyclists. Most users pointed to health benefits and expressed a high degree of satisfaction with the track to date. There was an overwhelming response from the public to extend the track further.

The result of the application for Federal funds should be known by October 2007. If successful it is hoped that funding will be there to allow construction of the entire Stage 3 in a continuous flow. Construction would commence before March 2008.

Cost of Construction
2006-2007 has seen some positive developments:

  • Open tender
    The Councils have accepted that Stage 3 work will be put out to open tender, allowing a best value contractor to be chosen to do the work. LMCC have advised that they would involve Newcastle City Council in the tender selection. If any tender included an alternative surface treatment such as concrete, the Fernleigh Track Management Committee would also be consulted.

  • Cheaper fencing
    The Committee has been working towards a cheaper fencing option. Ian Broadfoot of LMCC has progressed this issue positively while still maintaining commitment to Ausroads standards. The current design proposal sees metal and mesh fencing design, which is estimated to save over $100,000 for the next stage alone.

  • Push for realistic design standards.
    NCM has suggested that Council review the need for the track to be capable of handling heavy vehicles such as trucks and fire trucks. This will be especially relevant at the southern part towards Belmont where some small Bridges will be needed.

  • Expenditure on parking / heritage features
    In general, NCM has sought to build the track as first priority rather than complete all signage and heritage aspects. Nevertheless, some work on track heritage and amenities has progressed.
    • A small NSW grant has been received to progress heritage display and some preparatory work has been done.

    • Seats have been installed at various points with support of Rotary Charlestown.

    • LMCC plans to install a toilet at Whitebridge and some water outlets to improve amenity for users.

    • There will also be a further entry ramp built at Whitebridge that will be wheelchair compliant.

Alternative Construction method.
NCM members have spoken to Council about a possible method for laying concrete pavement that may allow major cost savings. Council has spoken to the contractor concerned who has reported that his process can be modified to better meet council requirements. LMCC has invited him to submit an application either individually or with others when the tender for Stage 3 is released.

And in other news . . .
Committee meetings in 2007 have benefited from more involvement from Newcastle Councillors. Cr Helene O'Neill in particular has been a regular and supportive member and a new member, Cr Marilyn Eade has been active at the last few meetings. LMCC councillor members continue to be supportive also.

2007 saw the first special public event held on the Track. The inaugural Fernleigh Track Challenge saw the track closed for part of the day while a competition for small electric vehicles took place. The Fernleigh Track Challenge showcased a number of home-built and commercially available vehicles with the aim of having fun with and learning about small powered personal transportation. The event was run under the auspices of Rotary Charlestown and it is hoped to run a second competition in 2008.

Beyond Stage 3

Indications are that future work would continue from Redhead to Jewels (Stage 4).
LMCC has been asked to consider ways to speed the construction and opening of the track to Belmont. They have surveyed the route from Jewels to Belmont to gain an idea of cost to open the final stage as a walking trail (also suitable for mountain bike use). Four (4) bridges would be needed. The idea would be to get the route open as soon as possible and then seek funding for surfacing.

Thanks to Ian Broadfoot
As NCM's rep of the Fernleigh Track Committee I would like to place on record a big thank you to Ian Broadfoot of LMCC. Ian has been involved with the track's development for many years. He coordinated the consultant team which put forward the Fernleigh Track Management Plan. This plan still forms the base of much of the track's development. Ian has been patient and persistent. To this outsider, council procedures appear at times to be overly bureaucratic. Ian has been brilliant at working his way through this. Ian is retiring and hopes to build a house on passive solar principles (not too far from the track). Ian will be replaced on the Committee by Mr Brad Sutton. NCM looks forward to working with Brad and helping him to complete the task.

David Bennett
3 August 2007

Fernleigh Track Report 2004 / 2005
The Fernleigh track project has continued to progress through the year.
Main achievements -

  • The completion and official opening of Stage 2 from Burwood Road to Whitebridge;
  • The completion and official opening of Stage 2 from Burwood Road to Whitebridge;
  • Acceptance by the Fernleigh track Committee that Stage 3 would go out to open tender;
  • Increasing awareness and openness of Committee to explore other design and build options;
  • Reiteration of commitment from both NCC and LMCC Lord Mayors to the completion of the full track as a jointly owned and managed facility;
  • Further involvement of the Chairman of the committee, John Jenkins, in the Tracks and Trails conferences. John has become a keen advocate of rail trails and is seeking to involve other council officers that they may be aware of their potential.

    Progress has not been without its hiccups
    The maintenance agreement between the two councils has still not been signed. Of more significance than this, however, was a near impasse on funding for the track. Fernleigh Track Management Committee had decided to build the next stage from Belmont to Jewells. Many NCC councillors were unwilling to accept this position.

    NCM had spoken with Lord Mayor Greg Piper and held a meeting with Lord Mayor John Tate. We sought to encourage both councils to reach agreement so that the track could progress. This now appears to have been resolved. John Jenkins invited both Lord Mayors Greg Piper and John Tate to attend the August meeting of the Committee. The meeting again canvassed the pros and cons of building Whitebridge to Redhead next vs. Belmont to Jewells. A new vote was taken when it became clear that NCC were unlikely to accept the original agreement. A significant majority voted for the Whitebridge to Redhead option.
    NCC will now seek to have funding included in their quarterly budget review. LMCC has already committed $200,000 plus in next financial year. This decision has been made public and seems likely to result in funding being made available from both councils this year.

    There is still a big question mark as to whether equivalent state funding will be available, given a major cut in the Cycleway budget at State level this year. DIPNR could also be approached as a possible source of funds. Stage 3 will, therefore, require at least two financial years to complete.

    The next year's challenge will be to secure funding from State Government, and to ensure an ongoing budget allocation locally. The Committee has discussed the need to keep the track in a positive public light in both council areas. It could be helpful for NCM to lobby State and local ALP members to adopt a consistent and unified approach to cycleway funding with Fernleigh as our No1 priority.

    At the current rate of progress there is a need for approximately 4 or 5 million dollars to build the remaining track. Depending on State Dollar-for-dollar funding, we would be looking at completion any time between 2010 and 2015.

    October 2003 Update
    At the most recent Fernleigh Track Management Committee meeting, LMCC presented plans for Stage 2 of the track. While the plans are labelled "Concept only", they are in fact well advanced and contain detail of where the width will vary from 2.5 to 3m, where fencing will be needed, exits points and rail lines will be kept for heritage purposes. Parking is envisaged at Station St for 20 cars and 3 disabled spaces plus overflow parking. The suggestion of linking the track parking at Whitebridge Shops was also discussed and open as an option.

    I took these plans along to the last NCM meeting and will bring them next time too for anyone who wants to check them out. I have let the Committee know that I believe the plans are in line with the original management plan for the track and could be used as a base for final design without the need for any further inspection / delay by the committee.

    Fernleigh Track (Stage 1) wins a Keep Australia Beautiful Award
    The Fernleigh track has won an award from the Keep Australia Beautiful organisation. The "Multiplex Community Facilities Award" was awarded jointly to Lake Macquarie and Newcastle Councils for the success of their work on Stage 1 of the track. Three members of the track Committee travelled to Sydney for the awards presentation, Rod Maughan from Newcastle City Council, Laurie Coughlan from Lake Macquarie and David Bennett from NCM. The submission on the track was prepared and submitted by NCM and endorsed by both councils and the Fernleigh Track Committee. It won over a number of other entrants in its category. Our submission emphasised the degree of cooperation between councils, the large amount of ongoing consultation with community groups including NCM, the high quality of work so far, and the wonderful way the public has embraced use of the track. NCM entered the award, partly because we are so pleased with the results to date and because we felt it was a project worthy of recognition. We also saw the award as another way to keep the track in the public eye and to maintain some momentum for its completion. A number of local councils, State and Federal representatives were present at the presentation ceremony. It was quite obvious that councils took a keen interest in the awards and there was an obvious spirit of competition in the air. Following the announcements of awards, both councils issued press releases and took some opportunities to showcase the achievement in local press. The award itself was taken to meetings of both councils so there is a very high awareness of the award and the reason for it. Meanwhile, Stage 2 design work has commenced. The Fernleigh Committee meets again on 1 October with planning and timetable for the next stage to be high on the agenda.

    Stage One of the Track from Adamstown Station to Burwood Rd is completed

    The tunnel under the Pacific Highway was opened to public use on Christmas Eve 2002. A great present for the people of Newcastle and Lake Macquarie. The finishing touches were completed during January 2003 and the official opening was on Sunday 2nd February 2003. The opening was a great community event, showing the popularity of the track to people on bikes and foot of all ages. The NSW Government, Newcastle City Council, Lake Macquarie Council and the Fernleigh Track Committee should be congratulated on the completion of this first stage. The quality and width of the track as well as the use of appropriate signage and track centre-line marking make this the model for all other cycleways and shared pathways to follow.

    Where to From Burwood Road?

    The completion of the Track to Belmont is a joint responsibility between Newcastle City Council and Lake Macquarie Council. To help speed the process, you can assist NCM, by letting your local councillors know how much you appreciate the work that has been done, and how important you feel the speedy completion of the whole track is.

    2002 News

    Last year's Fernleigh Track progress was marked by a shift from procurement of land and general planning towards specific groundwork for commencement of the actual work.

    This year has seen major progress towards reopening of the tunnel and the track leading to and from it. Some of the highlights have been:

    •   Removal of rails on the Northern side of track leading to the Fernleigh Tunnel

    •   Development applications approved for NGC and LMCG segments of the first stage

    •   Parking and access improvements at the Adamstown Station end

    •   On road improvements to Burwood Rd / connection to Glenrock State Recreation area have commenced.

    Most significantly, work is under way on the refurbishment of the tunnel.

    Newcastle City Council arranged an inspection of tunnel construction on 9 August. The contractor indicated that work was on schedule for completion in November 2002. So far the Contractors have:

    • Installed electrical connections to the tunnel

    • Installed drainage inside the tunnel and in the area immediately outside. There is a considerable amount of water that seeps in to the tunnel and this has now been drained and channelled successfully.

    • Cleaned the tunnel walls with high-pressure hoses. The pressure was sufficient to dislodge any -loose bricks or damaged pointing work, but still leaves the original brick faces, any calcification and some soot still in place. The contractor estimates that this process resulted in about two wheelbarrow loads of dislodged material. This is a good indication that there was some limited risk from falling debris, but importantly it is a good indicator that the great majority of the brickwork is stable.

    • Completed much of the initial shot-creting of the two tunnel sections that had noticeable weakness that required reinforcing. The work is done in layers and will form an added measure of security when the tem begins pacing rock bolts to secure the area.

    • A heritage architect has been on site. On his advice, brick of different colour to the original will be used for the repairs needed on cracked sections of the wall and portals. The aim here is to make the distinction between the original and the repaired sections obvious. The architect is also recording any historical information or items discovered. This includes some very old graffiti (apparently our language hasn't altered very much in the last fifty or so years)

    Around 19 August work on the track itself is expected to commence at the Adamstown end. The aim is to build the cycleway to around Kinross Avenue while the tunnel work continues. Once the tunnel contractor is finished there will then be a minimal amount of work needed to finish the final sections leading to the tunnel.

    One major plus mentioned at the inspection is that the NCC will be building this first section of the track at 3.5 metre width. This is in line with the original management plan for the track and NECK.

    The contractor will shortly commence the rock bolting work and the labour intensive task of brick repairs and repointing will be under way.


    The railway line connecting the eastern suburbs of Lake Macquarie and Newcastle via the Adamstown Junction has played a major part in the history of this area for more than a century. in the 1890's, the line was used to haul coal from the mines between Redhead and Adamstown, and after much community agitation, it was used for passenger trains to the mines in the area, particularly between the towns of Dudley and Redhead.

    It was in December 1916 that the first official passenger train ran to Belmont. In April 1971 the regular service ceased with the closure of the Belmont, Redhead and Whitebridge Stations. On March 12, 1988 the last coal train left the John Darling Colliery spur line following the closure of that mine. This left the line south of Lambton B Colliery at Redhead dormant and the track was torn up leaving only they ballast and hard packed rail bed as evidence of the history of its service. In December 1991, the last coal was hauled over the line from Redhead. This ended the long and colourful history of rail transport on the eastern side of the Lake

    We are interested in the retention of the historical aspects of this route. It can be appreciated and utilised by the community most fully by conversion to a shared pedestrian/cycleway that will form a major part of the integrated cycle network in our region and an important recreational and commuter route.

    The Situation 2002

    The railway corridor has been purchased by the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie Councils. The northern end of the former railway bed is already being extensively used by walkers and cyclists as both a recreational route as well as a commuting route. The southern end has become degraded by extensive trail bike use, so that it is eroded and too rough to ride even with a mountain bike. The tunnel under the Pacific Highway at Highfields was closed on 17 April 1996.

    The Bicycle - A Means of Transport

    The last 10 years had seen the sale of new bicycles in Australia continually exceed the sale of new motor vehicles. A number of our major cities have identified the increased need for cycling facilities to cater for this growth. Surveys conducted by NCM indicate that approximately 4% of trips in our region are by bicycle. This confirmed the information of the August 1991 Census which revealed a similar statistic.

    Newcastle Area Bike Plan, 1981

    In 1981, the need for a Cycleway linking Belmont and Newcastle was identified in the Newcastle Area Bike Plan commissioned by the then Traffic Authority of New South Wales. This Newcastle and Lake Macquarie Bike Plan is presently being revised and it will identify the Adamstown-Belmont corridor as a Priority 1 Regional Route for cyclists. It will also form an integral link in the coastal cycleway extending form the Victorian border the the Queensland border as proposed by Elias Duek-Cohen and supported by the RTA.

    Cycling Between Adamstown and Belmont

    The route choices at present for low stress cycling between Adamstown and Belmont are non existent. Only the hardy and very experienced cyclists use the Pacific Highway as a means of commuting between these two suburbs and on into Newcastle, as most others consider the trip too dangerous. Numerous short cycling trips are done within this area, particularly by school children, and this need will be increased since the government has increased the minimum free bus distance to 2km between home and school.

    Benefits of a Cycleway

    Safety: The provision of this facility will make a significant reduction in the number of potential bicycle/motor vehicle confrontations. This proposed cycleway will allow the children of the area to cycle in comparative safety to schools and recreational areas along the route

    Environment: The increasing use of motor vehicles is adding to the pollution within out region. Notice should be taken of the already alarming problems being experienced in Sydney. An increase in local cycling brought about by the development of this cycleway will go some of the way towards helping our region achieve the reduction in pollution levels agreed to by out Prime Minister at the "Rio Convention" on environmental issues.

    Cost: Cycleways do not require huge multi-million dollar community investments in paving and parking stations. As they are low impact paths, they require very little maintenance if properly constructed. The average distance travelled to work by Australian motorists is only 14kms. Given the changes in bicycle technology during the last 10 years with the development of lighter, stronger frames and better gearing systems, this makes such a distance readily able to be travelled on a bicycle by much of the workforce.

    Health: Cyclists can ride as slowly, or as hard and fast as they like to suit their own level of fitness. It is known that regular exercise reduces the risks of hear disease and strokes, and if more people are encouraged to ride bicycles, both the individual and the community will benefit from the improved fitness levels of its population; with reduced health costs. It is well documented that regular physical exercise has significant beneficial effects in stress reduction. This 15km route will open up a significant number of avenues for them to undertake their "workouts" in comparative safety.

    Tourism: The historical aspects of the rail corridor, it's location along the coastal fringe, and it's safe off-road route connecting coastal communities make it and ideal focus for development of eco-tourism opportunities.

    Proposed Route of the Cycleway (and its connections)

    It is the recommendation of NCM that the cycleway should follow the railbed from the former Belmont Station through to Adamstown Station. Connections at both ends are proposed in the Coastline Cycleway, and will extend the route to link with the Blacksmiths and Swansea Cycleway to the south, and connect with the East-West Cycleway to lead into the city to the north. There should be connecting cycleways from Deane Street, Belmont utilising the former spur line to John Darling Colliery and another connecting link utilising the former Dudley spur line. These spur links are an essential integral part of the overall proposal.

    The Dudley link will allow children to cycle safely to and from schools at Dudley and Whitebridge. The John Darling link will allow safe cycling access for all of Belmont North/Jewels children who attend schools in the Belmont area. This is in addition to the many commuting and recreational cyclists who would also benefit from these two links to the main route.

    NCM believes that the cycleway must continue through the tunnel allowing cyclists to avoid the dangers at the intersection of the Pacific Highway/ Northcott Drive as well as those encountered along Northcott Drive itself.

    The railbed provides an even grade that is ideal for cycling. The gradient of the railway is far easier for cyclists than the two steep hill encountered along the highway. These gentle gradients are one of the great benefits of converting closed railway tracks to cycleway, and there is a concerted move throughout Australia to convert disused railway corridors into pedestrian paths and cycleways. The "Rails to Trails" conversions have already benefited residents in many areas of Victoria and other states.

    Potential users

    School children: Most bicycle accidents involve school aged children. This plan offers an excellent opportunity to remove numbers of them from bicycle/car confrontations.

    Recreational cyclists: The sale of new bicycles continues to exceed that of new cars. This increasing number of both recreational and commuting cyclists need safe, low stress areas to ride.

    Commuter cyclists: It would provide a link from the south-east lake area to the industries, Newcastle's western suburbs or east to the Harbour Foreshore and the proposed Honeysuckle Development.

    Tourists: With comparatively short additions and connections to other existing cycleways in Newcastle it would be possible to have a cycleway extending from the Shortland wetlands all the way to the Jewells and Belmont wetlands - a route having enormous tourist and recreational attractions.

    Pedestrians: The existing railbed is used by many people in the area as a path for their daily walk. We expect that paving of this path will increase the number of people who use this picturesque route for their regular exercise, particularly in the southern sections of the route.

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