There is a plan to extend the Fernleigh shared path into Dudley along a corridor that once was the rail line into the Dudley mine. This branch line into Dudley was built in 1892 extending from the Fernleigh rail line in order to service the coal mine which was located at the site of the sports fields. After the rail line closed in 1939 it became an access route for Dudley residents who would walk down the track to get passenger trains which ran till 1967 on the Fernleigh line.
In 1977 a Newcastle residents group (NCM) was formed with the aim of ensuring that these rail lines would not be submerged by urban development. Work commenced on the Fernleigh cycleway as a joint venture between Newcastle and Lake Macquarie City councils. In 1999 a draft plan was completed which detailed all the routes, including the one into Dudley along the rail corridor. The Fernleigh track is now considered to be one of the best 10 Cycleways in the world, largely due to the almost unspoilt natural environment of the track which isolates it from the urban surroundings. Its popularity amongst residents and tourists shows that there is a great need for more of this type of facility, especially if it services schools and connects community facilities.
After the Dudley branch line closed part of it became Foxdale Ave. and the cutting at Burwood road was filled in as a replacement for the bridge that used to take car traffic over the rail line. The path from Burwood Rd to the Fernleigh Track and the Railway to Ocean St. cuttings have became overgrown with weeds and choked by debris. Pedestrian traffic is now small and those that do walk through use rough walking tracks on top of the cuttings.
LMCC conducted a survey in 2012 that overwhelmingly showed support for extending the track along the old railway line into Dudley. There was also a belief by council that there should be a path into Charlestown and to accommodate this the pathway group submitted a modified plan that meet this requirement. See the attached Maps. The new plan uses all of the proposed Dudley to Fernleigh path but extends this by using existing pathways from Whitebridge school and safe streets along the Flaggy creek reserve. This amended plan as shown now connects with 3 schools, the Charlestown swimming pool and shopping center. For the more serious bike rider it would provide an alternative loop that could take in Dudley and Redhead with visits to the Awabakal Nature area for the nature lovers or a choice between the pubs in Dudley or the Churches in Redhead.
The benefits that would result from this path are numerous: it would provide a safe path for students to the schools, encourage healthy activities of walking or cycling, decrease car usage and road congestion, and with continued landcare work will convert what was once a waste land into an attractive natural bushland setting. The actual pathway will be the old rail line which will only occupy about 3m of the corridor owned by council. This corridor ranges from 15 to 25m in width which means that the planned regeneration program will see a 5 to 10m buffer zone between residents and track users. Within the cuttings the track will be up to 5m lower than the adjacent houses and residents will be unable to see people on the track .
Principals at the schools have been supportive of the plan as were the Cycleways movement and most residents. There are some issues to be resolved, everyone wants a cycleway and council does not see this one as important as others. We have suggested that LMCC should use a low impact approach to the construction, minimizing fencing and using compressed gravel rather than tar or concrete for the path. However some would prefer a harder surface, which is more suitable for prams and wheel chair use. Opinions on this approach and to other issues differ so please let us know your thoughts.