The Fernleigh Track was completed to Belmont in March 2011 after ten years of construction. It is the most significant local link in the NSW Coastline Cycleway with 16kms of smooth off road cycleway following an old railway line from Adamstown via Whiebridge to Redhead, Jewels and Belmont. The gradients are gentle and features along the way include the historic tunnel, Redhead beach, Jewels wetlands and coffee stop opportunities at Belmont and at Whitebridge. To make a longer ride return via Speers Point and Wallsend on the Two City Circuit, a 50 km route connecting several cycleways with some on road sections.
To ride the Fernleigh Track from the north, start at Park Av and Bailey St Adamstown, from the south start at Railway Pde Belmont, however there are many other street connections along the way. To reach the Fernleigh from Newcastle CBD follow these directions.
Read the visionary 1996 NCM submission written by Darrel Stone and others proposing a cycleway.
The rail line had branches to Dudley, and to the John Darling colliery at Belmont North, and these would make excellent extensions to the cycleway. The Dudley spur line is 2 km long and would give visiting cyclists safe access to Dudley beach and the spectacular Dudley Bluff, as well as giving Dudley residents a safe connection to the track.
Lessons from the development of the track
- A great track becomes incredibly popular.
- Great popularity brings potential user conflicts that need to be managed. High use tracks need to be wider.
- It is a shared space, but as the length grows, cyclists become more frequent users than walkers.
- As the track developed increasing numbers of commuters discovered cycling is easier than they first thought.
- Extra track length brings stronger and faster cyclists to the route. Managing speeds especially when passing becomes more critical.
- The track has showed the importance of having large and small projects planned and ready to roll when the government funding opportunities arise.
- Newcastle Cycleways supports quality cycling infrastructure, built to Ausroads standards or better. But these standards applied to Fernleigh, have brought fences that have been criticised as ugly and unnecessary in some parts. The need to keep rogue users such as motorbikes off the track has also contributed to excessive use of bollards and added costs. Entry points are still restricted by bollards that have contributed to some crashes and injury.
- Patience is a virtue. Campaigns as big as Fernleigh can take 20 years.
- That the health dividends to the Community are enormous. We have estimated health dividend in reduced health care costs through improved health of users of $118,000 per year from just stage 1.
- To get major results, there needs to be good cooperation with both Councils, state bodies and eventually Federal
- Funding via the Federal government will be critical to accelerate similar projects elsewhere unless local governments find ways to improve their finances.
- Completion of the track has given new momentum to the concept of connection to other off road links such as Swansea and ultimately a twin city loop between Newcastle and The Lake
- A formal Management Committee formed under State Government regulations has guided implementation. While not perfect this is a model that could ensure some ongoing consultation with cyclists at the coal face where infrastructure decisions are made.
- Good facilities do not come cheap. The 16km of Fernleigh cost over $10m. The outlay ultimately came close to that forecast in the original Implementation Plan estimates. Tunnel work and much of the later stage construction was done by open tender. We support this competitive process.
- The track has been built above the original specs. As work progressed, demand for a similar wide bitumen facility for the whole length became clearer.
- Finally and most importantly, a great facility is a joy to ride, and that may well be the key factor in getting more people on bikes.
Fernleigh Track History
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 the 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
Significant milestones in the history of the line
- 1880 – Rail line opened to Redhead
- December 1916 – Rail line extended to Belmont
- 12 October 1922 – Special train left Newcastle for the opening of “Soldiers’ Memorial Hall” at Kahibah.
- January 1925 – Redhead Loop name changed to Fernleigh Loop
- 1967 – Last passenger steam train to Belmont
- 8 April 1971 – At 17:10 the last rail passenger train to Belmont via Kahibah left Newcastle Station.
- 19 December 1991 – Rail line closed
- 2 February 2003 – Adamstown to Kahibah Station stage of the Fernleigh Track (cycleway) opened
- August 2004 – Dudley Junction to Whitebridge Station section of Fernleigh Track completed
- 7 May 2005 – Kahibah Station to Whitebridge Station section officially opened.
- November 2009 – Whitebridge Station to Redhead Station section of Fernleigh Track completed
- November 2010 – Redhead Station to Jewels section of Fernleigh Track completed
- 12 March 2011 – Fernleigh Track fully completed.
When the rail line closed to passengers the writing was on the wall for the train line, and local cyclists started the 40 year campaign for it to be used as a cycleway. There was a very real threat that the northern parts would be sold off as real estate, however a persistent advocacy campaign saw it preserved as the wonderful community asset it is today.