The NSW government has confirmed the corridor for the planned Lower Hunter freight rail bypass, a long-awaited project which would help ease rail congestion around Newcastle.
Regional Transport Minister Sam Farraway said on Friday that the government would secure and preserve land for the route between Fassifern and Hexham.
"Today we are releasing our plan for the future of freight in the Hunter and providing the community with certainty as we move towards investigation works and final design," he said.
The 30-kilometre bypass would divert goods trains away from the Adamstown and Islington level crossings, which have long caused headaches for motorists, though the government has said construction could be decades away.
Business Hunter chief executive Bob Hawes said confirmation of the 60-metre-wide corridor was a key step in the project.
"It is important that they secure a corridor before urban growth of the western part of Newcastle, both industrial and residential, got too much closer," he said.
"It's very important that we try to separate freight and passenger trains if we're to have any hope of improving overall connectivity."
The identified route for the bypass diverges from the existing line just north of Fassifern and passes north through a new tunnel on its way west of Barnsley and West Wallsend.
The route then hugs the western side of the M1 Pacific Motorway before turning east at Black Hill and rejoining the main north line at Tarro.
"It's important that ... there are lines on a map rather than everyone second-guessing or being concerned about things which aren't confirmed," Mr Hawes said.
Some residents along the city's western fringe told the Newcastle Herald last year that the proposed route for the bypass would affect their lives and property values.
Mr Hawes said the bypass would be expensive, but the proposed Newcastle container terminal and plans for high-speed rail to Sydney made it more urgent.
"I know they were talking many, many years off previously, but now we might be looking at a much shorter timespan, perhaps a five- to 10-year period rather than in that 15-year timeframe.
"We're certainly getting more clarity around what a business case might look like if we're able to secure that corridor and preserve it."
Mr Farraway said the planning process had "identified a corridor which will better connect the port of Newcastle with regional NSW, ensuring we can get goods and services from paddock to port efficiently".
"By planning ahead and preserving this corridor for future rail freight, we can deliver a more direct route for freight operators and reduce congestion on current rail lines," he said.
"This will mean better services for passengers using the train network around this region."
He said planning for the new link would consider future industrial areas to ensure easy connections for freight as the region grew.