Save Our Rail July court date for Newcastle Rail line

A DECISION on whether the government has the power to remove Newcastle’s heavy rail line is unlikely to be resolved by a court before July – months after  a state election being touted as a referendum on the government’s revitalisation plans for the city, reports the Newcastle Herald.

Overhead wiring and level crossing boom gates have been removed between Newcastle and the site of the proposed Wickham transport interchange, and new pedestrian crossings of the corridor installed.

But the government remains hamstrung by a Supreme Court decision preventing any major works, including the removal of the tracks, unless State Parliament passes an act approving the line’s official closure. It is appealing against the ruling, which followed a challenge from the Save Our Rail group … with Registrar Jerry Riznyczok setting it down for July 15 and 16.

The headache for the government arises from the Transport Administration Act, which says a rail infrastructure owner – RailCorp – can’t close a line without Parliament’s approval.Section 99A says a line would be considered closed if the land is ‘‘sold or otherwise disposed of or the railway tracks and other works concerned are removed’’.

In an attempt to circumvent the requirement, the government instructed the Hunter Development Corporation last year to compulsorily acquire the rail land, arguing RailCorp could not be considered to have technically ‘‘disposed of’’ the corridor if it was forced to hand it over.

But the acquisition was abandoned and the project left in limbo when the Supreme Court ruled on Christmas Eve that the corporation would be deemed a rail infrastructure owner.

But Save Our Rail vice-president Kim Cross said even if her group won it would still have to convince a Baird government to bring back the trains.‘‘However you can’t restore rail services if you don’t have a rail corridor on which to run them,’’ Ms Cross said. ‘‘So it is an essential first step, but there is also the political battle.’’

Read the full article at the Newcastle Herald.