State’s bid to trump court ruling, close rail line at Wickham with Act of Parliament

THE state government will seek Parliament’s approval to officially close the Newcastle rail line at Wickham and finally make a significant start on its $460 million city transport overhaul, reports the Newcastle Herald.

More than eight months after it shut down the trains, Transport Minister Andrew Constance will give notice on Wednesday of a bill to close the line and rip up the tracks.

The move would be in accordance with the same statutory requirements the government tried to side-step when it ceased services into Newcastle railway station on Boxing Day last year.

But it now says new legislation is necessary to avert a cost blowout and further delays to the project, rather than continuing to wait for a ruling from the Court of Appeal on whether it can go ahead without an Act of Parliament.

It briefed MPs on the upper house crossbench on Tuesday about the ‘‘Transport Administration Amendment (Closure of Railway Line at Newcastle) Bill 2015’’.

The Court of Appeal reserved its judgment in the case between the government and Save Our Rail, after a hearing in July.

That followed the Supreme Court’s Christmas Eve decision last year that tied the government’s hands from ripping out the tracks, and installing light rail along part of the corridor. It would also build a transport interchange at Wickham.

The Supreme Court ruled the government had to abide by the Transport Administration Act, which states an Act of Parliament is needed before RailCorp could close the rail line, which would include removing the tracks and associated infrastructure or selling the land.

In an attempt to circumvent the requirement, the government ordered the Hunter Development Corporation to use its powers to compulsorily acquire the corridor for $10.

It believed HDC would not be bound by the same restrictions as RailCorp, which in turn wouldn’t be deemed to have sold the land if it was forced to hand it over. But the Supreme Court rejected the arrangements.

Without Labor’s backing, the government would need the support of the Christian Democrats, who have been vocal critics of the rail’s removal, or the Shooter and Fishers MPs to get the bill through.

Save Our Rail vice president Kim Cross said the group would continue to lobby minor parties not to support the rail’s removal, and believed the government did not have the numbers to pass the bill.

However, regardless of the bill’s fate, the group would have no way of legally compelling the government to reinstate train services.

Read the full article at the Newcastle Herald.