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Closure of Newcastle rail stations not technically a closure of whole line, State Government lawyer says
THE state government has "no duty" to run trains along the entire Newcastle rail line nor to maintain it and can "simply leave it alone", regardless of whether it has the power to pull up the tracks, its lawyers have told the Court of Appeal.
That bleak prospect for city commuters was raised on Thursday during the final day of a hearing in the case that will determine whether the government can go ahead with its city transport and "revitalisation" plans.
The government and Save Our Rail are each appealing different aspects of a Supreme Court decision last year that said the government needs an act of Parliament to cut the heavy rail at Wickham.
Save Our Rail accused the government of "flying in the face" of parliamentary sovereignty by manoeuvring to avoid taking its plans to Parliament for approval.
Under the Transport Administration Act, a "rail infrastructure owner" needs an act before it can close a rail line, which occurs if the tracks and other infrastructure are removed or the land is sold.
Ripping up the tracks past Wickham station would amount to closing the Sydney to Newcastle rail line, and put the government in breach of the law, the group's barrister Shane Prince said.
But the same legislation also says there is no limit on RailCorp's power to discontinue any passenger services, and a "rail infrastructure owner" is "not required to maintain a railway line on which no services are operated", the government's lawyers pointed out.
Last year, the government ordered the Hunter Development Corporation (HDC) to use its compulsory acquisition powers to take the land from RailCorp, believing HDC was not a "rail infrastructure owner" under the Act and would not be bound by it.
The orders were issued within a few days of Save Our Rail writing to then Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian seeking assurances the government would secure Parliament's approval, the court heard. The acquisition was later put on hold, in the wake of the Supreme Court decision.
The government has since argued the line is not closed just because some stations are no longer serviced by trains, which it ceased running into Newcastle on Boxing Day last year.
Tim Robertson SC, barrister for the Hunter Development Corporation, said the closure of a line entailed "flogging it, digging up the line - destroying it" under the Act.
But Mr Prince said reference to "truncation" rather than "closure" was wrong.
"It's not the Central to Newcastle line any more, it's the Central to Hamilton or [eventually] to Wickham line," he said.
"To say this is not the closure of the Sydney to Newcastle line is the height of artificiality."
Acting Chief Justice Margaret Beazley questioned if any court had established exactly what constituted "the line".
Save Our Rail has sought an order to restrain the government from "disposing" of the corridor land, should it win its cross appeal.
The court reserved its decision.
This article first appeared on www.theherald.com.au
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