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Supporters of maintaining the rail line into Newcastle are hopeful that their fight against NSW government’s plans to remove the line into the CBD will prevail.
The community has fought for more than a decade against state government attempts to cut the rail into the city centre. Developers have long wanted to exploit the city centre’s prime rail line land as it has never been mined and is considered ideal for multi-story developments. Their mates in the NSW parliament have been only too keen to help out.
On July 17, the Supreme Court finished hearing an appeal against the line’s closure bought by Save Our Rail. President of Save our Rail (SOR), Joan Dawson, told Green Left Weekly: “The Baird government is wasting public money on a raft of highly qualified legal representatives. But SOR has presented a credible case against the government’s secretive plans to replace the rail corridor with massive buildings”.
SOR was formed in 2003 and has been active ever since. On Boxing Day last year, the NSW government illegally closed the line into Newcastle. The law requires that a rail line can only be closed by an Act of parliament. This never happened.
To avoid its statutory requirements, the government had “vested” ownership of the land on December 18 from the state rail entity to Hunter Development Corporation (HDC). That way, it would be HDC closing the rail, not the government circumventing the law.
But the Supreme Court ruled that HDC was therefore a “rail operator” and was bound by Transport Administration Act 1988.
The NSW government met on Christmas Day to rescind that ownership agreement, thus ensuring that HDC owned the overhead wires only and Railcorp retained the rail line.
As HDC was not now a “rail operator”, it disabled the line by removing the overhead wires, boom gates and other infrastructure. It then created temporary road crossings by covering the line with road base and turf. Dawson said the effect was an immediate 5% drop in trade, which led to shops closing or cutting staff.
At the appeal Tim Robertson, acting for HDC, said the line was not closed if only a section of it was removed. To this, Judge Meagher responded that “it would depend if you want to get to Newcastle Station by train”.
This article first appeared on www.greenleft.org.au
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