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THE state government can’t legally run trains on Newcastle’s ‘‘truncated’’ heavy rail line or maintain the tracks even if it wanted to, after it changed its own environmental protection licence for the rail network.
While it may not have the power to physically remove the line, the government has managed to eradicate it on paper at least.
Environment Protection Authority documents show the corridor has been excised from the area in which Sydney Trains has approval under environmental laws to operate services and to repair or maintain tracks.
A map lodged with the EPA of the remaining Sydney Trains network is marked ‘‘main line truncated beyond Hamilton’’ at its new boundary.
The change was made to coincide with the shut down of trains on Boxing Day, as part of elaborate arrangements the government prepared for the project.
But the removal of the tracks was thwarted when the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Save Our Rail group, which challenged the government’s authority to take them out without an act of Parliament.
The Court of Appeal has reserved its decision on the government’s recent appeal, but heard that the government has no legal obligation to run trains or maintain the tracks even if it can’t pull them out.
The EPA documents show the government would have to amend the environmental protection licence again before either could occur, with a penalty of up to $1million for a corporation caught carrying out unauthorised activities.
In technical terms, Sydney Trains’ licence approves ‘‘railway system activities’’ – running trains and ‘‘the installation, on site repair, on site maintenance or on site upgrading of track, including the construction or significant alteration of any ancillary works’’. The works in turn include ‘‘level crossings’’ and ‘‘over track structures’’.
New crossings were installed and 780metres of overhead wiring was torn down, after the corridor was excised from the licensed network.
However, a Transport for NSW spokeswoman said an environmental protection licence ‘‘is not required for these activities’’.
A new licence has been issued to contractor Laing O’Rourke for the corridor between Hamilton and Wickham, to construct the new Wickham transport interchange.
This article first appeared on www.theherald.com.au
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