Derailed: High Court delivers blow to Save Our Rail

DEFIANT: A Save Our Rail demonstration outside Newcastle Civic Station in October 2015. Picture: Marina Neil
DEFIANT: A Save Our Rail demonstration outside Newcastle Civic Station in October 2015. Picture: Marina Neil

THE future of Save Our Rail in Hunter public transport debate has been dealt a critical blow, with the High Court rejecting the group’s bid to appeal a ruling in favour of the NSW government.

On Thursday the court dismissed the group’s application against a NSW Court of Appeal ruling handed down last December in favour of the government’s Hunter Development Corporation (HDC), and ordered it to pay costs.

Thursday’s decision leaves Save Our Rail owing the state government an estimated $800,000 to $1 million, though it would be unusual for the government to pursue the full payment. 

But Save Our Rail’s president Joan Dawson and vice president Kim Cross defended the legal action, and said the group would remain a force in public life.

“Nothing Save Our Rail has done has been for its financial gain or that of its members, and it has been transparent in all dealings,” Ms Dawson and Ms Cross said in a statement.

“Members of SOR are proud of what we have achieved and will continue to fight for improved transport in the Hunter.”

Michael Cassel, the HDC chief executive, lauded the court’s ruling at a Newcastle meeting of the Urban Development Institute of Australia on Thursday afternoon.

“Now hopefully, fingers crossed, that’s it. No more Save Our Rail debacles to deal with,” Mr Cassel said.

Mr Cassel said the numerous legal challenges by Save Our Rail over the years against the removal of Newcastle’s heavy rail line had “changed nothing”.

A Transport for NSW spokeswoman said the department was “pleased the High Court’s decision finally brings this matter to an end”.

“The NSW government just wants to get on with the job of delivering better transport for the people of Newcastle and the Hunter region,” the Transport spokeswoman said.

The ruling was the third setback in a row for Save Our Rule in court.

Last December, three judges of the Court of Appeal rejected the group’s bid to set aside a November 2015 ruling that confirmed the government didn’t need legislation to close two kilometres of track between Wickham and Newcastle stations.

Save Our Rail argued that the November 2015 decision was “moot”, since Parliament had already passed legislation letting the government cut the rail line.

But the group was ultimately ordered to pay the government’s costs in the November 2015 decision, and lost a costs decision last December and another with the ruling on Thursday.

Save Our Rail president Ms Dawson has previously suggested the costs are too high to repay, and has accused the government of seeking to punish the group.

The group has also said it has never received a legal bill from the state government.

Amid the legal wrangling, much of the rail line between Wickham and Newcastle has been ripped up, and Wickham station is almost completely demolished.