TRANSPORT minister Gladys Berejiklian says the government’s legal position is ‘‘clear’’ and it would not be in breach of the law in truncating the Newcastle rail line from Boxing Day, despite Save Our Rail’s eleventh-hour move to derail the plans with a court challenge.
But the group believes it has a strong case as well as ‘‘the court of public opinion on our side’’, president Joan Dawson said.
Legal papers were served on government representatives on Friday and proceedings against the State of NSW have been listed with the Supreme Court for Tuesday morning.
It is expected an application will be heard for an injunction to be issued preventing the start of works on December 26 ahead of a hearing of the case.
As revealed by the Newcastle Herald, the group is seeking to challenge the government’s authority to remove heavy rail infrastructure between Newcastle and Wickham without an Act of Parliament, relying on a section of the Transport Administration Act that suggests one is needed to pull up the tracks.
Section 99A says a railway line can’t be closed without Parliament’s approval, and that a line is closed ‘‘if the land concerned is sold or otherwise disposed of or the railway tracks and other works concerned are removed’’.
Section 99B says the rail track owner can, with the approval of the Minister, ‘‘close any level-crossing, bridge or other structure for crossing or passing over or under any railway track if both the level-crossing, bridge or other structure and the railway track are owned by the owner’’.
Ms Berejiklian said Transport for NSW ‘‘will not be in breach of section 99A’’.
The government has warned it would cost $220,000 a week to delay the works, due to ‘‘staffing costs, renting of facilities, machinery and equipment, rescheduling rail possessions, customer information materials and project team costs’’.
But while it has made much of its decision to get rid of the barrier in the city, it has not spelt out exactly how the truncation work will proceed or said explicitly that the tracks would be pulled up.
That has aroused Save Our Rail’s suspicions that the government is skirting such references in the belief it can legally remove all other infrastructure provided it leaves the tracks, at least in the short term.
Overhead wiring is expected to be taken down as soon as possible to make way for new pedestrian crossings and to reduce the potential for theft of copper wiring and vandalism.
‘‘From December 26, over a two-week rail closedown, about 150 workers will be on site to carry out upgrades and prepare for trains to terminate at Hamilton Station. Work will also begin on the upgrades at Wickham Station,’’ Ms Berejiklian said.
‘‘The NSW government is revitalising Newcastle and delivering a new and modern light rail network through the CBD – a job that starts with truncating the rail line and reconnecting Newcastle’s city centre with the foreshore.’’
Mrs Dawson rejected any suggestion the group was seeking to throw a spanner in the works at the last minute, saying it needed to carefully research its case.
‘‘I’ve heard that there are people unhappy with us but quite honestly, the majority of the people as far as we can see really need and want that infrastructure to stay,’’ Mrs Dawson said.
‘‘We are acting for the community, we’re not acting for our own interests.’’
Labor leader John Robertson said legal action was critical to ensuring the corridor remained in tact so that ‘‘if we’re elected in March...we can reinstate those services’’ and to ensure ‘‘we don’t just have some sop to the development industry and deny the people of Newcastle and the wider Hunter good public transport’’.
He said the government had ‘‘no mandate’’ for cutting the rail, but then refused to say what such a mandate would be.
‘‘I’m not going to concede this government has any right to cut the rail line. I’m not going to talk about hypotheticals about what might happen after the election,’’ Mr Robertson said.
The Property Council’s Hunter boss Andrew Fletcher said he had no legal opinion on the court challenge and ‘‘Save Our Rail is well within their rights to pursue their options’’.
‘‘But the reality is that works are already under way and there was a $73 million contract to build the interchange signed yesterday,’’ Mr Fletcher said.
‘‘I think it’s time everyone got behind the revitalisation and the vision instead of fighting it.’’
Ms Berejiklian said the government had ‘‘made a decision and is getting on with the job’’.