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Closure of Newcastle rail stations not technically a closure of whole line, State Government lawyer says
"A rail infrastructure owner must not, unless authorised by an act of Parliament, close a railway line," reads Section 99A of the Transport Administration Act 1988.
But that is what the NSW government wants to do from Boxing Day,when it calls in contractors to begin work on its plan to remove the rail line from Wickham to central Newcastle.
The ability of the government to implement its policy, however, will be tested in the Supreme Court on Tuesday morning. The community group, Save Our Rail, will attempt to use the Transport Administration Act to win an injunction preventing work on the project.
"We expect to win," said the president of Save Our Rail, Joan Dawson.
According to the government, the closure of the rail line between Wickham and Newcastle and its eventual replacement by light rail on another corridor will open up the city.
"After years of indecision from Labor, the NSW government is getting on with the job of revitalising Newcastle CBD," Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian said in an emailed statement.
The heavy rail line runs on the surface through Newcastle, and separates much of the commercial centre from the Hunter River waterfront.
But opponents of the plan to remove the rail line say the project will remove the city's connectivity to Sydney and other parts of the Hunter.
"So far as is known, no other city in the world is currently planning to cut back a rail line into its centre," Malcolm Fraser's former chief of staff, and rail enthusiast, Dale Budd told a state parliamentary inquiry into the scheme.
That inquiry this month called on the government to delay its proposed "truncation" of the rail line until it had considered the economic, social and environmental costs of alternative options.
But Ms Berejiklian is pushing on, after the government said delaying works on removing the line would cost about $220,000 a week.
In a statement to Fairfax Media last month, Ms Berejiklian said: "The heavy rail line will be truncated on 26 December 2014 – opening up the CBD to the foreshore – and work will begin straight away on a new interchange at Wickham and new stabling facilities at Hamilton.
"This will impact on tracks and rail infrastructure around Wickham."
In a statement on Monday, Ms Berejiklian said: "Transport for NSW will not be in breach of section 99A of the Transport Administration Act 1988."
The minister said: "Transport for NSW does not intend to permanently remove any rail tracks from Boxing Day. Work will start from Boxing Day on the new interchange at Wickham, on new stabling facilities and station upgrades at Hamilton and replacement of some rail infrastructure."
Section 99A of the act says a railway line is considered closed "if the land concerned is sold or otherwise disposed of or the railway tracks and other works concerned are removed".
This article first appeared on www.smh.com.au
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