The fate of the Hunter rail line hangs on a legal technicality.
In a twist that no one saw coming, Hunter Development Corporation, which answers to the state government, is attempting to forcibly acquire the Newcastle rail corridor – from the state government.
Under the Transportation Act the government cannot rip up the rail infrastructure or dispose of the land without an Act of Parliament, which is where HDC comes in.
Rail Corp started transferring ownership of overhead wiring and boom gates to HDC on December 19 and was expected to complete the process on Boxing Day.
If this loophole proves successful in court this morning, the government will start dismantling the service, starting with the boom gates at Stewart Avenue, Newcastle, in the early hours of Boxing Day.
The government has told Fairfax Media it won’t touch the tracks straight away.
Save Our Rail filed an injunction against the government earlier this week in an attempt to stop the truncation.
The Queen’s Counsel represented Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian and Rail Corp.
Tim Robertson SC, brother of high-profile human rights lawyer to Julian Assange, represented HDC.
The court will consider today if there was collaboration between Rail Corp, HDC and the government to circumvent the act.
If so, Justice Michael Adams is expected to apply an injunction on work to dismantle the tracks.
“We’re glad we’ve had a day in court and that the court recognises that those watching the process [did so] in a deliberate action to get around the act,” Save Our Rail vice-president and Metford resident Kim Cross said.
“[Justice Adams] did say the defendant was one head with two arms with the Minister [Ms Berejiklian] being the head, and HDC and Rail Corp the arms.”
Opposition spokeswoman for Transport Penny Sharpe accused the government of taking extreme measures to contravene the Transport Act.
“To use HDC as a holding-company to bypass the law and the Act is a pretty big step,” she said.
An injunction would stop the government from removing rail infrastructure, but would not stop services being diverted to Broadmeadow on Boxing Day.
Doubts over disabled access at Broadmeadow Station
People moving between Maitland and Newcastle on public transport will go via Broadmeadow Station from Boxing Day despite some serious concerns over access.
Rail staff will meet people in wheelchairs at the station to help them access its steep ramps in the absence of lifts.
The ramps are 1:8 in grade when the national benchmark is a much gentler 1:14 – a one metre gain in elevation for every 14 metres.
A Hunter staff member of Transport for NSW who wished to remain anonymous said a wheelchair could easily run out of control down the steep ramps.
“For someone in a wheelchair [the ramp] is a bit steep, but there will be staff there to assist,” he said. The ramps link the three platforms to Graham Road, where wheelchair accessible buses will operate.
“You would need someone to push you up the ramp it’s that steep,” Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp said.
“They’ve brought this in as a temporary measure, but it’s a bloody disgrace. The people of Maitland and Newcastle will be absolutely devastated.”
Trains between Maitland and Broadmeadow between Boxing Day and January 4 will use the Woodville and Islington junctions normally reserved for XPT and freight services.
A Transport for NSW spokesman said Broadmeadow Station met most accessibility standards and staff would assist customers as required.
“Customers requiring accessibility assistance between Boxing Day and January 4 should phone 131 500,” he said.
“From January 5 Hamilton station will offer easy interchange with fully accessible and airconditioned buses all the way to Newcastle.”