The future of the rail corridor has been raised once more before Byron Shire Council.
The future of the rail corridor has been raised once more before Byron Shire Council.

Grand plan or 'sinkhole' for cash? Rail divides council

A COMBATIVE debate over the future use of the Byron Shire's rail corridor unfolded at the council meeting on Thursday.

The council's staff had recommended that a budget allocation at the September quarterly review to continue work on the Rail with Trail plans for the shire.

But Cr Alan Hunter called for support to end work on the project.

Cr Hunter asked that they instead collaborate with other councils to include the Byron Shire in plans for the Casino to Murwillumbah rail trail.

Cr Hunter said there was "absolutely no way forward" with goals for rail transport.

"This is a sinkhole for money," he said.

He said there had meanwhile been evidence supporting the use of bike-friendly rail trails.

Cr Basil Cameron said Cr Hunter's statement political leaders were never interested in rail was "completely wrong".

"Don Page … I can probably drag up a photo of him in this very chamber with his red T-shirt saying 'save the train'," Cr Cameron said.

"He was keen."

He said Justine Elliot "strongly supported" rail in 2004.

"She had a promise of $150 million from the ALP to completely do the whole lot," he said.

"She got elected to the seat of Richmond for it and since then has sat on her hands and done absolutely zipper."

He stressed without early support for the original rail line, the productivity of the region's early industries would have been non-existent.

"Without it, no dairy industry, without it, no butter factory in Byron Bay which was the largest in the southern hemisphere," Cr Cameron said.

"Please let's get back to what the community wants."

Mayor Simon Richardson said the existence of a rail trail "does not rule our having heritage rail as well".

During the second reading debate of the Transport Administration Amendment (Closures of Railway Lines in Northern Rivers) Bill 2020 before state parliament on Wednesday, Ballina MP Tamara Smith praised Cr Richardson "and all of the people who worked together on the feasibility study for the Byron line".

Councillors voted 5-3 to allocate further funding for the Byron Shire proposal.