by Aisling Brennan and Hamish Broome
THE Tweed Shire Mayor wants an investigation into whether the existing railway could be reopened despite support for the Northern Rivers Rail Trail continuing to gather momentum.
Mayor Katie Milne's renewed call for action comes as the 13th anniversary of the last train leaving Lismore railway station for Sydney was marked this week.
During the April 20 council meeting, Cr Milne lost her proposal to commission a report on the potential to construct a rail trail alongside the existing rail lines, allowing for the preservation of the rail lines, instead of the current rail trail plan to build over existing lines.
A month on from the meeting, Cr Milne said she still as committed as ever to the possibility of an operational railway line in the Tweed.
"Most everyone I speak to, sees $13m for such frivolity as a slap in the face to our hundreds of disadvantaged and homeless people, especially after our floods," Cr Milne said, referring to the current $13 million grant application council lodged to the state and federal governments to fund 24km of the rail trail from Murwillumbah to Crabbes Creek.
"I suspect the community would blockade any removal of the rail lines. Public transport is just too important, especially for our frail and aging population.
"At twice the estimated cost than for any other rail in the world, these costings need an independent review by a proper rail construction company, not a road building company."
But council's director of engineering David Oxenham discouraged council to do the investigation because of the impact it might have on the grant application.
"If council continues along this line it will severely compromise this application," Mr Oxenham said.
"I'm not a railway expert but putting a railway back on the existing line as well as having dual trail would cost more than the proposed $13m."
North Coast Destination Network chairman Cameron Arnold said he was grateful for Tweed Shire Council's commitment to the rail trail.
"It's taken a couple attempts to get the State Government to actually give significant evidence they will match that funding but that was given at the last application," Mr Arnold said.
"I believe we will hear back from them any time now and we are very confident."
While Byron Shire Council hasn't been as supportive in the planning, Mr Arnold said he believed with the help of Richmond, Lismore and Tweed councils, the rail trail will be up and running sooner rather than later.
"It's got to happen, it's got to go ahead," he said.
"Surely if we squeeze it into Byron, they'll realise how good it can be."
AT A GLANCE
The Casino to Murwillumbah Rail Line was opened in 1894. It was a single-track, standard-gauge railway line spanning 130km through the four local government areas of Byron, Lismore, Richmond Valley and Tweed.
It originally had 24 stations and passed through a umber of regional centres including Lismore, Bangalow, Byron Bay, Mullumbimby and Murwillumbah.
A daily return express passenger train - XPT - service between Murwillumbah and Casino, and continuing to Sydney, operated from 1990 to 2004, when the NSW Government ended rail services.
A replacement bus service has been in operation ever since.