HAPPIER DAYS: Supporters of the Northern Rivers rail trail after it was announced last year that the proposal was in line for funding under the Regional Tourism Infrastructure Fund.
HAPPIER DAYS: Supporters of the Northern Rivers rail trail after it was announced last year that the proposal was in line for funding under the Regional Tourism Infrastructure Fund. Marc Stapelberg

Rail trail disconnect cost project millions: Page

FORMER Ballina MP Don Page has taken a swipe at his replacement, Greens MP Tamara Smith, for her failure to fully back the proposal for a Northern Rivers rail trail after being elected.

Prior to the 2015 state election, the NSW Government put $45 million on the table towards the estimated $60-$75 million cost of the trail.

But despite the fanfare, after the election the money went elsewhere.

"When the new member for Ballina was asked about rail trails, her response was such that the NSW Government decided to put the money into airports," Mr Page, now chairman for Regional Development Australia Northern Rivers, said.

"She said she wanted the trains back; well with all due respect that's not going to happen."

But Ms Smith said the claims were "outrageous", declaring she had not even been sworn in when the NSW Government opted to fund a pilot rail trail on the South Coast rather than the North Coast proposal.

Ms Smith said the issue came down to proponents of the Northern Rivers rail trail claiming it needed "exclusive use" of the corridor, which would involve removing the train tracks.

That had led to a perception that supporters of the rail trail were against public transport, Ms Smith said.

"The feedback that I got directly was that the failure was a lack of stakeholder agreement about the rail trail," she said.

"The reason the South Coast was successful was because they had worked so well with various stakeholders in the community.

"Of course we love the idea of cycle paths everywhere, but we do not think the rail (tracks) should be removed forever because we still believe the rail could come back.

"I want to see us with world-class rail trails in the area and I want to see us with public transport that's going to keep growing."

The comments come as Byron Shire mayor Simon Richardson prepares to unveil a proposal for a "multi-modal rail corridor" in the Shire as part of his election platform.

A return of trains on the entire corridor has already been ruled impossible by the NSW Government after a report indicated it would cost more than $900 million and bypass key coastal growth areas.

Mr Page however said the onus was on Byron Shire Council to show trains could be viable "instead of acting as an obstruction" to the rail trail project.

Both Lismore City Council and Richmond Valley Council have fully backed the rail trail.

In Lismore, the idea has recently been afforded higher priority with Cr Glenys Ritchie amending the Lismore City Council "wishlist" of projects required for state and federal funding to put the rail trail in the "shovel ready" category.

Supporters are hoping that a scaled-down first stage proposal from Murwillumbah to Crabbes Creek in Tweed Shire will attract $13 million in joint State and Federal Government funding.

An application of $6.5 million for the project were submitted under Round Three of the Federal Government's National Stronger Regions Fund, with the NSW Government matching the funding.

An announcement on the outcome of the application was originally expected in July.

Vice President of Northern Rivers Rail Trail, Cameron Arnold, said the idea was to "get one section up and running and show how viable a rail trail can be".

Mr Page said if Tweed was successful it would "become self-evident that this is a very positive development for the region".

"We have potentially the best rail trail in Australia, because of our climate and because we already have an established tourism industry," he said.