Rail trail ‘one of the most disturbing, contentious issues’
A NORTHERN Rivers community group will be watching to see if their lobbying has swayed minds, as a bill deciding the future of the Northern Rivers Rail Trail project was tabled in parliament.
The bill introduced on Wednesday seeks to amend part of the Transport Administration Act 1998.
It will authorise the closure of railway lines between Crabbes Creek and Condong and between Casino and Bentley in the Northern Rivers and to retain the land in public ownership.
Essentially this will mean the former railway will become crown land, a move which the
Northern Rivers Railway Action Group (NRRAG) staunchly opposes.
Instead of needing to change the act to implement the Tweed Shire Council's rail trail project to remove the old train tracks, the NRRAG would rather see the 24km shared-user path on the Murwillumbah to Crabbes Creek rail corridor placed next to the existing tracks.
The NRRAG claims their proposal would mean no alteration to legislation would be necessary and preserve the option for the area to reintroduce transport like trains.
During a protest for the bill held last Friday in Murwillumbah, Tweed mayor Katie Milne wrote a letter labelling the issue as "one of the most disturbing and contentious issues we have faced in the council".
"The way this is dealt with will be a legacy that impacts on the future of tourism and the use of the precious few public lands we have left in our shire," she said.
"This corridor could be such a winner if we could turn it into a substantial drawcard with heritage trams or a solar train rather than just a simple, single bike track.
"The prospect of losing the potential for maximising the use of the rail corridor is something I believe future generations will shake their heads in disbelief at the lack of foresight."
The Casino to Murwillumbah Rail Trail Study completed by Arup found the existing rail line would not meet current or future transport needs as the existing line missed vital commercial areas.
The study also found the infrastructure would need more than $900 million to repair deterioration and bring to current safe operating standards.
Cr Milne pointed out the was never peer reviewed, claiming it's failings were "obvious".
"Even now when Byron's feasibility study has clearly shown the potential for dual-use, is indicative of very poor governance and possibly another agenda," she said.
Ballina MP Tamara Smith confirmed the Greens party would vote against the bill.
"We had two thriving and profitable rail services in the Northern Rivers that were taken without our permission and I commend the work NRRAG has done to reinstate public transport infrastructure for our communities," she said.
NRRAG chair Beth Shelley used the first rail trail beside the tracks in NSW on a Public Transport Commission rail corridor at Oberon in 2006 as an example of what was possible.
Ms Shelley said group members had been contacting MPs with their arguments about voting down the bill and would be closely watching the public debate.