SERIOUS RISKS: Robert and Sue Harnett on their farm in Burringbar.
SERIOUS RISKS: Robert and Sue Harnett on their farm in Burringbar. John Gass /TWE

Rail trail sparks biosecurity fears for farmers

FARMERS have raised concerns of a potential biosecurity threat to their land as a result of the proposed Tweed Valley rail trail.

Tweed Shire Council last month agreed to push ahead with plans to build a 24km rail trail along the disused rail corridor from Murwillumbah to Crabbes Creek, following $13 million in funding from the Federal and NSW governments.

Following much debate, councillors agreed to open up the tender process to parties interested in building both on formation or alongside the current tracks, leaving it up to the market to dictate the way forward.

The rail trail has sparked huge interest in the Tweed Valley, with the community split on whether to push ahead with the recreational facility or advocate for a return of a train service to the shire.


Michael Simmons is organising the big RAILS AND TRAILS forum in Murwillumbah tonight
Eva Heath, Ilze Jaunberzins and Karissa Ball from the Murwillumbah and District Chamber of Commerce helped organise the Rails and Trails forum. Scott Powick

Wednesday's forum, which attracted more than 100 residents, heard from eight panel members, including engineers, farmers and representatives from the tourism industry, light rail, business and rail trails.

Long-time Burringbar dairy farmer Sue Harnett, across whose land the rail trail would run, said biosecurity risks were a real concern for producers.

"Farmers are quite concerned with this rail trail," she said.

"They want to ensure it doesn't jeopardise the viability of their farm. One of the major concerns is we are very close to an international airport. The Farmers Federation has highlighted that foot and mouth could be an issue with international visitors walking through the middle of farms on rail trails.

"It needs to be highlighted to council that while farmers are not against the rail trails, they want to ensure that their interests in this project are given a really high priority."

Ms Harnett called on the council to consult closely with farmers and give their concerns "the highest priority".

"We know how important local food is to this community," she said.

Fencing was another area of concern for farmers, particularly with the possibility of pet dogs and horses using the rail trail.

Councillor Warren Polglase, who recently returned from a fact-finding tour of rail trails in New Zealand, said the council would definitely consult closely with all concerned stakeholders.


About 100 people attended the Rail Trail forum in Murwillumbah on Wednesday .(March 14, 2018)
About 100 people attended the Rail Trail forum in Murwillumbah on Wednesday .(March 14, 2018) Nikki Todd

Civil engineer Tom Rayner gained strong support from the audience as he called for the rail trail to be built beside the disused tracks, saying it would be a far cheaper option and would allow the possibility of light rail to be returned to the tracks.

Peter Finch, from Byron Bay Tramlink, said the possibility of linking the Tweed to the new solar- powered light rail trail service launched in Byron at Christmas was a real possibility and would link tourists to Murwillumbah's art gallery and shops.

Geoff Meers from the Northern Rivers Rail Trail Association said it was great news funding had been secured for the rail trail and said his organisation would support a rail trail in an form - either on or off formation.