A former railway worker believes sections of the region’s railway network could be reopened for commuter services despite a state government-commissioned report saying it would cost up to $900 million.
Phillip Hill, who worked in various positions on the railway, told Echonetdaily that the $900 million figure was ‘a total fabrication’.
Mr Hill was accompanying Greens senator Lee Rhiannon on a helicopter tour of the line last week to gather video and photographic evidence of the state of the railway tracks.
He said before the line was closed, State Rail had maintenance plans in place.
‘We did costings on bridges and track repairs and it was nowhere near that amount,’ he said.
‘We had programs of $20 to $30 million over several years for bridge renewal and track renewal so the $900 million figure is a furphy and there should be an inquiry into that.’
‘The whole thing was a fabrication’.
Mr Hill admitted sections of the line had problems but ‘in the meantime we could have sections up and running like Mullumbimby to Byron, Byron to Bangalow and Casino to Lismore’.
Greens senator Lee Rhiannon said the helicopter tour, paid for from here parliamentary allowance, would help inform the Greens work towards an integrated transport plan for the northern rivers region.
‘This work is incredibly important for the region and it would have rail as the backbone of those transport plans,’ Ms Rhiannon said.
‘Ensuring roads are safe is important but public transport needs to be the backbone.
‘Video and photos collected today will help show the state of the lines so that people can understand that the line can be restored and the services can be expanded.
‘We’re not looking at just going back to XPT services but we’re also looking at reintroducing commuter services on these lines … public transport is a social justice issue.
‘This area was robbed of something it had for decades and we need to get that service back and expanded.
‘Were not putting a timeline on it but committed to getting this done as soon as possible and will be coining back to consult and get regular feedback.’
NRRAG president Beth Shelley said there was a strong push for a rail trail but advocates of the train were finding it difficult to be heard.
‘State Rail owns a huge amount of land in Byron Bay, right up to Belongil, through the CBD and up to Bangalow,’ she said.
‘That property is worth so much money and we think that’s where the push is coming from.’