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Support swells for north coast commuter rail

Greens senator Lee Rhiannon with members of Trains On Our Tracks and the Northern Rivers Railway Action Group at Casino airport.

Members of Trains On Our Tracks and the Northern Rivers Railway Action Group with Greens senator Lee Rhiannon at Casino airport recently.

Luis Feliu

Supporters of a return of rail services for the north coast, emboldened by the recent failure of controversial rail-trail plans for the region, are growing in numbers.

A petition signed by thousands of people will be handed over to new Greens MP for Ballina Tamara Smith this morning at Byron Bay railway station.

Ms Smith is a supporter of rail transport for the north coast and spoke about the issue in parliament soon after her election.

Today’s 3,500 petition signatures brings the total number of signatures collected by the TOOT (Trains On Our Tracks) lobby group to 15,000.

TOOT president Basil Cameron said it showed that ‘clearly there is very strong support for the return of rail services to our line’.

‘A further 2,000 signatures have also been collected by our partners, the Northern Rivers Rail Action Group (NRRAG) based in Lismore,’ Mr Cameron said.

The petition calls for ‘an urgently needed public and tourist transport system, including modern shuttle light rail, buses and cycling tracks for the fast growing northern rivers’.

‘The community’s rejection of a proposal to rip up the tracks and the election of the new Member for Ballina in March presents an opportunity for the NSW government to restart the conversation around rail,’ Mr Cameron said.

‘Rail runs through the centre of eight of the ten largest population centres in the northern rivers – soon to be nine with the planned extension of the Queensland rail system to the border – and as such is the perfect backbone for a regional public transport system connecting local bus services and cycleways.

‘The rapid growth in our region and the adjacent Gold Coast region, particularly in relation to tourism, demands rail as a solution to the sustainable dispersal of tourists and increasing traffic congestion in our towns and villages,’ he said.

The Northern Rivers Railway Action Group (NRRAG) was founded last year when the disused Casino to Murwillumbah railway line corridor was threatened by rail trail proposals.

NRRAG say this ‘imminent threat of destruction’ was due to the Rail Trail Community Management Bill, a proposed amendment to the NSW Transport Administration Act, introduced into parliament by the Labor Party.

Before NRRAG was formed, since the closure of the line in 2004, TOOT was the only group representing the interests of railway supporters in the region.

Now, NRRAG and TOOT work in close cooperation on the issue, with TOOT mainly active in the coastal areas and NRRAG in the inland areas.

Between the two groups have collected and presented to parliament petitions containing more than 15,000 names.

Around a third of those signatures were added last year when the rail-trail campaign started to pick up steam.

NRRAG president Beth Shelley
 said the huge increase in support since ‘demonstrates the strength of feeling in the community around the need for the railway to be preserved and re-opened, and the deep concern local residents have that their great railway could be replaced with a gravel cycleway for use by a small number of elite cyclists’.

‘The northern rivers is a rapidly growing region, both in terms of permanent population and tourism. It is also an area with a relatively high proportion of elderly and disabled people with mobility issues, many of whom who can’t drive, and  are unable to use buses due to the difficulty of navigating the bus network in a timely, efficient, convenient or comfortable manner,’ Ms Shelley said.

‘This has made life very difficult for them and made their lives increasingly isolated.

‘The lack of rail transport also places young peoples’ lives in increasing danger as they are forced to drive on the area’s narrow, winding roads to access recreation and entertainment as well as tertiary education and employment opportunities.’

‘It is therefore all the more mind boggling why, given this clear need for a modern rail based transport system, the state government has been recently intending to provide $50 million to corporate-backed groups like the Rail Trail consortium and other tourist-oriented operations to remove the railway line. ‘

‘Although NRRAG is not opposed to cycleways and supports dual use of the corridor, the region, with its growing population and tourist numbers, doesn’t need tourist cycleways that are only accessible by car and will therefore increase traffic congestion.

‘It needs an effective rail-based public transport system that will help locals and tourists alike (with their bicycles if they want) to get around the region and take cars off the road,’ Ms Shelley said.

 
Beth Shelley
President, NRRAG Inc.

Chris Mansergh
Secretary, NRRAG Inc.


23 responses to “Support swells for north coast commuter rail”

  1. Neil McKenzie says:

    Luis and others – enjoy the weeds as you may have just condemned the corridor to oblivion.

    If the State Government will not fund a certain winner such as the rail trail they will certainly not fund a definite loser like the return of trains at many times the cost.

    Thanks guys.

    • Tim Shanasy says:

      Well said Neil.

      If the corridor fails to be utilised and falls into oblivion, the NSW govt. may well decide to sell it off.
      They don’t even need to change the law to do it. It belongs to them.

      Tooters need to understand that we’re all on the same page regarding keeping the corridor safe from sell-off.

      Tooters and NRags are their own worst enemy on this principle issue.

      To keep the corridor, our community MUST utilise it, and that is where a rail trail is vital and very useful at least as a first stage to any further public needs into the future.

      Simon Richardson’s “multi modal” intervention-concoction was the totally confusing element that lost this region’s potential $44 million development funding.

      What a massive boo boo that turned out to be.

  2. Greg Byrnes says:

    If you keep submitting separate petitions how do you know if it is not the same people signing them?

    If you ask an open question such as do you support public transport, light rail and cycling tracks – who would say no but that does not ask the various questions such as:
    Would you rather have an empty corridor rather than having a rail trail?
    Would you always use the rail and sell your car?
    Would you rather the government spend more money on rail rather than investing in solar powered buses?

    “tourist cycleways that are only accessible by car” – it is not just for tourists – it can be used by everyone. It can be easily accessed directly from anywhere along the trail and for a lot of people almost at their back door.

  3. Diana Eriksen says:

    I’m heartened by the prospect of another popular push to restore rail transport services to the Tweed. With Queensland pushing on with extending the Gold Coast line to the border it has seemed to me the utmost idiocy for our pollies to turn their backs on the enormous benefits that an integrated interstate rail system could bring the region. Is politics totally ruled by lobbyists and big political donors these days?. I can envisage educational institutions on both sides of the border being made so much more accessible to students as far south as Ballina and as far north as Brisbane if kids could travel on a convenient and safe rail system.
    Even with the Gold Coast rail finishing at Varsity Lakes I was able to fly in from Europe to Brisbane airport about 6.20 am a week ago, walk across to the station beside the International terminal get out at Robin and read a newspaper and drink coffee until my husband was able to leave the farm, pop over the Tomewin Range and pick me up 40 minutes later. Trying to get in and out of Brisbane in the early morning peak would have been miserable. Rail travel within Europe is great but pretty expensive but the convenience and the environmental advantage of keeping thousands of cars off the roads is enormous. Go TOOT

    • jedda says:

      ” Is politics totally ruled by lobbyists and big political donors these days?. ”
      i fear it is

    • Chris Little says:

      A new railway line to the Queensland border to join to a line that does not exit, is only slightly more fanciful than the restoration of the old line.
      I assume these students you write of are not paying to use the imaginary line because they will get free travel. Add in the elderly. disabled, unemployed and low income earners that other responders write of, and no-one would be paying to use this rail line.

  4. Gary Ainsworth says:

    This is great news! And im sure there are more people in favour of rail that couldnt make it to sign the petition. The community clearly wants trains instead of that silly bike track!
    Common sense has prevailed.

  5. Mick says:

    Good on the members of TOOT for their dedication . To be honest though , I don`t think this Government or any in the future will be spending money up here . I doubt we`re even anywhere near the “To Do ” list .
    When the advantage of fast trains between major cities to cut airport congestion is not even discussed the resurrection of the Far North Coast rail has no chance . Might be a better idea to pick something that at least has a chance of a positive outcome …. Just saying ….

  6. Terri Bradley says:

    Have you considered starting a petition online? Change.org have great success when someone starts one & it is amazing how this usually gets things going.

    • louise says:

      There is a petition on change.org

      There is something very wrong with our political system when big businesses such as oil companies, road construction companies and airlines are able to dictate what transport we get. Multi $billion highways and roads, paid for by our taxes, make huge profits for business, but carve up our communities, destroy our environment and kill people.

      Modern rail is much cheaper, better for our environment, and rarely kills or maims people.

      Our politicians have to start listening to the people who vote for them and pay their very generous wages.

  7. Chris Little says:

    Yes please. I love trains.
    Can I have a billion dollar rail line so I can use my $2.50 senior ticket

    • Tim Shanasy says:

      This article is very amusing indeed . .

      Waiting endlessly for a train service to be rebuilt is actually threatening our corridor with eventual sell-off.

      The vast majority of parliamentarians know that a train service would be a complete cost blow-out exercise.

      And who are these stated “corporate-backed groups” that Beth Shelley President of NRRAG is referring to???

      NRRT is a strictly volunteer group, whose sole purpose is to save the corridor from sell-off, whilst creating jobs for people like YOU . . !!

      Waiting for trains, is a sure ticket to losing our corridor for ever.

      A rail trail is a sure way to keep the corridor active, and safe from sell-off, until our population reaches train service viability, many decades into the future.

      A rail trail is a win win for us ALL. Hands down . .

      • Gary Ainsworth says:

        Tim, the rail trail had its chance, but was rejected by the govenment in favour of the Tumbarumba to Rosewood trail. Its only opportunity at funding in the near future has been lost. Its time to move on from some thing that will never happen.

    • jedda says:

      Can I have a train so my teenage daughters are safe from drunk drivers and can get home safely from an evening out.
      Can I have a train so my environment isn’t being trashed and we can all do our bit to slow down climate change.
      Can I have a train so we can stop building over priced un neccessary high ways for the corporate trucks and funnel some of money into local roads that are falling to bits.
      Can I have a train because pubic transport badly is needed for all members of our community.
      Just a few other reasons why a train would be nice!
      plus why would you want to deny some senior citizens who perhaps cannot drive any more, access to a train?

  8. Angie says:

    I can’t believe the negativity towards Toot in the comments on this article.
    There is absolutely no way that asking for trains will result in the corridor being sold off, simply because the railway is protected by legislation. The ONLY threat to the railway is the TRAIL because it requires changing that legislation. That seems to be the whole point of the “Rail Trail proposal” – to change the legislation protecting the corridor.
    The ‘rail trail’ is NOT going ahead. NRRT’s proposal has FAILED because it would not be able to maintain/fund itself which would have resulted in it being closed and sold off since the protection would have already been gone. Thankgod we stopped that from happening.
    TOOT deserves the communities support for protecting this asset which we know is capable of benefiting the community, in particular those most in need.

    • Gary Ainsworth says:

      You are correct Angie. I don’t know why the pro rail trailers are having such difficulty understanding this.

    • marie lawton says:

      The corridor will still be owned by state rail and will not be able to be sold off if it is used as a rail trail. Ballina to Booyong was eventually sold off because it was damaged and not being used.

      • Gary Ainsworth says:

        (Facepalm)

        Marie, Angie just explained why the corridor will be at risk and yet you keep pushing with your own misinformation.

        The Ballina Branch was not closed because it was “damaged and not being used” but because the Government got a act of Parliament and officially closed the line. Technically speaking the C – M line is not closed, but it is suspended. Unless the railway is officially closed or ripped up, the legistlation still protects it from any possible risk of sell off.

  9. Matt Cox says:

    Cry me a river NRRT. Your entire premise for trail against rail is flawed on every point. The population density has nothing to do with the fact we don’t have a train service. It’s never been cited in any report ever. The alignment or the grades have nothing to do with it. That it was built many many years ago has nothing to do with it. The travel times have nothing to do with it. We don’t have railway because in the past there was no political will to do anything here. The seats of Lismore and Ballina are now marginal for the first time in history. We now have a political contest and where you find political contests, you invariably find money. Bring it on.

  10. Ross Thatcher says:

    All these people living in paradise but expecting a fast track out of here… why do you choose to live here? We have no train service, never really have had, and the idea that a single-way rail-line could ever provide adequate public transport services prove how out of touch with your geographical region you are.

    At best you’d have delays changing carriers at every station, with obvious delays and inconvenience, when a simple leisurely and healthy bike ride would have you at your destination in half the time. Bike rentals would be huge you could rent a fresh battery-powered bike if you wished at any station and not have to worry about parking it at the end.

    I can think of many farms and businesses that could benefit from recycling the track for winch-powered transport solutions in preference to tractors. And eco-tourism will really start to boom!

    I wish people could acknowledge and appreciate what they have, and stop seeking progress through technology and traveling elsewhere fast. Slow down and breathe the air where you are.

  11. louise says:

    Contrary to above ill-informed comments, research shows a modern train service for this fast growing region, and for the 4.6m tourists who visit the region every year, would be viable. Just like the trains and light rail on the Gold Coast.

    The North Coast is the third most popular region in Australia for visitors after Sydney and Melbourne. No matter how many billions we spend, our roads will be increasingly congested (and potholed) and parking in towns impossible unless we have a more sustainable transport system, which must include rail. So many of the most popular towns have a train station in the centre. There’s plenty of room along the line for a cycleway as well. The survival of the tourist industry is at stake. No one wants to leave a city full of traffic to holiday in a town full of traffic.

    Now that the political dynamic has changed and the government has realised ripping up a billion $ train line will not win them votes, or seats, the conversation has also changed.,

    • Ross Thatcher says:

      Sorry, but have you ever walked the rail-line? Ever crossed any of the hundreds of trestle-bridges? It’s a SINGLE LINE the entire way, and every single one of the hundreds of bridges would need to be widened, at least TRIPLED if we are to include the bike-track you suggest which would be dangerous and noisy. Not to mention that the increase of cars which you mention, which will never stop regardless, will become worse with lengthy delays at every crossing.

      Eco-tourism is the future of tourism. So many tipi villages could be built along the corridor, so many camping spots, so many cabins, so many struggling rural farmers could gain increased income with camping facilities, so many businesses could BOOM including cafes and equipment hire/sales, accommodation accommodation accommodation!

      Safety from the traffic, the smog, the noise, a real appreciation of the beauty of this landscape. Enjoy the cities if you wish, with their modern transport and train-stations leaving you stranded without expensive taxis or private transport awaiting your collection. The bicycle is truly freedom, freedom from taxation, from parking restriction, and is the only practical pollution-free form of transport apart from walking that we still have, more than a century after the invention of the motor-vehicle.

      Rush rush rush to be somewhere else.. why? When you can be here? Now?

      • Angie says:

        Hundreds of trestle bridges? Lengthy delays? I don’t think so! And it doesn’t have to be a double track either, there are plenty of sidings along the line where trains can pass each other.
        Trains are Eco Tourism and safety from the traffic!
        The bike trail is the only pipe-dream here!

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