State Nationals MP Don Page has distanced himself from previous election promises to reopen the Casino to Murwillumbah railway after the overdue regional rail study was finally released last week.
The report, entitled Casino to Murwillumbah Transport Study, recommends that services remain suspended and ‘rail assets be maintained to a minimum standard only’.
It comes in at 130 pages, cost $2 million and is available at http://bit.ly/15Lo2Du.
The report was a major election commitment for local Ballina MP Page, who released a carefully worded media statement at the time saying, ‘the NSW government is committed to providing the right mix of transport services.’
He said last year on ABC radio (June 26, 2012) that he asked his government and minister to ‘broaden the terms of reference of the feasibility study to make it beyond any doubt that the benefits of rail services on the Murwillumbah to Casino line will be properly analysed by the project team’.
These included ‘environmental benefits’, ‘fewer people using cars’ and ‘less greenhouse gases’. There is little to no reference to those terms within the report.
Different election, different commitment
But back in 2007, all regional Nationals MPs were photographed wearing t-shirts with the words ‘Yes, you can have your trains back’. When asked about pre-election commitments to bring trains back in 2007, Mr Page told Echonetdaily, ‘Any commitment made prior to the 2007 election related to [the coalition] being elected to government in 2007, which didn’t happen. Prior to the 2011 election we committed to doing the feasibility study, which we have honoured.’
But Trains On Our Tracks (TOOT) president Karin Kolbe said, ‘After running hard on the rail question for so many years, many electors did not pick up the subtle shift from “you can have a train” to “you can have a study”.’
As for questions regarding his assessment of the report, a commitment to light rail, or the lack of environmental provisions that he called for, Mr Page did not respond.
Meanwhile, transport minister Gladys Berejiklian, says that ‘The study recommends investigating improving bus services to provide more people with frequent, cost effective public transport to key destinations, rather than reinstating the rail line’.
Astoundingly, light rail transit was eliminated during preliminary assessment, and instead the study focused on heavy, or freight, rail. A Transport for NSW spokesperson told Echonetdaily light rail was not explored for a number of reasons. ‘We found light rail would not provide additional benefits to the rail shuttle option and is less effective over longer distances (greater than 20km).
‘A local Byron Bay shuttle was considered; however, we found regular bus services between Sunrise Beach, Byron and Suffolk Park would provide a better and more flexible public transport service.’
Despite the spokesperson claiming that ‘All options considered by the study were subject to a sustainability assessment’, there is only one small reference to sustainability. Under ‘Rating Against Sustainability’ the report claims returning the XPT extension to Murwillumbah is ‘expected to have a minor positive sustainability impact’. And for a Casino to Murwillumbah rail shuttle (light rail), it again claimed a ‘very minor shift [is] predicted from car to the more sustainable public transport mode.’
The word ‘sustainability’ appears only three times throughout the document. Similarly, the words ‘climate change’ are absent. And even in its terms of reference on page 100, it claims incorrectly that ‘The study represents a broadening of the previously announced engineering and cost evaluation to include consideration of economic, social and environmental benefits’.
Regardless of the report’s failure to address rail’s environmental benefits, it provides an insight into future growth projections for the region. It claims, ‘Future growth in the region will occur in the Tweed region, extending southwards along the coast to Ballina. Lismore, Tweed and Ballina are the defined long term major regional centres.’
Also, ‘The population of the northern rivers is estimated to grow to around 367,000 in 2031 with an increase in housing units from 129,000 to 161,000 (Department of Premier and Cabinet, 2012). The majority of growth will be experienced in the coastal corridor in the area between Ballina and Byron, and in particular along the Tweed coast and in Tweed Heads.’