The state government has stopped short of saying the Casino to Murwillumbah rail line will never run again but it has come up with a figure of almost $1b to fix it – and that would be before the trains started rolling.
Minister for transport Gladys Berejiklian said the study examined the feasibility, benefits and costs of reinstating passenger services on the 130km rail line, which has been out of service since 2004 and which the current government made a pre-election promise to restore.
The report released yesterday, four months late and more than a year after the government took office, instead recommends a focus on improving bus services.
But public transport activist Karin Kolbe has criticised the investigation’s terms of reference and said the $900 million price tag ‘beggars belief’. It is equivalent to the cost of the Tintenbar to Ewingsdale upgrade to the Pacific Highway currently being built.
The figures are also 30 times more than the $30 million estimated as the line’s repair bill in a Price Waterhouse Coopers report done in the months after the line was closed in 2004.
Ms Kolbe, from Trains on Our Tracks (TOOT), described the report as ‘a whitewash’.
‘By focusing on heavy rail and ignoring the tourists, the government gets the answer it wants,’ Ms Kolbe said
‘Why is the Lismore-Bangalow road excluded from this study? This major road has clearly been omitted from the study as the answers won’t suit the government’s purpose,’ she added
The report blamed the high price tag on the need to clear dense vegetation, stabilise landslide areas, replace timber bridges and sleepers, extensive replacement of ballast and bringing the system up to current safety and operating standards for frequent fast train services.
But Ms Kolbe said the report’s authors were considering the cost of returning XPT services to the region and ignoring light rail options.
‘The report ignored the 2007 Southern Cross University patronage, study which found that 2875 people would use a light rail every day,’ she said.
The report went on to say that, even if reopened, the line would still not ‘serve the major growth corridor between Lismore, Ballina, Byron Bay and the Tweed, and would not help people to directly access health, education and social services’.
Greens candidate for Richmond, Dawn Walker, described the outcome as, ‘a damming result for the NSW coalition and the local federal member for Richmond who repeatedly promised to restore commuter train services to the region’.
She said the state government must now expedite a public transport plan for the northern rivers.
‘Our community needs an integrated, reliable public transport system to link consumers to business, students to universities and recreational facilities, and residents to jobs. Many residents are increasingly commuting into Queensland for work and study and we need a good integrated public transport system to support this,’ said Ms Walker
‘Many parents are telling me they want reliable public transport in the evening so our young people can get home safely from entertainment venues,’ she added.
Specifically the report recommended: running more frequent services on five bus routes; changing other bus routes to include key destinations such as education campuses and hospitals; introducing new express bus services on the Pacific and Bruxner Highways; improving timetable integration between services; and improving passenger information.
The findings will now feed into the Northern Rivers Regional Transport Plan, which is expected to take another six to eight months to complete.