Tweed Shire councillors have moved to breathe new life into Murwillumbah’s mothballed railway station and its unused rail corridor with unanimous backing to turn it into a community or cultural hub.
Part of the project would entail turning about a kilometre of the railtrack corridor from the station south toward the Tweed River Art Gallery into a pedestrian walkway for tourists and locals in the south Murwillumbah precinct.
Despite the fact the station’s land, buildings and railway track is owned by the state government, the councillors hope a report to be prepared by staff could guide how the station could be retained by the shire and transformed into a centre for community use and cultural activities.
Deputy mayor Michael Armstrong’s notice of motion to seek a feasibility study for the building to be turned into a community asset was embraced by all councillors.
Cr Carolyn Byrne said the suggestion for the rail corridor section between the station and gallery to be made into a pedestrian access was a vital component.
Cr Byrne said residents of south Murwillumbah had for some time lobbied council to try and build a dedicated pedestrian access in the area for tourists and locals alike to the gallery, which is the shire’s biggest tourist draw at the moment.
Cr Phil Youngblutt also suggested the large piece of land surrounding the station, including old banana loading sheds and water towers, could be made into an attractive public park.
Councillors all agreed they were great ideas and have called for the report on how they could be achieved to be presented at the December meeting.
The station building, including offices, waiting room and toilets are relatively new, having been refurbished by the state government around 10 years ago.
Ironically, not long after the expensive upgrade, the then state government controversially closed the Casino to Murwillumbah branch line in 2004, condemning the building and track to slowly degrade.
Interstate buses still use the facility’s parking bay as a pick-up/drop-off area for tourists and locals using those bus services.
But the old banana loading sheds, which have fallen into disrepair, have been since used as an illegal shelter by homeless people from time to time.
The railway branch line, opened in 1894, is now being touted as a future ‘rail trail’ for walkers, cyclists and horse riders, especially since the coalition government two months ago was seen to have put the last nail in the coffin of its revival.
A consultant’s report commissioned as part of the government’s election campaign claimed it would take an astonishing $900 million to bring the line back to a usable standard for train services.
But critics, including the Trains On Our Tracks (TOOT) lobby, pointed out that the much cheaper option of using the track for a light rail for tourists and commuters was ignored by the report.
The staff report on the proposed revitalisation will include how to retain the station building, site and rail corridor as a public community asset and their capacity for uses including meeting rooms, exhibition, performance and rehearsal spaces.
The report will also look at the area as a cultural facility, given the historical significance of the building, as well as a cost-benefit analysis for their use by Murwillumbah and shirewide residents.
Cr Armstrong said even though Murwillumbah had a civic centre, art gallery, museum and other facilities, retaining the railway buildings, site and corridor presented a ‘fantastic’ opportunity for their reuse by the whole Tweed community.