Despite the thousands who rallied on stations, 8,250 signatures on petitions and promises of train services and funding from state and federal governments, we now face the significant threat of legislation being passed in state parliament this week which will lift the protection the rail corridor has under present legislation and allow the 132 kilometres of line to be ripped up, despite around 50 per cent of the line being in reasonable condition.
This will pave the way for the state government to potentially sell off the very valuable rail corridor to developers for a quick profit. Even though 85 per cent of the population of Byron and Lismore local government areas live within 5km of the line and have easy access to a train service, this will mean the end of any chance of the northern rivers community ever getting the trains they have been asking for.
The story we are being told is that this change to legislation is necessary to allow a rail trail to be built and that this rail trail will be the greatest thing since sliced bread for the northern rivers economy! Well, we know there’s no way a rail trail can provide the economic, social or environmental benefits for the same cost as the train service the community wants and needs.
It has been reported that initial estimates suggest a rail trail will cost $18m for the Murwillumbah to Byron Bay section and $38m for the complete trail from Murwillumbah to Casino. That is, $38m+ of taxpayer money for a piece of infrastructure for the exclusive use of a few bike-riding enthusiasts.
In contrast to the cost of a rail trail, studies have shown that the Casino to Murwillumbah line could be restored for less than $30m and that a commuter train service would be well patronised. The Victorian government’s ‘Reviewing the Last Decade of Public Transport Infrastructure Projects in Australasia’ survey 2011 shows the cost of restoring similar lines in Victoria is between $0.124m and $0.265m per kilometre. Even at the higher figure of $0.265m per kilometre the cost of restoring the 132km of line from Casino to Murwillumbah would be less than $35m.
Does the state government really believe that this community will sit back and allow this very valuable public asset be destroyed (or worse, sold off) for the dubious benefits of a rail trail which could easily cost taxpayers much more than the train service, which would not only benefit the whole community but also the 1.5m tourists who visit every year?
If so, they must also believe in the tooth fairy.
Louise Doran, Ocean Shores