A report released today predicts that it would cost $75 million to build a rail trail between Casino and Murwillumbah, as opposed to $900 million to bring the train back.
NSW Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner said the study, commissioned by Ballina MP Don Page when he was north coast minister last year, had assessed the economic, environmental and social benefits of the project.
The north coast community was outraged when the rail line was closed in 2004, and has been lobbying unsuccessfully to have a train returned.
Instead, a feasibility released last year predicted it would cost more than $900 million to do so, which is why the rail trail study was commissioned.
Mr Stoner said the rail trail study included cost estimates and an engineering assessment, potential funding sources, stakeholder consultation, preservation issues and the legislative requirements for such a project.
‘By considering the economic benefits of the project, the report also acknowledges the value a rail trail could potentially bring to the local tourism industry,’ Mr Stoner said.
‘Following the release of the final report today, I have asked Infrastructure NSW to assess whether this rail trail should be considered for some level of government funding.’
The report indicates that a rail trail would attract up to 97,100 visitors, with at least 34,800 visitors for the project to break even. With an average of 88,300 people expected, it would take four to five years to pay for the project.
The report also suggests that construction could start at Byron Bay, extending north to Mullumbimby and west to Bangalow, as these areas attracted the highest number of visitors.
Both Byron Shire Council and Tweed Shire Council have indicated support for a rail trail, however neither have ruled out the return of light rail.
‘The north coast is a major tourist destination and the Casino to Murwillumbah Rail Trail Study identifies that a rail trail could draw even more tourists to the area,’ Mr Stoner said.
‘Of all international overnight visitors to regional NSW in the year-ended March 2014, nearly half visited the north coast region.