Following from last week’s article where rail trail advocate Geoff Meers espoused the benefits of rail trails, Byron councillor and TOOT (Trains On Our Tracks) spokesperson Basil Cameron puts forward the case for rail’s return.
Cr Cameron believes that ‘within the community, there is a high level of anger and frustration with the current government for the way in which the rail issue has been mishandled.’
‘We could have saved $2 million on the rail study [The Casino to Murwillumbah Transport Study] if local National politicians had been more honest about why they have broken their promises to the community.
Privatisation by stealth
‘The rail study was a red herring to disguise the fact that politically, local Nationals have been done over by city-based Liberals.
‘It’s time for a proper assessment for rail from a community perspective that includes tourism, public transport and benefits to councils and community.
‘Leave the rail trail for where it is best suited – in declining rural areas.
‘To restrict the benefits of public infrastructure to the interests of a small group in the community is nothing more than privatisation by stealth.
‘Railways are the most direct link for eight of the ten largest population centres in the region.
‘In fact the shortest route between most towns is the rail line, as stations are located in the centre of these communities.
‘Because the line has been in place so long, population growth has tended to be within the rail corridor.
‘For example, 86 per cent of the population live within 5km of the line in Byron and Lismore Shires.
‘Both TOOT and our council strongly put the view that there are many benefits of a regional rail system that helps to move tourist visitors in and out of the region as well as moving around the region while they are here.
Report excluded tourist numbers
‘The rail study completely excludes the considerable tourist numbers from the patronage models put forward in the report.
‘Acknowledging tourist visitors would change the economic model substantially and have significant benefits for Council and community.
‘By comparison the rail trail report acknowledges the tourism numbers, yet fails to deal with the increased traffic that these “adventure” tourists will add to the roads when entering the region.’
One of the facts usually overlooked by rail trail enthusiasts, says Cr Cameron, is that Byron Shire is located within a key national transport corridor.
‘In fact, the Pacific Highway/north coast rail corridor – the Pacific Coast corridor – is the second busiest in the country and will become the busiest in the next few years.
‘Road freight is increasing twice as fast within this corridor compared to others around the country.
‘Like it or not, we are in a region that has strong economic and social links with the Brisbane/Gold Coast corridor.
‘The Gold Coast Airport, located at Coolangatta, has grown rapidly in recent years to be the fourth busiest airport in the country and now has passenger movements of around five million annually.
‘About half of these passenger movements are within the Pacific Coast corridor.
‘In Byron Shire we have around 1.5 million tourist visitors a year and many more across the region.
‘In this context, the proposal for a rail trail is ill-considered.
‘Such infrastructure is well suited to declining rural areas to attract tourists, but not in nationally important transport corridors.’
But comparing us to Queensland appears to support rail trail advocate Geoff Meers’s position that more people equals more need.
‘I think [it’s] less a “comparison” with Qld and more of an acknowledgement that Byron and the northern rivers have significant movements of people moving to and from Qld.
‘A closer inspection of Geoff’s position is that more resident “population” and “density” is required.
‘As I have tried to demonstrate in this part of the world, resident population is not the issue and in fact population density is centred along the line.
‘We have plenty of people due to tourism, links to SE Qld and location within a major national transport corridor.’
So how can reclaiming the railways move forward? Does TOOT have a chance?
‘The case for rail is compelling in a regional context and from a public transport development perspective.
‘The TOOT campaign has flushed out a variety of potential rail operators including the North Byron Shuttle, light rail trams, rail bikes and others. Many of these are existing commercial operators who believe that rail is a profitable venture on the line.
‘TOOT retains a vision for regular commuter trains on the whole of the line and a connection to Coolangatta Airport. However, we believe the immediate future is to allow access to sections of the line for these rail-based uses.
‘This will keep the corridor safe and begin using and maintaining the existing rail infrastructure.
‘Right now we believe that $75 million would be better spent facilitating these types of rail services instead of using the money to rip up the rails.
‘The benefits from tourism alone would far outstrip those from a rail trail.’