The NSW government announced Tuesday that $50m will be allocated to help establish rail trail pilot projects in an effort to ‘boost tourism’.
Sections of the disused Casino to Murwillumbah and Rosewood to Tumbarumba rail corridors will be open to expressions of interest (EOI) from councils or business and community groups, the minister for small business and regional tourism, John Barilaro (Nationals), said.
He signalled the funding with Thomas George (Nationals) local retiring member Don Page (Nationals) and his aspiring successor, Kris Beavis, at the Bangalow railway station on Tuesday morning.
The funding is part of the $110m Regional Tourism Infrastructure Fund, which was announced in the last budget.
Public transport solutions needed
But other candidates vying for the seat of Ballina all questioned what the government’s public transport priorities were.
Labor candidate Paul Spooner told The Echo, ‘What our communities need is transport solutions, not a bike track.’
‘Does the current government seriously believe that building a bike track while residents and visitors sit in ever-growing queues on Ewingsdale Road trying to get into Byron Bay makes good planning sense?
‘This is particularly insulting to the local community given the decision last year to give zoning approval to the West Byron housing development. Rather than splashing cash before a state election in March, what makes more sense is for the state government to work in partnership with local councils to address the ever-increasing transport difficulties in the region.’
Independent candidate Matthew Hartley told The Echo, ‘The first step is to have a public vote on the issue.’
‘We need a fixed debate period, with positions for and against posted on YouTube and in the press, and we should decide as a community by a ballot. I want to see the alternative options proposed for rail access in future.
‘Rail is going to have to come back to Byron and Ballina shires. That’s a technological reality.
‘A secondary safe use of the corridor makes sense, but the corridor equals trains, unless the magic money fairy is expected to buy us a new corridor, presumably by selling off more state assets, or hospital patients’ kidneys.’
Meanwhile Greens candidate Tamara Smith told The Echo that while she welcomes the investment, the government has failed to meet the need for public transport.
‘I support a multi-modal use,’ she said, ‘And this decision will not get cars off the road.’
Councillor Basil Cameron, a Trains On Our Tracks spokesperson, said, ‘This is a disgraceful waste of public money. The National Party ought to be ashamed for pouring tens of millions of dollars into ripping up our tracks while the region desperately needs public transport.
‘Local Councils can be expected to wear the shortfall in funding and maintenance at the expense of roads, public toilets and parks elsewhere in the Shire.’
The Echo asked minister Barilaro if he would promise to not remove the tracks, considering a light rail project appears financially viable at the North Byron Beach Resort.
He replied, ‘We are happy to consider proposals that involve retaining or using the rail infrastructure, but which meet the general principle of activating the corridor for recreational and tourism uses other than regular passenger services.’
The Echo also asked if the minister would have liked to see a light rail costing so the community could have weighed up the pros and cons.
In reply, minister Barilaro referred to a press release by transport MP Gladys Berejiklian from April 2013, which supported the Casino to Murwillumbah Transport Study findings.
However, Ms Berejiklian’s press release fails to mention light rail. Additionally, the transport study was widely criticised at the time for inflating figures, only examining a small percentage of the track and ignoring light rail as an option.
EOI guidelines are available at www.trade.nsw.gov.au/rtif.