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Byron Shire
May 7, 2021

Independent’s plan to save koalas and revamp rail

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Independent candidate for Ballina, Cr Jeff Johnson, says both a cycle path and public transport can be achieved on the tracks. He is pictured next to a non-political platform at the Mullum Station along with Trains On Our Tracks supporters. Photo Jeff Dawson
Independent candidate for Ballina, Cr Jeff Johnson, says both a cycle path and public transport can be achieved on the tracks. He is pictured next to a non-political platform at the Mullum Station along with Trains On Our Tracks supporters. Photo Jeff Dawson

Chris Dobney

Independent candidate for the seat of Ballina, Jeff Johnson, has come up with what he considers to be a win-win, which would see a controversial section of the Pacific Highway re-routed and the money put into reopening the Casino to Murwillumbah rail line.

Mr Johnson said that if the section of highway duplication south of Ballina was moved from the contentious Blackwall Ranges, where it is set to split up a source koala population, and redirected to its original path it would generate a one-off $300 million saving.

‘I believe the savings would easily allow a major part of it between Lismore and Billinudgel to be used for a commuter light rail service,’ Mr Johnson told Echonetdaily.

‘We have three million visitors annually to our region and major traffic congestion. It makes no sense to have a rail line sitting idle while the area becomes increasingly congested.’

A report commissioned by the state government in 2012 concluded that the section between Byron Bay and Mullumbimby alone would cost more than $200 million to restore to XPT standards but Mr Johnson is one of many critics of the study.

‘That really discredited report that put it at about $60 million even though [similar projects] costs about one-fifth of that in Victoria,’ he said.

‘The people at Elements of Byron [formerly North Byron Beach Resort] say it will only be about $300,000 per kilometre to do their bit,’ he added.

He concedes that ‘if you extrapolate the difference between the highest and lowest costs, it would be somewhere in the middle.’

But Mr Johnson’s ambitious plan doesn’t end there. He wants to see the line joined up with the planned Queensland Rail extension to Gold Coast Airport.

‘We see the Queensland government buying back the corridor to Coolangatta Airport. It makes sense that all those daytrippers can get the train down.

‘We can fund commuter and tourist rail within the existing infrastructure and transport budget and then we should be looking as a region-building project, extending the line to the airport.

‘There are so many more positives for our community if the government invests in an integrated public transport system than there ever will be from an over-priced bike track for tourists.

‘It’s time the government had a long-term sustainable vision for our area instead of pushing for urban sprawl and increasing traffic congestion,’ he said.

Mr Johnson’s vision for the future rail link does not extend to Ballina, however, which he said would be connected via buses.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Our natural wealth, and even the tourist dollars from seeing our wildlife, has liitle value for governments against the income and revenues from urban sprawl. Housing Australia wide has become a major industry, in liu of the fading mining industry, and with pumped up population growth at third world rates, the demand for housing is assured, and lucrative! It’s a cruel reality, that koalas must go! Human population growth will always have priority even over even our legitmate native species.
    Unless these naturalists join the campaign for a sustainable, stable human population size, instead of the massive “growth” we have now, land all along our coasts will be inundated with generic urban sprawl, food production, and infrastructure.

  2. I hope more than anything that Johnson has enough support, such a big ask, for the koala protection (moving the highway- mammoth). Further, that rail line.. We are living in suburban sprawl hell and no-one has had the guts to do anything but pussyfoot around beach front car parks & 2 lane bottlenecks doing nothing to mitigate this years old embarrassing situation for the tourists, on whom we all depend And us long suffering locals trying to live? in a normal manner. Come on B.U. Chamber, folks, councillors.. Blind Freddie (no offence intended) can see this untenable situation cannot continue. I have a traffic plan.

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