Ripping up the railway tracks emerged as an unpopular move from the Ocean Shores meet the candidates night, held on Monday.
All candidates present – except Nationals candidate Kris Beavis – said any rail trail on the region’s disused railway lines should not include track removal and be multi-use.
The NSW coalition have promised $50m to establish bike paths along the region’s disused railway lines, but so far it comes with scarce details, such as any land-leasing arrangements.
Public transport was indeed one of the many issues brought up by the audience; another point of difference between Mr Beavis and his fellow candidates was his suggestion that more roads and buses were the best way to address future public transport needs.
It drew an awkward silence, despite a clear indication from the room that rail was wanted.
Independent candidate for Ballina and former Greens member, Cr Jeff Johnson, argued that restoring the rail line and introducing a commuter rail service could be fully funded if the highway deviation proposal between Broadwater and Ballina were scrapped. ‘[It would be] a 13km dogleg through Ballina’s most important wildlife corridor and Aboriginal sacred sites. $300 million could be saved by widening the existing highway instead of building a brand new motorway through the Blackwall Range.’
But it’s not popular with those residents, with Mr Beavis saying that it could potentially ‘ruin the industry there.’
Meanwhile, in a media release last week, Cr Jeff Johnson says a lack of funding for rail trail facilities such as toilets, tourist infrastructure and ongoing maintenance was also a concern.
‘Local councils have not been allocated any funds to provide the facilities that would be needed, or ongoing maintenance,’ he said.
‘It’s time the government had a long-term sustainable vision for our area instead of pushing for urban sprawl and increasing traffic congestion.’
It’s a position supported by Cr Basil Cameron from community rail group, Trains On Our Tracks (TOOT).
Cr Cameron says, ‘Spending $50 million to rip up valuable transport infrastructure that directly connects eight of the ten largest population centres in the region is grossly irresponsible’.
A petition with four thousand signatures will be handed to whichever candidate wins the March 28 election, Cr Cameron said.
He says the petition opposes the removal of the rail line and calls for the $50 million to be spent on rail-based public transport instead.
By coincidence, the figure of 4,000 is also the number of signed-up supporters that Northern Rivers Rail Trail (NRRT) claim to have.
And the March 31 deadline is approaching for councils and tourism-only operators to apply for state government rail trail funding.
But Byron Council’s general manager Ken Gainger has told The Echo that there will be no rail trail submission from Council.
‘Byron Shire Council and other local councils have made it very clear to the state that we will not fund capital works or ongoing maintenance of the proposed rail trail. In Byron Shire, our first priority is to maintain our assets,’ he said.
And while NRRT says on its website that one of its aims is ‘to deliver a funding approach and business plan that will not be a burden to local government or the community’, a business plan is yet to be presented by them or the government.
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