With the expressions of interest (EOI) on rail projects along the rail corridor now closed, the Northern Rivers Rail Trail Group (NRRT) say that the proposal they submitted ‘is an extraordinary opportunity to turn a neglected and deteriorating state asset into a productive NSW tourism icon.’
Indeed, the state government has been very clear in its intention to hand over what was a public transport asset to become ‘tourist only’ facility.
So will this project see the region flourish with even more toursim-related jobs and fit cyclists or will it also see valuable public lands become privatised, as is the agenda of almost all neo-con governments?
NRRT secretary Geoff Meers answered questions surrounding the project.
Now NRRT has submitted its EOI, is your group willing to make it available so the public can assess the merits of re-appropriating infrastructure that was paid for by the taxpayer?
The government is keeping the applications confidential at this stage. They intend to publish a summary of all applications on their website (at some unspecified time).
I am preparing a summary of our application for the NRRT website and will send that to you when it’s finished. Applications will remain confidential until the government decides to make them public.
What is the ‘sustainable and profitable operating business model’, which is included in the Regional Tourism Infrastructure Fund (RTIF) criteria?
The application proposes a government-appointed trust to manage the rail trail. The application makes it clear the current annual budget for maintenance of the corridor (approx. $750K) would be needed by the trust to cover operating expenses (trail maintenance, marketing, management, etc). Please note the trust management model is only a proposal, one which the government may, or may not, support.
The government’s rail trail report was very vague on financial returns. In fact, one of the few suggestions made was investment from mining companies. Councils say they don’t want to fund it yet there will undoubtedly be pressure on them to maintain and supply infrastructure (toilets, mowing etc).
The application is clear that any services to be provided by councils would be negotiated on a cost-recovery basis. That is, councils will not be out of pocket for any services needed by the rail trail.
All necessary infrastructure (toilets, etc) would be part of the construction contract funding and not the responsibility of councils. Councils supported the EOI and the notion of cost-recovery for services.
Is there a land lease proposal within NRRT’s EOI?
The application suggests there may be other sources of funding to support the ongoing operation of the rail trail. These could include government grants, sponsorship (non-CSG!), licensing and leasing of assets (station buildings, etc). These are not firm proposals but suggestions as to ways in which the trust could augment government funding to manage and maintain the trail.
Against what criteria is NRRT measuring its ‘demonstrated community support and engagement’? The Echo reported recently that there appears to be 4,000 signatures either side (Trains On Our Tracks, or TOOT, and NRRT). TOOT claim they and 4,000 others don’t want the tracks ripped up. As I understand it, NRRT are only committing to ‘preserving the rail corridor for any future transport plans.’
The EOI is a proposal for a rail trail in the Casino to Murwillumbah corridor. It suggests, in relation to retaining or removing the rails, that, wherever possible, the rails and other rail assets should be retained.
The decision as to how the trail is constructed is up to the government. In regard community support/engagement, the EOI summarises the extensive engagement with local communities that has gone on over the last two years.
This includes council meetings, markets (over 30), newsletters, establishment of websites, petitions, surveys, community events and forums (over 60), fundraising events, Facebook pages, advertisements, campaigns, letters to editors, surveys and merchandising.
The EOI includes numerous letters of support from across the region. I suggest the difference between rail trail support and that for TOOT is: the rail trail is viable, benefits the region, creates jobs, preserves the corridor and will be built; the TOOT campaign has delivered nothing in ten years.
Will this be a shared corridor?
The EOI is clear that any proposals for the corridor that enhance the benefit of the rail trail are welcome. For example, the EOI includes the North Byron railcar shuttle as a shared use of that section of the corridor and the potential extension of this for a park-and-ride. The EOI also notes the Casino Rail Museum proposal for use of a section of track and that this may enhance the rail trail experience.
The Byron Tramlink proposal and the Bangalow railbike projects are also mentioned as proposals that need further investigation as to their impact on the rail trail.