The much debated rail trail for the Casino to Murwillumbah rail line will not go ahead any time soon, with the state government instead choosing to put its seed funding into the Tumbaruma line in the state’s south.
The trail was a pet project of former Nationals Ballina MP Don Page, who first announced funding for a feasibility study in 2013 after an earlier report into the reintroducing a rail service to the line ruled it out on cost grounds.
In June that year the report announced the cost of developing the entire Casino to Murwillumbah line into a rail trail would be $75 million.
The Nationals went to this year’s election with a $50 million proposal for pilot projects which, it was widely believed, would be split between Tumbarumba and the north coast.
But the state government announced on Friday that the total amount will now be directed at Tumbarumba, with the north coast proposal left on hold for ‘further analysis’.
Minister for regional development John Barilaro said the pilot project decision followed an independent assessment of 12 rail-trail funding applications.
‘The government feels the Tumbarumba proposal is worthy of further investigation as we progress this pilot process,’ Mr Barilaro said.
‘[Tumbarumba ] Council’s application demonstrated an effective plan for community consultation, a viable operating model and potential for the initiative to generate economic and tourism benefits for the region,’ he added.
Ironically, the reason given for not progressing the northern rivers project was not the widespread and vocal opposition but rather the large number of applications for use of the line.
The EOI process generated six applications for projects along the Casino to Murwillumbah rail corridor.
‘There was a wide range of proposals for projects along the Casino to Murwillumbah rail line but some differing views as to the best model and a range of views and options for investment. Further work will be necessary before we can progress proposals on that corridor,’ Mr Barilaro said.
Rail champions celebrate
‘Congratulations everyone!’ the Northern Rivers Railway Action Group (NRRAG) posted on its Facebook page following the announcement.
‘It looks like the immediate threat of the Casino to Murwillumbah Railway being destroyed to make way for a Rail Trail has passed.
‘The expression of interest process for the Casino to Murwillumbah rail trail is not going to proceed further at this time. It does seem that common sense has finally prevailed and our corridor is to be preserved for the future reintroduction of train services,’ the post read.
Trains on our Tracks spokesperson Basil Cameron said, the minister made it clear that the rail trail proposal had ‘failed to gain sufficient community support’.
‘In the face of a well funded and slick marketing campaign, the community has remained firmly in favour of using our tracks for trains’.
‘The rapid growth in the regional north-south and east-west transport corridors demands rail solutions that are less expensive and safer than a super sized roads only solution’.
‘Rail is a far better investment in tourism infrastructure that will deliver economic benefits and public transport across the region as well as ease traffic congestion in coastal towns like Byron Bay’.
Mr Cameron told Echonetdaily that one of the reasons it got knocked back is that ‘many of the expressions of interest were track based and the rail trail was inconsistent because it requires removal of the tracks.’
‘We would urge rail trail supporters to get onboard with the community that clearly wants trains on our tracks. We firmly believe both are possible. It happens in other parts of the world, including Australia, and it can happen here,’ he said.
Northern Rivers Rail Trail Inc (NRRT), which has been the most active campaign group in support of the trail has said it is disappointed with the decision but says if the pilot project at Tumbarumba is successful there could still be money in the kitty for the northern rivers down the track.
NRRT president Pat Crier said the group was ‘very pleased with the NSW government decision and although the NRRT has not been selected at this time, the selection of the much shorter Tumbarumba to Rosewood proposal was a positive step in introducing Rail Trails into NSW.
‘Rail Trails are not new,’ he said, ‘they are well established in northern America, Europe, New Zealand (Including the world famous Otago Rail Trail), Victoria (with 27 operating rail trails (900Km) so far) and in all other states in Australia. The first was developed in Australia over twenty years ago.’
NRRT member Marie Lawton added it was ‘definitely not all bad news’.
‘We’re talking to the committee who looked at the submissions today to see what we can learn from that process,’ she told Echonetdaily.
This is a breakthrough at least that Tumbarumba got some funding. We’ve only been going for two years where’ as they’ve been going for about ten. It’s only a matter of time for us.