Northern Rivers Rail Trail (NRRT) have reneged on plans to co-operate with re-elected mayor Simon Richardson and rail advocate group Trains On Our Tracks (TOOT) for a shared multi-modal use of the disused Byron Shire section of the railway.
Mayor Richardson convened a public meeting on August 25 between the two opposing parties, with all agreeing to explore the possibility of shared use and a feasibility study.
And while the ‘Byron Line’ proposal was presented as an opportunity to work for a common goal, it did not include funding from either government or the private sector.
A press release by NRRT now accuses mayor Simon Richardson of saying he would support their plans for a rail trail from Billinudgel to Crabbes Creek, but voted against the idea at the last council meeting.
That council meeting was on the same day as the Byron Line meeting.
It reads, ‘Simon [Richardson’s] actions have given us no choice but to withdraw our co-operation with the Byron Line proposal. NRRT fear the Byron Line proposal will result in [the] sale of the corridor to private interests.’
NRRT’s decision to reject collaboration comes just after a press release from Don Page, a former NSW National Party MP, who is now chair of the northern rivers Regional Development Australia (RDA).
He threatened the electorate by claiming any attempt to find unity and a shared use will result in the infrastructure being sold off.
Mr Page said, ‘The northern rivers region needs a united commitment to the rail trail uncontaminated by unrealistic ideas that will only ever serve to undermine a viable rail trail.’
‘If the region can’t agree to support the rail trail, it’s inevitable sections of the corridor would be sold off. It’s a case of use it or lose it!’
Mayor Simon Richardson told The Echo, ‘It is well known that Don Page is a long-term supporter of a sole rail trail solution for our rail corridor, which would negate the possibility of any other transport options such as a rail shuttle – which our community clearly wants.’
‘It concerns me that his statement suggests he hasn’t read the Byron Line proposal. The purpose of the document was to put all the options on the table with the view of creating a fully costed proposal which we can put to the state government with the backing of the entire community.
Not shovel ready
‘The solo rail trail option was unsuccessful in receiving state funding so it’s not shovel ready. It’s clear the government wants Byron Shire to come back with a fully costed option for activating the rail corridor that unites instead of divides our community.’
The Echo asked Mr Page to respond to Cr Basil Cameron’s claims the rail study on which he relies upon is flawed.
Mr Page replied, ‘It was not flawed. It simply didn’t deliver the conclusion he was hoping for. It specifically covered the public transport needs of the region.
‘It studied the whole track. From an engineering perspective I’ve been consistently advised that heavy and light rail require a similar high level of safety which doesn’t vary much regarding bridges etc.’
‘The study was comprehensive and gave the community and the government the facts and figures needed to know if rail was viable.
‘The study clearly states it’s not viable. On the other hand, a subsequent study that looked at rail trail viability said it clearly was.’
Mr Page did not reply to why the study excluded examining the effects of the Shire’s 1.3 million or so yearly visitors.
The Echo also asked Mr Page that given his statements claiming the railway would be sold off if a rail trail is not established, ‘does that indicate that the Baird government can’t be trusted with public assets?’
He replied, ‘Governments of all complexions regularly require government agencies to report on assets they own that are surplus to requirements.’
‘Surplus assets are sold or leased and the proceeds used to build new schools, hospitals and the like to meet demand.
‘We have a disused asset that’s been sitting there for more than 12 years.
‘Don’t you think it’s time to do something viable with it to keep it in public ownership?
‘I do. If rail ever becomes viable in the distant future the infrastructure needed will be different from the decayed infrastructure we have now in any event.
‘We can have the best rail trail in the world if we all get behind it and stop using spoiling tactics promoting uncosted, unfunded, unrealistic and unviable proposals that only generate false hope and jeopardise a very sensible low-impact and job-creating rail trail through our region.
‘Sitting on the fence and pretending you can have it both ways does not display leadership.’