22 C
Byron Shire
March 7, 2021

Railway is about history

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I always enjoy reading Geoff Dawe’s thoughtful and insightful opinions, and he is right, the issue of the local railway line is not much about public transport. (Letters, Aug 16) For most of its history, the local line was used precisely twice a day. This represents a type of inefficiency known as underutilised capacity.

Furthermore, the local line never turned a profit. It was known as one of the non-paying lines. Prior to its construction, the line’s proponents argued that it would give the Northern Rivers region the ability to send its produce to Sydney markets via a seaport at Byron Bay. They didn’t want to extend the line to Tweed Heads because they feared the produce would then go to Queensland.

Such provincial and protectionist sentiments were very much a part of the arguments put forward by those promoting the local line before it was built. Newspaper articles from the time testify to the controversy that surrounded the line’s development from the very beginning. Some pundits called it a white elephant and ‘a railway from nowhere to nowhere’.

The Colonial government of the day borrowed more than a million pounds from English creditors at 4% per annum to finance the C – M line, at a time when a gallon of milk earned the dairymen 4 pence and the postie earned 2 pound a week. NSW taxpayers were forced to pay for a line that didn’t make enough to cover its running costs, much less the interest on the loan.

Present day railway activists conveniently neglect the economic realities that plagued the local line from the outset. They prefer to focus on the alleged social and cultural benefits that accrued to the region as a direct result of the railway, irrespective of the economic and opportunity costs incurred.

But there is no doubt the local line has had its day, it’s now confined to the history books, with controversy as its bookends.

John Scrivener, Main Arm

 


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