Two groups who want to see trains run again on the Far North Coast banded together for a Return of Rail Rally at Billinudgel.
Trains On Our Tracks (TOOT ) and the Northern Rivers Railway Action Group (NRRAG) hosted an afternoon of speakers, musicians and a poet recently in the grounds of the Billinudgel Pub.
Speakers included locals Jan Mangleson and Kevin Basing, the 93-year-old last station master of Billinudgel Railway Station. They recounted historical connections to the Casino – Murwillumbah line.
A horse and buggy would collect travellers from the train at Billinudgel Station to ride to New Brighton, the first surfing beach in Byron Shire.
The groups wanted to highlight what they say is the importance of the railway to the local community, since it was established in 1894. They say the current lack of rail services in the region affects the old who have trouble travelling to hospitals and to visit family, while the young leave the Northern Rivers to live in other regions that have workable public transport.
They also say that 2.2 million visitors to Byron Bay each year are not being catered for.
Many at the rally, of over 200 people, were older members of the community seeking the return of rail to service those unable or unwilling to brave the increasingly congested and dangerous roads.
NRRAG’s Beth Shelley urged those wanting the return of rail to vote for the Greens first, ahead of their other preferences in the state election.
Past TOOT president and Byron councillor Basil Cameron spoke, as well as Bill Fenelon, current president of TOOT, who is running as the Tweed Greens candidate.
An avid bike rider, Mr Fenelon said he supports a bike track beside the railway line, not the demolition of the tracks as is being promoted by rail trailers and election candidates from some other parties.
Rally organiser Lydia Kindred said the cost of refurbishing the whole 132 km rail line according to rail manager Brian Fisher is between $50 and $100 million. ‘It’s not the $7.25 million per km stated by the government via the questionable ARUP report.’
Artists supporting the cause included Clelia Adams, Ray Essery, Stan Ceglinski, Wendy Ford and Chris Fisher, the all-girl Cheryl and the Muffin Tops as well as the entertaining youngsters and older Alohahula dancers.
Greens Lismore candidate Sue Higginson spoke passionately about policy commitment to safeguard the rail corridor for future public transport services.
Those attending the rally demanded the continuation of the current protection of the Casino–Murwillumbah railway corridor for future commuter and tourist rail services, with some freight, and a bike trail running beside the railway line, what they see as a win-win outcome for all.