Last Wednesday a bill went to the Lower House of the NSW Parliament supported by Geoff Provest, Nationals MP for Tweed and Janelle Saffin, Labor MP for Lismore.
This bill was introduced to the house by Paul Toole, Minister for Regional Transport and concerns closing sections of the Casino to Murwillumbah railway line and ripping up the railway tracks for rail trails/bike paths.
However, rail trails can be established without legislation or removing the railway tracks, as with Oberon in Mr Toole’s own seat of Bathurst where a bike track runs beside a railway line without a change in legislation.
The only speakers against the bill were Tamara Smith, Greens MP for Ballina and Jamie Parker, Greens MP for Balmain. ‘This shows a lack of commitment from the Government and successive governments to rural and regional New South Wales,’ said Jamie Parker. ‘This legislation is another nail in the coffin for the return of rail.’
Nationals and Labor MPs mentioned the Tumbarumba to Rosewood rail trail as a role model for the Northern Rivers however there is a very big difference. Tumbarumba has 1,862 people and Rosewood has a population of 214 people. They would like a rail trail to interest tourists in coming to their area.
The Casino to Murwillumbah area has nearly 300,000 people and over 2.1 million tourists coming to Byron Bay alone.
Tamara Smith said that in her electorate of Ballina, they have shown that they can return rail and we can have it all. ‘We can have both. The off-formation model – whereby the rail trail is located to the side, preserving the corridor so that transport can return is a win-win.’
The world-first Solar train is currently running at Byron Bay and Byron Shire Council plans to extend rail services, with a rail trail beside, throughout the Byron Shire.
Since the ARUP report (estimated cost $7 million/km), the Byron Bay Solar train was developed on 3 kms of the line, costing less than $500,000/ per km in 2018. In its first year it carried over 100,000 passengers. These are much greater tourist numbers than the proposed rail trails.
A sad day for the region
This is a very sad day for our region. The repair of our railway would cost less than the repair of a single road of the same length and yet the government has no interest. They don’t want to provide adequate rail services for the elderly and people without transport to get around in our communities.
They have forgotten the reason for being a government which is about creating equal opportunity for all people to have a reasonable quality of life. But as we’ve seen recently elderly people rarely get the services they need and deserve in our society and this is a terrible failure on our part.
A major issue in the debate was whether there was any community consultation into retaining the rail for future rail services or providing a bike path.
Janelle Saffin said she didn’t not know how much longer the bill can be debated, because it has been debated it for so long.’
‘We have had a week to look at this bill. We tried to get an Inquiry into the bill and had the support of the entire crossbench but Labor blocked it,’ said Tamara Smith.
Extensive community consultations?
Geoff Provest said the New South Wales Government has facilitated extensive community consultations in the Tweed shire in October 2017 and in the Richmond Valley Council area in February 2020.’
There has been no community consultation by the government in Casino or Murwillumbah, Lismore or Byron Bay. Byron Council might be surprised to hear that the government plans to close the whole track.
Janelle Saffin was voted in with the help of Greens preferences at the last election taking the seat from the Nationals. Is she risking the loss of her seat at the next election?
Tamara Smith took her seat from the Nationals the election before that and perhaps has more experience as a representative to the State government. Certainly the Nationals don’t care about seats on the North Coast.
What matters is looking after people and the government isn’t doing that and unfortunately, Labor isn’t either. When we lose our railway we lose our history, our heritage and our ability to have safe, accessible transport around the region for all people.
In two weeks the bill will go to the Upper House and Labor is saying they will support it. They will not allow discussion of the possibility of both rail and rail trail even though there is the space for it.
In this time of a climate emergency and the need to cut transport emissions it makes no sense to lose the potential of trains running on this line to take cars off the road.
Labor will lose the next election because of their failure to support the needs of the community and they don’t even seem to care.
This is a sad day indeed.