The debate over the future of the Shire’s decommissioned rail line flared again at last week’s Council meeting, with councillors considering spending another $200,000 on the dream of getting trains back on the degraded line.
With Council set to allocate further funds to the project at its next budget review, Councillor Alan Hunter unsuccessfully moved that the plan be shelved until a benefactor with deep pockets could be found.
‘We need to stop talking about putting a train on the tracks until we get someone who’s going to underwrite our expenses, or to pick it up and build it,’ Cr Hunter said during an at-times fiery meeting.
‘There’s no way forward with the train – it’s just a sink-hole for money.
‘What we do have is clear support for the bike and walking trail. There’s support here, in other Shires, across the country and around the world’.
A report from Council staff tabled at the meeting recommended that further funds be allocated to the project to fund the development of a ‘robust business case’ and to determine the amount of work needed to make the line train-ready.
Private consultants Arcadis Australia have made a proposal to Council to undertake a structural assessment of the 12-plus bridges on the line using a ‘digital methodology’.
The company, which has previously been hired by Council to work on the rail project, quoted $200,000 for the work.
However, it has been suggested that the company significantly underestimated the number of bridges on the line, and that the cost of the assessment could be closer to $500,000.
$500k in reports
‘Already in this [term of] Council we’ve spent $380,000. Now, just to get this new report done it’s going to cost $500,000,’ Cr Hunter said.
But a majority of councillors disagreed.
Greens Mayor, Simon Richardson, moved that the original staff recommendation be put, and this passed by five votes to three.
‘We keep hearing how expensive this is going to be, but no state government is going to spend tens of millions on a bike path [along the railway line] when most of the community doesn’t want it,’ Mayor Richardson said.
‘The cost of upgrading it to a bike path is similar to the cost of making it fit for a train shuttle of under 10 tonnes.
‘The bike trail people have been quietly supporting this [bringing back the trains] because they know that getting a financially feasible vehicle on there first is the best way to go.’
The motion that was passed reads, ‘That Council considers a budget allocation at the September quarterly review to undertake further work on the Rail with Trail on the corridor between Mullumbimby and Byron Bay’.
Crs Hackett, Spooner, and Hunter voted against the amendment.
In favour were Crs Richardson, Martin, Ndiaye, Cameron, Lyon and Coorey.