Railway tracks between Casino and Bentley, and Crabbes Creek and Condong, will soon be removed for rail trails after the Transport Administration Amendment (Closures of Railway Lines in Northern Rivers) Bill 2020 was passed in the NSW upper house last week.
The controversial decision, tabled by locally based Nationals MLC Ben Franklin, was supported by NSW Labor, who took the trains off the tracks in 2004.
While touted by rail trail advocates as a boost to local jobs and tourism, elected local MP Member for Ballina Tamara Smith told The Echo, ‘As it stands, there is nothing in this law to prevent Tweed or Richmond Valley Council offering 99 year leases to commercial tourism operators to lease sections of the rail corridor for anything recreational or tourist focused’.
‘What that means in reality is that if either community wants to return rail to the corridor they face paying legal compensation to break commercial leases – if indeed they can even break those leases, and there is nothing in law that says they have a right to rip up the Rail Trail infrastructure to make way for a train.
‘I am a huge fan of cycle tourism, and I’m passionate about delivering meaningful public transport in the Northern Rivers – but it’s never been an either or scenario’.
‘It’s extremely disappointing that the Greens amendments that would have prevented long leases and strengthened community control over what happens in the corridor, were not supported by Labor or the LNP’.
Nationals MLC, Ben Franklin, in reply said that the proposed amendments were ‘restrictive and prescriptive and constrain how the government can deal with the land to give effect to the rail trail’.
He did not answer the question, ‘Why did your government support opening up historic public assets for private financial gain and not invest in public transport for the Northern Rivers?’
Mr Franklin did say his government, ‘has not yet decided on the most effective and supportive ownership model for the rail trail’.
But Pat Grier, from the Northern Rivers Rail Trail lobby group, who were instrumental in securing the railway’s official closure, said, ‘That won’t be a problem’.
‘We have 18 months to two years to sort that out.
‘The government will want to be involved in the process. I see a board being created, with sub committees and this will include Council and rail trail reps. This has to make its own money in the end’.
Mr Grier says a rail trail will ‘provide facilities along the corridor for local people, with bike paths and walking trails. There’s already one in Ballina, which is very popular’.
Beth Shelley from the Northern Rivers Railway Action Group said, ‘Why is this area, with a rapidly growing population, and huge tourist industry, being singled out for closure while other areas are left alone?
‘This is not a decision that helps the people of this community, and it is not one they want… a 10,000 signiture petition was simply ignored’.
One Nation MLC Mark Latham told NSW Parliment during debate, ‘I asked the government for its cost‑benefit analysis, its economic justification for the bill. I was told it did not exist and that it was an election promise’.