Louise Doran, Ocean Shores
The article in The Echo titled A short history of our rail line debate is anything but. It’s full of personal assumptions, rumours, guestimates, and lacks any research or accuracy. (Echo 13/1)
There’s no comparison with the slow, once a day XPT train service with a light commuter train service providing public transport for locals and six million tourists.* They are very different, as are the costs and benefits, but the writer doesn’t bother with this vital fact.
The claim that the community was slow to react to the Casino to Murwillumbah (C-M) branch line’s closure, ‘probably because of the branch lines trifling impact’ is contrary to all the evidence and shows the writer has no idea what he’s talking about, or is being dishonest.
To quote the submissions of former MPs Don Page and Thomas George to the Legislative Council Inquiry in 2004 ‘[T]here is a genuine feeling of betrayal and anger in the community and I want to emphasise that this feeling is not local; it is across the region’ said Don Page. ‘[T]he feeling about the loss of this rail service is unprecedented during my term in parliament’ said Thomas George. They were referring to numerous large meetings, thousands of signatures on petitions and mass rallies on every North Coast train station.
The community knew that the Labor Party’s estimated $188m over twenty years for repairs to the line was excessive, as noted by the Legislative Council Committee. The Manager of Infrastructure, Planning and Support with RIC stated at the time [T]he problem with the line is not the track – the track is pretty stable – the problem is the bridges’.
Most of the line still is ‘pretty stable’. Many of these 130-year-old timber bridges had needed replacing for decades, and have since been removed. They would have to be replaced to build a bike track – and the cost would be similar.
When calculating the cost of necessary maintenance of the C-M line, there was no estimate of the cost to the community and taxpayers of traffic congestion, road building and maintenance that would be needed as a consequence of cessation of the train service.
Recently $24m has been spent on the three kilometres of the controversial Byron bypass, while it cost just $1.8m to restore three kilometres of train line to run the Byron Solar Train.
It’s estimated $78m needs to be spent on the Byron exit of the M1 to move dangerous traffic congestion off the highway – that’s $102m cost for road works on six kilometres of road into Byron. Add to that the estimated cost of $100m, over sixteen years, (the government won’t tell taxpayers the cost so it could be much more) of several large coaches that replaced the train service.
That’s a total of $202m, for no return on investment, which dwarfs the cost of a train service. What the heck, it’s only taxpayers’ money. If a private business wasted shareholders’ money this way managers would face serious consequences, possibly gaol.
Contrary to the claim in the article, and despite the slow trip on a line with many clapped out bridges, the Legislative Council Committee noted that an average of 398 passengers used the XPT service daily, or 2,786 per week. That’s after a decline of 25 to 30 per cent in passengers owing to the poor timetable that precluded locals from using the train for local trips – as they had previously.
As Member for Tweed Geoff Provest said in his maiden speech to parliament in 2007 ‘I was armed with a Coalition commitment to introduce six light rail services a day (on the C-M line) and to start planning the (rail) extension from Murwillumbah to the Gold Coast.
Essentially this was the same policy of Trains On Our Tracks (TOOT) the local train lobby group’. Geoff Provest, along with Don Page and Thomas George, needs to be held accountable for this appalling betrayal of the community, and jumping on the bike track bandwagon, while furiously pedalling misinformation.
So what derailed those promises? When the Eddie Obeid mess hit the fan and the Coalition knew they could ignore election promises yet still romp in at the 2011 election, they did. It took a further two years for their so-called ‘study’, designed to justify this betrayal of the North Coast community, to emerge.
The billion dollars often quoted for repairs needed on the C-M line to justify spending many millions of taxpayers’ dollars to destroy a valuable train line for bike track, is complete fiction.
The expensive bike track has nothing to do with saving the line for future train services, or the economic benefits of a bike track over train services. It’s about a government willing go to any lengths, and waste atrocious amounts of taxpayers’ money, to silence the community who have always known the social, environmental and cost benefits of a train service for locals and millions of tourists.
The community who have worked hard for many years to ensure this valuable piece of public infrastructure is used for the greatest benefit to all, need to be given credit, not ridiculed.
There’s much more evidence and information that can be easily accessed on line about the social, environmental and cost benefits of a train service on the C-M line. No need to look foolish making erroneous assumptions or guestimates about anything.
*Tourism Research Australia.