Louise Doran, Ocean Shores
On 14 January, 2015 The Echo comment ‘Railroaded’ quoted Don Page’s (Nationals then MP for Ballina) 2004 comments on the closure of the XPT train service on the Casino to Murwillumbah branch line after he’d done a massive backflip:
‘It (closure of the XPT service) is short sighted because the far north coast is a rapidly growing area and this infrastructure is central to our future. In future we will need more, not fewer, trains. We will need more commuter services and more tourist trains; we need to connect into the Queensland system. The removal of the service by the government will mean the line will fall into disrepair. That, in turn will mean all those opportunities will be lost to us’.
He was absolutely right, and later announced $100m funding for a six-trains-per-day commuter service. Given the rapid growth in population and tourism in the region this train line is now even more ‘central to our future’.
In 2009 Tweed MP Geoff Provest (Nationals) told the Tweed Border Mail that the ‘NSW (ALP) government has missed an opportunity to secure federal funds on offer for major infrastructure projects which could ensure an extension of the line from Casino to Murwillumbah via Byron Bay and across the border to the Gold Coast airport’. Right again.
In the same article the then Minister for Transport, David Campbell, was quoted: ‘I understand engineering consultants estimated that the costs involved in opening the line, principally replacement of wooden bridges, would be approximately $120.8m’.
It’s obvious from the above that the community has been calling for, and promised, commuter trains, not the return of the XPT, and it’s a complete furphy to include it as an ‘option’. After years of promising a six-trains-per-day commuter service on the C-M line, and stating more tourist trains would be needed, the community wants to know why the LNP government’s $2m 2013 ARUP ‘study’ only assessed the cost of returning the more expensive XPT service? Why, despite politicians expressing the need for more tourist trains, did their study make no mention of tourists?
Destroying the line for a bike track was not on the agenda until the monumental LNP backtrack on promises a few months before the 2011 election. Given the long, hot, humid, and wet summers, no consideration is given to the possibility that an expensive bike track could become an expensive white elephant for financially struggling local councils, as they have elsewhere.
It’s distressing and mystifying to so many locals, including over 30,000 people who have signed (paper, not online) petitions, attended many large rallies and meetings over so many years calling for Trains On Our Tracks, why The Echo is now printing so many pages of unsubstantiated rubbish about this valuable piece of public infrastructure. To locals who’ve done years of meticulous research, the comments from a transport analyst from Melbourne appear to be straight from the rail trail propaganda used by the above politicians to justify their back track on promises (Echo, 17 February).
It may surprise your analyst to hear that the Gold Coast Motorail, which ran at times convenient for locals to travel around the region, was so well patronised it cost $11m per year to run but returned $22m. Which demonstrates train services that serve the needs of the local community can be profitable.
The worn-out comment ‘who’s going to pay for the trains’ is completely irrelevant. All train services are paid for by taxpayers, including Sydney services used by wealthy people, and the tiny fares they pay. We all contributed to $500m of federal funding for the Gold Coast light rail. What the ‘analyst’ fails to recognise, or quantify, is the cost to taxpayers, and the environment, of the traffic gridlock and parking problems destroying our once beautiful paradise.
Taxpayers should be asking are we getting value for our money? So far it’s cost taxpayers $24m for the three kilometre Byron by-pass, and $2m plus for a bus station, both next to the train line and empty train station. Then there’s the $78m we’re told it will cost to modify the Byron exit on the M1 to try and move dangerous traffic gridlock off the highway. Add the estimated $100m cost over seventeen years of several large coaches that replaced the train service. That’s a total of $204m spent on one short section of road – and empty coaches! Makes the 2009 cost of $120.8m for repairs to the 132kms of train line for a train service for this ‘fast growing area’, and six million tourists, look like chicken feed.
All taxpayers are paying for the 24km first stage of 132 kilometres of bike track on the line from Murwillumbah to Crabbes Creek; which is costing $14.3m, or $596,000 per kilometre for a few fit cyclists who are able to cycle uphill in all weathers. That’s not good value for taxpayers when repairs to three kilometres of train line in Byron to run a train accessible to all cost just $660,000 per kilometre.
But locals know what the criminal destruction of this valuable line is really about. As Minister Campbell told parliament in 2009, removing the legislation that protected the line would ‘enable the (rail) corridors to be cleared of this remnant infrastructure (our rail line) and revenue to be obtained from its sale’. Given the rapid increase in land values in the region since that time, there’s even greater imperative for politicians to cash in and ‘obtain revenue’.
It’s time these dodgy politicians, who are using eyewatering amounts of our money as their own personal piggy bank for zero benefit to our community, were held to account. We used to think that was The Echo’s mission. Apparently not.