Tweed Mayor Chris Cherry was seeking urgent meetings with state members on the Northern Rivers last week in response to community calls for old train tracks to be kept.
Tweed Shire Councillors at the May ordinary meeting heard more than 800 people had signed a petition calling for a new rail trail to be built next to, rather than in place of, the existing disused railway line running through the shire.
The old line continued south through the Byron, Ballina and Lismore local government areas and elsewhere on the Northern Rivers.
Meanwhile, government plans for a rail trail project aimed at cycling tourists and hikers, with scope for businesses to cash in by lining the trail with stalls in some areas, was already allocated funding.
Cyclists across the country try to influence Tweed Shire Council on rail trail
But train advocates didn’t give up the fight for public transport and in the Byron Shire the council voted to have both: a rail trail and options for using the old train tracks again, even if just for light rail services within the shire.
Further north in the Tweed Shire, Mayor Chris Cherry said she didn’t want to ‘jeopardise’ the state government funding for the rail trail project but it was important to listen to Tweed Shire residents on the issue.
The petition was presented to the council as part of a ‘last minute’ Mayoral Minute, Cr Cherry said.
A tender application deadline for the Tweed Shire section of the rail trail had already been extended owing to ‘huge passion in the community to keep the rails in place’, she said.
Advocates of the rail trail had also lobbied the mayor, she said, but were not all necessarily Tweed Shire residents.
‘I’ve received at least 50 emails calling for the rail trail,’ Cr Chery said, ‘but I think a lot of them were from Rail Trail Australia’.
‘I think it comes down to what Tweed Shire residents want,’ the mayor said, ‘that’s who I represent’.
Tweed rail trail tenders allowed to include plans for keeping old tracks
Cr Cherry said parts of the rail trail would have to built next to rather over the old train tracks anyway thanks to missing bridges and ‘people who have built into the railway corridor’.
The council’s tender application process included options for a rail trail next to the old line, Cr Cherry said.
The May petition was presented alongside a survey of business in Murwillumbah showing 90% of owners supported the introduction of light rail services in the district and wanted the rail trail to run alongside the old train tracks.
Thirty-two businesses were canvassed as part of the survey, with 29 in support of keeping train tracks in situ.
Cr Cherry said the business owners interviewed believed having both the train track and rail trail would benefit them.
But there was a reticence from other councillors to accept the survey results, she said.
Some councillors said they didn’t know who had signed the survey on behalf of businesses and weren’t confident they really were owners, despite responses submitted in writing.
‘We ended up just noting the petition,’ Cr Chery said, ‘so to all of those businesses that did sign the survey, I’m sorry we didn’t officially note it’.