Parties dispute rail costing
THE row over how much it would cost to re-open the Murwillumbah-to-Casino rail line picked up steam yesterday with a call to justify the decision to axe it and a warning that cutting the amount spent on the line could compromise safety. Northern Rivers mayors, including Tweed mayor Warren Polglase, have called on the State Government to justify its decision to close the line in light of a new audit showing it can be restored quicker and cheaper than expected. The draft feasibility study, commissioned by the Northern Rivers Organisations of Councils (NOROC) and to be released next week, estimated the cost of upgrading the line to a standard for the operation of passenger trains at about $25 million and take six years. Cr Polglase said the line could be reopened in a matter of weeks for only $100,000 but with speed restrictions. Federal Labor's funding offer of $150 million over 10 years, he said, was well in excess of what was needed and the State Government, which refused the Federal Government's $30 million offer over two years, "did not want anything to do with the railway line until after the Federal election". Lismore mayor Merv King said it appeared the State Government had based its studies to maintain the line on a Rolls Royce track. Richmond MP Larry Antho- ny said the study "absolutely vindicated" his government's offer which was unconditional and "not determinant on an election outcome". But Tweed MP Neville Newell said Mr Anthony did not have the clout needed to obtain just $150 million from their (Federal Government's) $25 billion surplus and Cr Polglase was desperate to protect his Federal National Party candidates from that "obvious conclusion". Labor candidate for Richmond Justine Elliot warned that cutting the amount spent on the line could put the safety of passengers at risk. Ms Elliot said the study estimated that the line would cost $188 million over 20 years to be reopened and the Northern Rivers mayors had "changed their tune about the importance of track maintenance, replacement of bridges and other safety considerations".