Train a long time ... if ever

MURWILLUMBAH might get its train back one day - but passengers may have to wait years.

Transport Minister John Watkins yesterday announced a Murwillumbah-to-Casino Rail Corridor Working Party would reconvene to investigate long-term transport needs.

He also announced a $1.1 million upgrade for the Casino rail and bus interchange, including three new coach bays, two extra luggage-handling areas and a platform extension.

He said the Casino-to-Murwillumbah bus tender would be announced soon.

"We are expecting the tender to be let in May and this will bring some transport certainty to the region," Mr Watkins said.

"The successful tenderer will be required to provide fully accessible coaches within six months of signing the contract. In the meantime, existing disabled access arrangements will continue on the current services."

The working party will investigate the feasibility of carrying freight along the rail corridor and of linking the corridor to the Queensland rail network in the long term, which would assist the viability of a Tweed passenger train service, Mr Watkins said.

As well, a federal coalition offer of $30 million to improve train services on the North Coast, made before the last federal election, will be closely examined by the working party, along with Queensland's rail-funding plans.

Mr Watkins said a $188 million cost over the next 20 years of upgrading the Murwillumbah to Casino rail line was a "stumbling block" currently preventing a commuter train service replacing the XPT train cancelled 12 months ago due to low financial returns.

But he said if the working party could establish that freight services would generate some reasonable returns, "that changes the economics".

Mr Watkins said an economically feasible freight service might offset some of the costs in restoring the tracks and bridges, necessary before any commuter train can be considered.

He said there was a possibility a freight service might assist the introduction of a commuter service for passengers, "but I don't want to hold out false hopes. If the Queensland line comes down to the border, things may change, but nothing will happen overnight."

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