By HUGH KEARNEY
NORTHERN Rivers councils would prefer to have a commuter train service running on the North Coast branch line rather than see the return of the XPT passenger train. That was one of the key findings of a feasibility study commissioned by Tweed Shire Council into the future use of the Murwillumbah-to- Casino line following the axing of the daily XPT service to Sydney and the closing of the line in May. The study was paid for by a Federal Government grant under the Sustainable Regions program and carried out by independent consultants, Price Waterhouse Coopers. The report was released yesterday at Tweed Shire Council chambers by NOROC (Northern Rivers Organi- sation of Councils) chairman, Cr Ernie Bennett of Kyogle and mayors from Tweed, Lismore and Richmond River shires. Cr Bennett said the report was a detailed, robust review of the branch line, the travel needs of the Northern Rivers community and different train service options to meet those needs. "The report has established it is possible to put a train back on the rail for around $4.1 million which is much less than the cost identified by the State Government," Cr Bennett said. "Crucially, it reveals that it is possible to re-introduce a lower-cost railcar service which would be based in the northern rivers. Such a service would provide better frequency to enable use for travel between regional towns," Cr Bennett said. "In fact, a good quality, professional and reliable local commuter service can be achieved by spending approximately $4.1 million per year in infrastructure maintenance and a further annual operating subsidy of between $4 million to $7 million." Cr Bennett called on the NSW and Commonwealth governments to look seriously at the study with a view to jointly committing the long-term funding needed to upgrade the line and support a locally-based commuter train service. The report's analysis suggested a low-cost railcar service would incur a cash operating deficit in the range of $42 million to $54 million over a 20 year period. The consultants report suggested a railcar train could operate between towns on the line up to 16 times each day, linking to the Casino XPT for passengers wishing to travel to Sydney. ?Lismore Mayor Merv King said now that the community options for the commuter service had been identified it was up to the State Government to make it happen. Tweed Mayor Warren Polglase said the issue had become a political football and it was time to get back to considering the real needs of the community. "This report gives us very good grounds for going back to the Minister (Costa) to ask him to reconsider the whole issue," Cr Polglase said. He said a copy of the report would be sent to Mr Costa.