Hopes to bring back trains derailed
A SURPRISE new law which would allow the NSW Government to sell land along the closed Casino to Murwillumbah rail line, including prime real estate around the Murwillumbah Railway Station, looks set to go before the NSW Parliament.
The move has shocked campaigners for a return of the rail link, as well as business people who see the loss of a rail corridor as bad planning in an area of fast growth.
“It would be devastating,” said Murwillumbah and District Business Chamber president Toni Zuschke on Monday.
“For an area that is growing at unprecedented levels and an aged population who need and rely on public transport it's crucial we protect the rail corridor.
“This particular railway line is not just important for commuters but for the long-term rail infrastructure that needs to be put in place.”
NSW Transport Minister David Campbell Monday confirmed he would introduce legislation, possibly within the next few weeks, to allow disused rail lines to be freed up for other uses such as cycleways - or sold off.
The law would remove the century-old requirements for a Special Act of Parliament before the Government can rip up any train line, although it has been able to remove services from lines without Parliament's consent.
The NSW Greens Party claimed the new law would benefit “the developer mates” of Premier Nathan Rees while unnamed Labor backbenchers reportedly fear it would leave the door open for the sale of rail land in regional NSW to developers.
However, Monday the move won some limited support, including that of Cr Phil Youngblutt who said it could lead to redevelopment of South Murwillumbah and a better new transit centre in the town.
The sale of rail land, particularly in South Murwillumbah and in the heart of Byron Bay could provide a cash windfall for the Government.
President of the Trains on Our Tracks campaign Karin Kolbe said the Government was clearly eyeing off the money it could make from the sale of land on the Murwillumbah-to-Casino rail line and in the future from rail land in central Newcastle.
“The land around here and in Newcastle - these are the jewels in the crown in terms of profitable land,” she said.
“From the reports we have it would seem it is just a money grab. It's a very short-sighted approach.
“We are certainly not going to let them sell it off. It's an asset that belongs to the people.
“They keep saying they are listening, but on this issue it is clear they are not. The community keeps saying they want rail ser- vices.”
Cr Youngblutt said the priority for train lines in the Tweed was the need “for a rail line to go north”, and the current disused track south of Murwillumbah would make “a hell of a good bikeway or walkway”.
He believes the current railway station and surrounding land was an ideal site for a transit centre and South Murwillumbah was in dire need of redevelopment.
NSW Greens MP and transport spokesperson Lee Rhiannon said removing the legal protection for rail tracks would be a gift to devel- opers eyeing off land along the Casino-to-Murwillumbah rail line.
Earlier this year National Party MP for Lismore Thomas George slammed the Transport Department for its plans to hold an open day at the rail station - promoting available bus services.