TOOT protesters campaign for the return of Northern Rivers rail services at Casino train station in March.
TOOT protesters campaign for the return of Northern Rivers rail services at Casino train station in March.

Win for rail corridor

PEOPLE power appears to have saved the Murwillumbah to Casino rail corridor from being sold off in the near future, says National Party MP for Lismore Thomas George whose electorate includes the old Murwillumbah rail terminus.

Mr George yesterday said the community had achieved “a significant win” by forcing the government to amend a proposed new law which would have allowed corridors to be turned into so called “rail trail” cycling tracks or sold to developers at the whim of the government.

The amendments he said would include a 15-year-gap between the time the last train ran  on the track and any sell off.

But local lobby group Trains On our Tracks (TOOT) and Greens Upper House MP Lee Rhiannon both said the amendments did not go far enough and the railway was still at risk of being sold.

“A sustained community campaign culminating in a mass rally we attended outside Parliament House last month has forced the NSW Government to amend its bill to sell off disused rail corridors to developers,” said Mr George.

“New amendments include provisions which limit the sell-off of scrap metal and sleepers; retain the requirement for Parliament to make the final decision; promise more community consultation and impose a 15-year gap between the last train running and the sell-off.”

Mr George said the last provision meant that the Casino to Murwillumbah line which Labor closed in 2004 was theoretically safe for another ten years.

But he added that because “Labor has broken a series of promises about the Casino to Murwillumbah line in the recent past... we need to be cautious, sceptical and vigilant in relation to these latest assurances”.

“Nevertheless this is a major win for the community campaign, including train lobby group TOOT, the Greens and the local community.”

Mr George said the National Party he taken a policy to the 2007 election which would have seen the line reopen with six light rail services a day and planning for the extension of the line from Murwillumbah to the Gold Coast.

He and his North Coast colleagues were pushing for a similar policy for the 2011 election.

“How long that takes to implement will depend on the condition of the State finances we inherit from this economically incompetent administration when we win Government,” Mr George added.

TOOT president Karin Kolbe said Transport Minister David Campbell’s promise of protection for lines that have been disused for less than 15 years “is not good enough”.

“It will be up to Minister Campbell to decide when ‘passenger and freight services’ were last operated regularly,” she said.

“This may be earlier than when the last train ran... it amounts to very little protection for our line and the corridor."

Ms Kolbe said TOOT was calling on Federal representatives including Richmond Labor MP Justine Elliot to “help secure long term protection and action on our line”.

“Justine Elliot’s First Speech to Parliament mentioned ‘Federal Labor’s long term commitment’ to the Casino-Murwillumbah line, yet she is silent in the face of this proposed NSW legislation.” Ms Kolbe said.

“With this legislation, 45 of the 58 NSW lines could have tracks, signals and stations removed, and leased out.

“We call on Minister Campbell to rip up the bill and meet with TOOT and the Northern Rivers Community to discuss the refurbishment of our line for commuter services and a rail link to Coolangatta Airport.”

Greens MP Lee Rhiannon the amended bill was “better than the original but still fundamentally flawed because it does not clearly rule out the short or long term lease of a rail corridor for profit”.

 “Possibly the biggest loophole lies with the test the Minister must meet before declaring a rail corridor as ‘disused’. The ‘no regular use’ test leaves it open for the government to declare a line as disused even if it has enjoyed only periodic use during a 15-year period.

“The Greens and many local communities do not trust that this government, with its track record of neglecting rail, cycle and pedestrian infrastructure, is genuine in its intention to use this legislation solely for rail trails,” Ms Rhiannon said.

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