HE IS the patron of Rail Trails NSW, but former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer has spoken out against funding a rail trail and, instead, has put his weight behind the campaign to return trains to the Northern Rivers.
Mr Fischer, a railway enthusiast, patron of Rail Trails NSW and author of the book, Trains Unlimited, has written to the Northern Rivers Railway Action Group to say that while rail trails are a positive for some locations, the Northern Rivers' community would be better served by a light rail commuter service.
"Rail trails are great in many ways and certainly boost cross-pollination of ideas and linkages but, better still in north-eastern NSW, a shuttle modern light rail between Casino and Byron Bay and Murwillumbah makes great sense," he said.
Returning a rail service to Northern NSW, Mr Fischer said, "was essential to the core transport fabric of an increasingly congested part of NSW, adjoining as it does the Gold Coast."
Mr Fischer told The Northern Star that, had the cancelled XPT service been replaced with a light rail commuter service a decade ago, the service "would be booming by now".
Meanwhile, members of local pro-train group TOOT (Trains On Our Tracks) are agitating for the "true" costs of a Northern Rivers rail trail to be revealed following the NSW government's feasibility study.
"Summary figures show the study underestimates costs, overestimates benefits and fails to acknowledge impacts," TOOT spokesman Basil Cameron said.
"Diversion of over $70 million in taxpayer funds when the need for public transport is so desperate in the Northern Rivers is short-sighted and likely to burden communities with additional costs and impacts for years to come."
Mr Cameron, a Byron Shire councillor, said his shire would bear the costs of increased tourism created by a rail trial.
"Byron Shire is set to wear the initial wave of impacts as the additional tourists will add to traffic congestion due to lack of public transport," he said.
"Rail provides a broad range of benefits to many groups in the community.
"By comparison, benefits from a rail trail go almost entirely to a few businesses, yet it is the public who will have to pay for it."