Commuter train favoured over the XPT
By HUGH KEARNEY and ALEX EASTON
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 is one of the key findings of a feasibility study into the potential future use of the Northern Rivers line. The Federally-funded PricewaterhouseCoopers study was released yesterday at Murwillumbah by Northern Rivers Organisation of Councils chairman and Kyogle mayor Ernie Bennett and the mayors of Tweed, Lismore and Richmond River. Cr Bennett said the report showed the train, which was axed by NSW Transport Minister Michael Costa in May, could be returned to the line for only $4.1 million, with an on-going operating subsidy of between $4 million and $7 million a year. "Crucially, it reveals it's possible to reintroduce a lower-cost railcar service, based in the Northern Rivers. Such a service would provide better frequency to enable use for travel between regional towns," he said. Cr Bennett called on the NSW and Commonwealth governments to back a locally-based commuter train service on the line. But their chances looked slim last night, with Mr Costa issuing a statement attacking the report and saying that, in parts, it only confirmed the government's decision to axe the XPT. The key findings of the report include: n $28 million needed over seven years to improve the line to standard for basic light axle-load rail commuter operations; n The State Government could divert the $2 million spent annually on XPT-replacement coach ser- vices to a reinstated rail service; n The return of the XPT was not favoured as the most beneficial use of the line, instead a commuter service would be better sup- ported within the region; n The service could be funded through a mix of State and Federal subsidies, as well as passenger fares. Mr Costa attacked costings in the report, saying it assumed a 60 per cent increase in patronage, despite acknowledging a general decline in the use of rail.