Mayors will take a different tack
By ALEX EASTON
STATE Transport Minister John Watkins can keep his XPT. We don't want it.
Northern Rivers mayors and rail lobbyists will use meetings with Mr Watkins today to sell their dream of a regional commuter train service that, ultimately, would link into Queensland.
Mr Watkins was due to arrive on the Northern Rivers about 3.45am today, joining members of the public transferring from the XPT to CountryLink buses at Casino train station for the two-and-a-half hour ride to Murwillumbah.
There, Mr Watkins was to hold a press conference ahead of meetings with Northern Rivers Trains for the Future and mayors from the Northern Regional Organisation of Councils (NOROC).
In a brief telephone interview shortly after he boarded the train yesterday afternoon, Mr Watkins said he was coming to the Northern Rivers to 'look, listen and learn about local transport options'.
Whether that would translate into a willingness to introduce a commuter service was unclear ? Mr Watkins has consistently said he will not revisit the decision to axe the train ? but Cr Bennett and NRTF chair Karin Kolbe were optimistic.
Cr Bennett said Mr Watkins' assertions specifically referred only to the XPT and left the door open for the introduction of a commuter service.
Cr Bennett and Ms Kolbe said both their groups would use today's meeting at Murwillumbah to stress the importance of a commuter service to the region.
Cr Bennett said the mayors would point out population growth figures about double the State average of 0.7 per cent and the potential benefits of improved ac- cess to employment, education, health care and other services.
The mayors would also stress the potential benefits of extending the line to Coolangatta, to link with the Queensland line when it is extended south from Robina.
"I'm hoping that he will see the light; that he will go back and seriously consider when he can do something about it," Cr Bennett said.
"I can't see any other response."
Ms Kolbe, Cr Bennett and Lismore mayor Merv King each said the issue remained one of the biggest for the Northern Rivers community.
Cr Bennett and Cr King, both long-time veterans of local government, said it was the biggest issue they had seen in terms of community support.
NRTF has had an increase in active members since the train was axed.