NEW FIGHT FOR TRAIN
By Alex Easton
LOCAL members of Australia's four biggest political parties have put aside their differences to fight together for the return of our train.
While they'll never be best of friends, members of the Liberal and Labor parties, the Nationals and The Greens met at the Lismore train station yesterday ? some of them for the first time ? to show their support for the train and to unite to get all parties in Sydney and Canberra to work together on the issue.
The politicians in Lismore yesterday included Page Labor preselection candidates Janelle Saffin, Isaac Smith and Peter Lanyon, Lennox Head-based Liberal MLC Catherine Cusack, Richmond Nationals preselection candidate Dr Sue Page, and Greens members Anne Dusta and Jiri Dusta.
Page Nationals candidate Chris Gulaptis expressed support for the cross-party alliance, but was unable to attend yesterday's gathering due to prior commitments.
The gathering confirmed the commitment of the politicians to work across party lines to have the train returned. The next step was working out how they would use their new-found unity to pressure the State and Federal governments to act.
The move follows the apparent death of NSW Labor's interest in the train, after the Federal Government declined a pre-election offer to split costs 50/50 to return the XPT to the Northern Rivers, and follows NSW Treasurer Michael Costa's declaration in Parliament last week that the region had 'no chance' of getting the train back.
The local politicians are arguing for the start of commuter and freight rail services on the Casino to Murwillumbah line, and its extension to Queensland, where it can link with the Gold Coast line when it is extended to Coolangatta.
They also want the buck-passing between parties and the State and Federal governments to stop, noting both had a role to play in restoring and expanding Northern Rivers rail services.
Ms Cusack said connecting the lines would not only provide a strong passenger link between the Northern Rivers and Queensland, but would plug local industries into one of Australia's biggest export terminals ? the Port of Brisbane.
Dr Page noted that cattle slaughtered at the Casino meatworks were presently shipped by truck to Brisbane, where they were loaded on to trains and shipped back south again ? passing almost within sight of the meatworks' front door.
Mr Lanyon said any proposal to return rail services to the region had to abandon the idea of the line existing primarily to support the XPT, noting the low passenger numbers that plagued the service and continue to plague the CountryLink bus service that followed it.
Ms Saffin said the line had been subject to decades of neglect by successive State governments, with a 1972 report noting the 'parlous' state of the timber bridges.
But there had always been local enthusiasm to fill 'the missing link' between Murwillumbah and Brisbane.
Richmond Labor MP Justine Elliot backed the group's aims, but said the first step in restoring the train had to come from the NSW Government.