Rail line put on ice

By ALEX EASTON

alex.easton@northernstar.com.au

THE Northern Rivers train may not be dead, but it is in cold storage as far as the State Government is concerned, Transport Minister John Watkins says.

Mr Watkins yesterday said the Government had abandoned its plan to put trains back on the Casino to Murwillumbah line.

However, Ballina MP Don Page said the Coalition remained determined to return the train and had set aside $100 million to fix the line, refurbish trains and cover the cost of running a commuter service.

Mr Page was reluctant to spell out a timeline for the return of services, but said he hoped to have six trains a day on the line by the end of the year.

Mr Watkins, who says restoring the track would cost at least $150 million, said the decision to bin its plan followed the Commonwealth's refusal to fund half the project.

Mr Watkins last June proposed the State and Federal governments each contribute $75 million to upgrading and repairing the line ahead of returning the XPT service.

The November 30 deadline on the proposal passed without a response from Federal Transport Minister Warren Truss, with his office saying the State Government failed to provide detailed reports it wanted.

Mr Watkins yesterday told The Northern Star the Government now had no plans to restore the line.

"If they're not going to do that, and it's clear they're not, we're going to have to move on to plan transport for this region," he said.

The big-ticket item on that front was the proposed extension of the Gold Coast line into NSW.

That extension was proposed to run to South Tweed Heads and, possibly, Kingscliff, but Mr Watkins said a decision on where the line would go and the path it would follow remained a long way off. Those decisions depended partly on Queensland's progress in extending the line to Coolangatta.

Mr Watkins was reluctant to estimate the time it would take to build the new line, but pointed out that a new line in Sydney, that was done as a priority project and avoided land acquisition issues by going underground, took more than 10 years to build.

As for Casino to Murwillumbah, Mr Watkins said the Government would keep the corridor so future governments had the option of returning the train.

"We are talking about the north-east corner of the State which is growing apace," he said.

"Who knows what the transport needs will be in 30, 40, 50 years?"

That didn't mean the corridor had to lie fallow.

Mr Watkins said bicycle tracks could go in rail corridors without preventing future governments from putting trains in them, noting Victoria had done that in the rural towns of Shepparton and Benalla.

There were no plans to do anything similar here.

Northern Rivers Trains for the Future president Karin Kolbe said she was not surprised at Mr Watkins' decision and said the group would continue to lobby for a commuter train.

"I keep going back to what happened in Armidale (after that town's train service was axed)," she said.

"People didn't give up and they lobbied and lobbied and lobbied and got their train back."



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