Secret talks signal ministerial pull-out


STATE and Federal interest in the Northern Rivers train appears to have ended with the election, with transport ministers abandoning talks aimed at returning the train.

NSW Transport Minister Michael Costa and his Federal counterpart, John Anderson, scrapped plans to discuss the train line this week at a transport conference in Brisbane after agreeing at a secret meeting last week to have transport agencies take over the talks.

The decision sparked an an- gry response from Northern Rivers mayors, who had been told they would be able to join the meeting.

Ernie Bennett, Northern Rivers Regional Organisation of Councils chairman and Kyogle mayor, said the meeting would have been the first chance for the mayors to meet the ministers on the issue.

Spokespeople for the ministers said talks on the trains would be taken over by a new working party made up of RailCorp, Federal Transport Department officers, and the Australian Rail and Transport Corporation.

The group was expected to deliver recommendations to the ministers, a spokeswoman for Mr Anderson said, but when those recommendations ? and under what terms of reference ? they would be formed remain a mystery.

Cr Bennett said the mayors had seen the meeting as an important chance to gauge where the two ministers stood on the train. Most had planned to go to Brisbane for it.

"At least we would have known who was in favour of what," he said. "We would have had some idea, whether it was the State or Federal Government that needed pressure. I don't care which side of politics, or which level of government, they are on, I just want the train back."

Northern Rivers Trains for the Future spokesman Neale Battersby said he was not surprised by the ministers' decision to end high-level talks.

But Queensland's recent decision to extend its rail line to Coolangatta would help maintain pressure on the NSW and Federal governments and keep hope alive for the Northern Rivers line.

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