Move to prevent rail corridor sell off
THE NSW Government has introduced rail trail legislation for a disused rail corridor in southern NSW which could provide a model for the proposed Casino to Murwillumbah trail.
However, NSW Labor is fighting a provision in the bill which it says would allow the government to sell off the land.
The 22km section of rail line between Rosewood and Tumbarumba in the Riverina Highlands southeast of Wagga was selected by the NSW Government for $4.5 million in pilot rail trail funding in 2015.
The Transport Administration Amendment (Closure of Railway Line between Rosewood and Tumbarumba) Bill 2017 is seen as crucial pilot legislation for other rail trails around the state, although each proposed trail would require its own individual amendments.
The bill seeks to amend the Transport Administration Act 1988 to allow the formal closure of the rail line in order to create a rail trail, which would involve removing the tracks and other infrastructure.
In his introductory speech, Transport Minister Andrew Constance said the legislation would maintain "public ownership" of the corridor.
"Transport for NSW is working with the Department of Industry - Lands to determine appropriate land transfer arrangements," he said.
"It is anticipated that the corridor will be declared a Crown reserve for which Snowy Valleys Council will then be appointed trustee.
He added that "the corridor can be resumed by Transport for NSW for operational purposes if the need arises."
But the provision opposed by Labor seems to suggest otherwise. It says the rail corridor owner "may sell or otherwise dispose of the land concerned and remove the railway tracks and other works concerned".
It's understood that this only refers to Transport for NSW selling the land to the Department of Industry, but that's not clear enough for Labor.
Shadow Minister for Transport Jodi McKay said said Labor supported rail trails across the state but the "sneaky" provision needed to be changed.
"It's seminal legislation and it's important that we get it right," she said.
Labor is proposing an amendment to the legislation that the corridor remains protected as dedicated Crown Land.
"We commend the government on establishing NSW's first rail trail, but we have to get this right from the start and so we're asking the government to guarantee public and community ownership of these corridors," she said.
Northern Rivers Rail Trail (NRRT) secretary Geoff Meers said if the controversial 'sell off' provision was proposed for Casino to Murwillumbah, "it would be a red rag to a bull" to those who distrust the government's intentions.
He said the bill also didn't make clear which government department would control the land, and believed it would need to be amended to make that explicit.
NRRT supports the legislation in principle, however.
Tweed Shire, Richmond Valley and Lismore City councils are all seeking funding for feasibility, planning and construction of sections of the trail, while Byron Shire is conducting its own $200,000 feasibility study of a multi-modal rail and trail proposal.
Both state and federal governments have indicated support for the project and supporters are confident that positive funding announcements will follow.