Mayor lashes out at rail campaign

BALLINA mayor Phillip Silver has broken ranks with other mayors on the Northern Rivers, saying the push to reinstate passenger services on the Casino to Murwillumbah railway line is 'very, very foolish'.

“We won't be able to keep the railway line open purely for passenger purposes,” he said.

“It's dysfunctional and illogical.”

Cr Silver was speaking in response to a motion from Cr Jeff Johnson at this week's council meeting, which recommended Ballina Shire Council oppose the State Government's Transport Administration Amendment (Rail Trails) Bill.

The motion was passed, with Crs Silver, Alan Brown and Keith Johnson voting against it.

Cr Silver said it was an 'absolute joke' that the region was crying out for more money for its hospitals and for more police officers and nurses, yet the community wanted to spend '$200 million on a piece of infrastructure that no one is going to use'.

“I'd love to see passengers on that line, but I am convinced in my mind that it won't happen and that it's not viable,” he said.

“As a region we're doing ourselves a disservice by pursuing it. For us to identify this as a priority would be wrong.

“But I'm the mayor of Ballina Council and the council has voted to do this (write to the Government), so I'll support it.”

Cr Silver said the Government should put off any decisions about the Casino-Murwillumbah line until the regional transport study, which is being done through the Northern Rivers Regional Organisation of Councils, has been completed.

“If rail passenger services are recommended in the plan, I will swing behind it,” he said.

“At the moment we are just being silly by putting all our time and energy into it.”

Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell said it was 'very important' to save the Casino-Murwillumbah rail corridor.

“I would not go so far as Phil at all as to eliminate any of the options,” she said.

“It may prove that it's not viable and that there are better options.

“Phil, of course, is entitled to his opinion.

“But our council has voted to say that we want to return commuter rail services to this region.

“We object totally to the legislation that is before the NSW Parliament that will allow for the sale of the land. The corridor needs to be protected.”

Richmond Valley mayor Col Sullivan said he also wanted passenger trains to return to the area.

“I can't agree with Cr Silver on this matter,” he said.

“We want to maintain the line corridor, and where possible, reinstate passenger services.

“We make that point because this area is one of the biggest growth areas over the next 20-25 years.

“The day might come when we need the rail line again. We should never say never. It would be a terrible thing if we sell it off.

“The difficult thing in local government is getting people to look into the future. We look at today and tomorrow, but we should be looking 20 years down the track.”

Byron Shire mayor Jan Barham said Cr Silver was 'on the wrong track'.

“From a pure planning sense, commuter services on rail are a very good idea,” she said.

“We already have the infrastructure. I know it's politically difficult, but in terms of a social and environmental sense, it's a really good idea for this region.

“We have a lot of young people and we have a lot of elderly people. This is an equity issue.”

Kyogle Shire mayor Ross Brown was unavailable for comment.

“It's dysfunctional and illogical.” - Ballina mayor Phillip Silver

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