Rail link not in the loop

THE Casino-Murwillumbah rail line is the NSW Government's problem and a Federal Coalition government would contribute nothing to the local line's restoration and extension, Nationals Leader Warren Truss said.

Mr Truss made the comments after Federal Transport Minister Anthony Albanese accused the Nationals of sending ‘mixed messages'after the party's Richmond candidate Alan Hunter appeared to suggest to listeners on ABC Radio that a Coalition government would bring back the train.

Mr Hunter yesterday said he had not intended to give that impression. However, he said he was personally committed to the train and was pushing for its return.

“If I have my way I'll bring it back, you bet I will,” he said.

“The ALP has had every opportunity to honour their previous promises. Justine Elliot promised to put $150 million (in 2004) into that and then says that was on the basis that they won that election. But she made quite a reference to it in her maiden speech (to Parliament after she was elected).”

In case there was any lingering doubt, Mr Truss made the Coalition's position on the Northern Rivers train crystal clear yesterday.

“The Federal Government has not been a funder of local branch lines,” Mr Truss said.

That included whether you were talking about putting trains on the track, repairing or upgrading the track, extending the track to Coolangatta, or building a whole new track, such as Ballina MP Don Page's proposed ‘Ballina loop', which would run from Byron Bay to Ballina and then up the plateau to Lismore.

“That's a State responsibility,” Mr Truss said.

A spokesman for Mr Albanese said the Federal Labor Government might be interested in investing in the Casino-Murwillumbah branch line, but only if the independent assessment body, Infrastructure Australia, recommended it.

The spokesman said anyone in the community could make a recommendation by going to www.infrastructureaustralia.gov.au.

Asked if Labor made the $150 million promise in 2004 on the assumption it would lose the election and not have to honour that promise, the spokesman said: “That's an absurd proposition.”

Asked why restoring the train was good enough forLabor in 2004, but not now, the spokesman responded: “The leaders have changed, the Transport Ministers have changed.

“When it comes to passenger rail this is the first national government to invest in passenger rail services.”

However, the spokesman said the Labor Government's priorities for spending would be based on ‘objective assessment' from Infrastructure Australia.

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