RAIL lobby group Trains On Our Tracks has renewed its push for the return of commuter train services on the Northern Rivers after a reader's poll on Star's website suggested there remained overwhelming support for the train.
The poll, which was posted with a story about Ballina MP Don Page tabling a petition arguing for a tourism-oriented "rail trail" on the Northern Rivers, gathered more than 500 responses.
About 70% of those responses - 364 to be precise - backed the return of commuter train services over a rail trail. Most of those (39% of the total) wanted a train put back on the line as soon as possible while 31% said they wanted a commuter train service, but only if the line were extended to Murwillumbah.
By comparison, only 153 of the respondents (about 29%) said they would prefer a rail trail.
The poll is not scientifically accurate and cannot be assumed to be a reliable indicator of feeling about the train across the Northern Rivers community.
However, its results are broadly consistent with a 2007 survey done through Southern Cross University, in which about 70% of respondents said they would catch a commuter train running between Casino and Murwillumbah at least once a month and 90% said they would catch it that regularly if the line were extended to Queensland.
What would be better for the Northern Rivers? Commuter trains or a rail trail?
This poll ended on 28 February 2014.
A rail trail from Casino to Murwillumbah would be best. - 29%
Put a commuter train on our tracks - NOW! - 39%
A commuter train, but only if the line is extended from Murwillumbah to Queensland. - 31%
This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.
TOOT calls on coalition to keep promise on train
Referring to the poll, TOOT spokeswoman Karin Kolbe called on the State Government to act on its election commitments and return commuter rail services to the Northern Rivers and attacked a report released last year that estimated the track would cost $900m to repair.
"The land up here is very valuable - we strongly suspect that that's the real reason: that the government wants to rip up the tracks and sell the stations and corridor," Ms Kolbe said in a statement.
"The government's so-called Feasibility study last year ignored the option of light-rail. The report unnecessarily added in the costs associated with the XPT to make the costs higher than needed.
"The report didn't include tourists in the passenger numbers.
"The report totally ignored all environmental issues.
"The report deliberately inflated the costs and ignored any benefits to justify a policy backflip.
"Rail and bikes can work together safely in the same corridor - like in Victoria - to create a true transport system for all.
Ballina MP hits back and says rail trail has community support
Ballina MP and Minister for the North Coast Don Page said the coalition had met its election commitment regarding the train and said he believed there was strong support on the Northern Rivers for a rail trail.
The coalition, then in opposition, had committed to returning the train in the lead-up to the 2007 election, but Ballina MP and now Minister for the North Coast Don Page pointed out that by the 2011 poll the coalition was committing only to a feasibility study.
The most recent coalition commitment to return the train, reported by The Northern Star, dates back to July 2010, when Mr Page made the commitment at a local rail forum.
Mr Page said it would have been not long after that the coalition received advice the line had become so badly degraded it might not be able to fix it.
"Because of white ants in the sleepers and bridges we got advice it would be extremely expensive to put (the train back) on," Mr Page said.
Mr Page defended the integrity of the State Government report on the train, but said people who questioned the $900m repair bill were missing the key problem raised in it.
"Regardless of whether you want to argue the costs, the more important point was the study's conclusion that, no matter how many trains you put on, it wouldn't service the region because it didn't service two of our largest towns - Tweed Heads and Ballina," Mr Page said.
Mr Page said he believed there was strong support for a rail trail across the region that was not reflected in the web-poll.
"There's a lot more support than the 1400 people who signed the petition," he said. "Northern Rivers Rail Trail has thousands of people on its information system who are supporting a rail trail."