DON PAGE: Big supporter of the Rail Trail.
DON PAGE: Big supporter of the Rail Trail. Contributed

Train corridor will be sold unless rail trail gets support

THE CASINO to Murwillumbah rail corridor would be "sold off" unless the region commits to a rail trail on the 132km stretch, chair of Regional Development Australia Northern Rivers and former Ballina MP Don Page has warned.

In a strongly worded statement, Mr Page has slapped down Byron Shire mayor Simon Richardson's "uncosted, unfunded, unrealistic" proposal to run a train and a rail trail alongside each other exclusively in Byron Shire.

He said "unrealistic ideas" were only undermining a proposal that has state and federal government support and "spoiling tactics" were threatening "a great opportunity to create jobs and income for our region".

He also reaffirmed the rail trail as a "top priority" for RDA Northern Rivers, which plays a key role in identifying goals for federal infrastructure funding.

The statement is as follows:

"Regional Development Australia (RDA) - Northern Rivers has reaffirmed its strong support for the Rail Trail on the Casino to Murwillumbah rail corridor.

"Chair of the RDA Northern Rivers, Don Page said a rail trail would attract valuable tourism to the region, increase employment and improve the social, economic and environmental wellbeing of the region and its people.

"The Rail Trail is a low impact, environmentally friendly proposal that will generate many new jobs. It's a top priority for RDA Northern Rivers" he said.

"The rail corridor has been the subject of a comprehensive train study (2011-12) and a Rail Trail feasibility study (2013-14).

"Trains in whatever combination were deemed not viable due to excessive cost (over $950M) and in any case public transport needs would not be met because two of the three largest population areas (i.e. Ballina and Tweed Heads) would not be served.

"The Rail Trail, on the other hand, was shown to be both affordable, viable and a great job creator" Mr Page said.

"Both the State and Federal Governments have indicated they support the Rail Trail as an appropriate use of the disused corridor.

"Tweed Council currently have an application for $13 million to fund the northern section (i.e. Murwillumbah to Crabbes Creek) and Richmond Valley and Lismore City Councils support a rail trail for the Casino to Eltham section.

"What's missing is a clear statement of support for the middle section (Byron).

"Uncosted, unfunded, unrealistic proposals for trains, trams and a Rail Trail in the Byron Shire section of the corridor only jeopardises the Rail Trail project.

"If the Rail Trail does not proceed it is likely the corridor will be sold off.

[Currently, all rail corridors are protected under section 99A of the Transport Administration Act 1988, which only Parliament can amend. Even the construction of rail trails requires specific amendments to the Act. How those amendments are structured to allow a rail trail while still affording the same protections to the rail corridor continues to spark intense debate in Parliament.]

"This outcome will be a tragedy for the region and deprive the Northern Rivers of the opportunity to have one of the best Rail Trails in the world," Mr Page continued.

"The Northern Rivers region needs a united commitment to the Rail Trail uncontaminated by unrealistic ideas that will only ever serve to undermine a viable Rail Trail.

"If the region can't agree to support the Rail Trail, it's inevitable sections of the corridor will be sold off. It's a case of use it or lose it!

"We need the region to unite behind the Rail Trail project and stop the spoiling tactics currently in force which seriously threatens a great opportunity to create jobs and income for our region," Mr Page said.

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