Train hopes slipping away
THE ground at St Helena would still have been wet from the great storm of 1954 when Tom McInerney and between 30 and 40 other men, armed with only picks, shovels and a couple of borrowed tractors, began working to fix a massive landslip under the train line.
Like the 2005 storm, the 1954 storm washed away part of the hill the line ran along, leaving bare rails suspended in mid-air.
Unlike the damage caused by the 2005 storm, which has not been fixed, Mr McInerney and his fellow railway men had the line back up and running within, he guesses, about six weeks.
And if they could do it then with picks, shovels and muscle, Mr McInerney, now 75, can't see what's stopping the railways from doing it now, with its fancy machines.
Trains with brush-cutters, trains to dump herbicide on weeds, trains to lift the track and replace rotten sleepers - most of the line could be good as new within weeks, he reckons.
Mr McInerney had only been on the railway a few years when the 1954 storm hit the Northern Rivers. He started cleaning drains on the Border Loop at 18 in 1952 and by the time he retired in 1995 had been promoted to the lofty heights of senior inspector and knew the Casino-Murwillumbah branch line better than anyone alive. He's lived in the old stationmaster's house at Bexhill for more than 50 years and misses his old job every day.
“All we did was work, drink and fight, and it didn't matter which order we did it in,” he said wistfully.
He almost turns pink at the suggestion the State Government could sell off the rail corridor to turn it into a bike path.
“That's the greatest load of bulls**t, there's no way in the world,” he splutters.
“All the rails would have to be moved and got out; there are places in Upper Burringbar and Murwillumbah where you can't get to the track by road. These tracks all weigh 94 pounds (43kg) - I know, I laid them.”
Then would come the job of sealing it for use by cyclists and walkers; fences would also have to be put up to stop those same cyclists and walkers from straying on to private property.
Turning the line into a bike path would likely cost more than it would to fix it, he said.
The best solution, to Mr McInerney's mind, is simply to fix the track.
And if there was some way he could get his old job back on the line, that'd be okay too.