Uncertainty over train line

THE Federal Coalition might do something to help return train services to the Northern Rivers and extend the line to Queensland if it wins this year’s election – maybe.

Nationals MP Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Development Mark Coulton yesterday joined Richmond Nationals candidate Tania Murdock at Murwillumbah train station to voice the Federal Coalition’s support for the Northern Rivers’ campaign to put a commuter train on the local line.

They also backed the push to extend the line to Coolangatta, where it could meet the Gold Coast line.

However, that support did not translate to funding commitments and, when pressed, Mr Coulton conceded he did not know whether the Federal Coalition’s leadership would back any bid to tip Federal money into the line.

The Casino-Murwillumbah line has a chequered history with the former Federal Coalition government and its former Labor opposition.

While in government, the Coalition rebuffed repeated appeals for it to step in and save the line, despite it having commissioned a PricewaterhouseCoopers report in late 2004 into the line’s viability.

At one point former NSW Deputy Premier and Transport Minister John Watkins even offered to put State money into revamping the line if the Commonwealth would contribute to it.

That offer, which was accompanied by a price claimed by local State Coalition MPs to be hugely inflated, was ignored by the then Federal Government

Federal Labor’s track record on the train is no better.

Richmond MP Justine Elliot was elected in 2004 partly on the back of a $150 million promise from the Mark Latham-led Labor Opposition to restore train services to the Northern Rivers.

However, while Ms Elliot won, Labor lost that election and by the time 2007 rolled around Labor and Ms Elliot had lost interest in the train. Both have steadfastly ignored the issue ever since.

Mr Coulton acknowledged the NSW Coalition promise to introduce a commuter train if it won next year’s State election and said the Federal Government ought to have a role in extending the line to Queensland.

The issue would be added to the list of possible infrastructure projects to be championed by the Coalition at this year’s Federal election, although that did not guarantee it would make the Opposition’s list of promises once the election campaign got under way.

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