All you need to know about the rail trail debate
THE NSW parliament has voted to close sections of the Casino to Murwillumbah railway line to allow for future rail trails.
The controversial issue about removing the tracks, that have been disused since 2004, has divided the community into two main camps.
There are those like Northern Rivers Railway Action Group who want the rail trail to be built next to the existing railway tracks to keep the possibility of rail transport returning to the region.
The change in the Transport Administration Act 1998 which passed through the lower house on September 23 will authorise the closure of railway lines between Crabbes Creek and Condong and between Casino and Bentley in the Northern Rivers.
The land will remain under public ownership and each rail trail section will be managed by the relevant local council.
On the other side of the argument are those who rely on a study, known as the ARUP report, completed on the Tweed section of the proposed rail trail.
It found the existing rail line would not meet current or future transport needs as the existing line missed vital commercial areas.
The study said the infrastructure would need more than $900 million to repair deterioration and bring to current safe operating standards.
The bill was presented by Minister for Regional Transport Paul Toole who referenced the success of the state's first rail trail pilot running from Rosewood to Tumbarumba in the Snowy Valleys.
He listed boosts to health, tourism and economy as benefits for the community.
Mr Toole said a specific biosecurity risk management plan had been prepared by New South Wales Local Land Services as well as mitigation like fencing and barrier for the risks of contact between animals, trail users and neighbouring farms.
"The trail user obligation signage will also include rules for the use of the rail trail relating to the treatment, handling and disposal of food, human waste and personal clothing to manage risks associated with soil and seed material," he said.
"Other issues to be managed include road safety risks where the trail crosses roads, and issues regarding livestock containment and livestock access to watering points. Mitigation measures have been identified to address each of the risks and will be discussed in detail with affected neighbouring landowners."
This legislation bilaterally passed in the Lower House and will now go to the Upper House on October 13.
LOCAL POLLIES' REACTIONS
Tweed MP Geoff Provest and Lismore MP Janelle Saffin supported the bill.
"There are so many businesses surrounding that rail trail that are just yearning to get to work, from the little villages and the artisans to the tourism operators," Mr Provest said during the debate in Parliament.
After copping criticism for her support, Ms Saffin said her "dual position" on the subject came from wanting to do the best for the Northern Rivers.
She said she supported a rail trail for the Northern Rivers as well as a Regional Integrated Transport Plan which includes keeping our rail corridor in public ownership for future rail services - light rail or a Very Fast Train.
"My focus in parliament last week was on ensuring that the Bill maintained the rail corridor in public hands, able to be brought back to train use without obstacles," Ms Saffin said.
"My community has been debating and discussing this, and disseminating information on it since the Casino to Murwillumbah train line closed in 2004.
"I do not know how much longer we can debate the bill because we have debated it for so long. As with a lot of things, you will make some people happy and some people unhappy."
Member for Ballina Tamara Smith and Balmain MP Jamie Parker spoke against the bill.
"In my electorate of Ballina we have shown that we can return rail and we can have it all. We can have both. The off-formation model - whereby the rail trail is located to the side, preserving the corridor so that transport can return is a win-win," Ms Smith said.
While Mr Parker called the bill a lack of commitment from the Government and successive governments to rural and regional New South Wales.
"This legislation is another nail in the coffin for the return of rail," he said.
Former Tweed Mayor Katie Milne claims there was not enough community consultation undertaken and ARUP report was never peer reviewed when "Byron's recent study has shown the feasibility for dual use".
"The only consultation the State Government ever undertook has been a hand picked, invitation only consultation involving 40 participants. 26 of those participants included directly affected adjacent landholders, Thomas George MP, and 13 organisations," she said.
"Tweed council has only ever consulted the directly affected landholders."
A claim refuted by Mr Toole in his address: "The Government facilitated extensive community consultations in the Tweed shire in October 2017 and in the Richmond Valley Council area in February 2020."
The 24km of rail trail for stage one of the Northern Rivers Rail Trail from Crabbes Creek to Condong has received $8.4 million funding from the State Government.
The project also secured $6.5 million from the Federal Government in 2018.
The Commonwealth Government has committed $7.5 million for the delivery of 13km of stage two of the Northern Rivers Rail Trail from Casino to Bentley.
A Tweed Valley rail trail steering committee has been established, chaired by members of Tweed Shire Council.
The Richmond council is also a participant and will be able to take away all of the relevant items of discussion, planning and lessons learnt from its own stage two section.