UNCERTAIN FATE: An enthused cyclist shows everyone how the new rail trail will be used. The council has not yet accepted funding for the project.
UNCERTAIN FATE: An enthused cyclist shows everyone how the new rail trail will be used. The council has not yet accepted funding for the project. Aisling Brennan

Council could derail trail project

THE Tweed could risk losing $13 million in funding for the most northern leg of the Northern Rivers Rail Trail as the council decides whether it should consult the wider community.

Mayor Katie Milne said she was "really concerned" by last Friday's announce- ment of $6.5 million from the Federal Government, which matched funding announced by the State Government in August last year.

She said councillors voted in September in support of a report into possible community consultation on the "divisive" issue.

This will be presented to the council at this Thursday's general meeting.

While this was the council's third bid for funding to kickstart the rail trail, Cr Milne said it was unusual for funding to be granted from state and federal governments without majority support from the community.

"I have not supported the project of the rail trail but that's the position of the council," she said.

"It's a very controversial issue."

Cr Milne said more accessible public transport was vital for the region.

 

Minister for Regional Development John McVeigh and Northern Rivers Rail Trail patron Doug Anthony at Murwillumbah Transport Centre on Friday, February 2.
WELCOME FUNDS: Minister for Regional Development John McVeigh and Northern Rivers Rail Trail patron Doug Anthony at Murwillumbah Transport Centre last Frida y. Liana Turner

"It's a really critical decade to deal with climate change and if we don't get on top of this we're going to be in really big trouble," she said.

"We shouldn't be frivolous about where we spend millions and millions of dollars."

Former mayor Barry Longland, who first touted the notion of a rail trail in 2012, said after several failed bids for funding since 2013, the council should not backflip now when the plans had attracted firm state and federal support.

Mr Longland said former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer's comments on ABC Radio which suggested a rail trail could exist alongside rail transport were "ridiculous".

In an interview with the ABC North Coast this week, Mr Fischer noted parts of the Casino to Murwillumbah line with many tunnels would not be suitable for this dual set-up, and Mr Longland argued this would rule out the Murwillumbah to Crabbes Creek section which has now had full funding allocated.

Mr Longland argued the costs of returning trains to the line - priced at almost $1 billion - would be prohibitive.

"They're not going to put the rail back," he said.

"Most of the sleepers are rotten. The costs are huge.

 

Marie Lawton from Northern Rivers Rail Trail has welcomed funding for the project.
Marie Lawton from Northern Rivers Rail Trail has welcomed funding for the project. Liana Turner

"My biggest fear is that the squeaky-wheel elements will just keep going and we might lose the $13 million.

"This $13 million is for a rail trail and if we don't use it some other part of NSW, or wherever, will get it."

Cr Pryce Allsop, who is away on holidays, will not be present at this week's general meeting, so Cr Milne's casting vote could sway the matter in her favour.

But he hoped his absence would not see the council reject the funding.

"I absolutely would be disgusted if that were to occur," Cr Allsop said.

He said the project would boost the local economy and believed it was more likely, and more beneficial, for the Tweed to eventually develop a light rail link to the Gold Coast.

In this week's report, council staff recommend councillors accept the funding, which was "the culmination of a May 2013 resolution to actively support and promote the establishment of a rail trail on the Casino to Murwillumbah rail corridor".