Trains On Our Tracks (TOOT) has welcomed news that the NSW Government will conduct a study into the cost of reinstating the Casino to Murwillumbah rail line, but says the terms of reference should be widened to include the social and economic benefits.
Tenders will be sought next week for experts to work with Transport for NSW staff to evaluate the condition of the 130km line; the costs of restoration and maintenance; the potential for introducing light rail or other commuter services; and the potential to extend the line to connect with Coolangatta Airport and Queensland rail services.
Announcing the study, NSW Minister for the North Coast Don Page said the government was delivering on its election commitment.
"We are getting on with the job of taking a comprehensive look at what would be required to restore this line and maintain it for passenger services," Mr Page said.
TOOT president Karen Kolbe said she would like to see a study that looked more broadly at rail as an environmental, economic and socially responsible mode of transport for the future.
"We'd like to see an analysis of having less congestion, particularly in places like Byron Bay," she said. "We'd also like to see the benefits to tourism... We already have 1.5 million tourists looking for transport into and around our region.
"We'd also like to see the environmental benefits, like reduced carbon emissions or better air quality, properly accounted for. And we'd also like to see the savings factored in; with less cars and buses on the road, maintenance costs to councils and the RTA will be reduced."
TOOT has recently stepped up its campaign again after it was announced the Gold Coast will host the Commonwealth Games in 2018. TOOT says now is the time to connect rail services to south-east Queensland to capitalise on the influx of tourists and reduce road congestion.
"Let's seize this opportunity to create the infrastructure that will serve us well for decades."
A week prior to the announcement of the Commonwealth Games, Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon called on federal Transport Minister Anthony Albanese to re-open the line.
"There has been seven years of buck-passing and dead-end studies on the Casino to Murwillumbah rail line. The decision to close the line was short sighted and must be reversed. Mr Albanese should stand up for his state and prioritise important rail projects such as reopening the North Coast commuter rail service and extending it into Queensland. People are flocking to live on the North Coast and rail should be the backbone to move this growing population," she said.
In her speech she quoted from a government website that predicts interstate freight between Sydney and Brisbane will almost triple by 2029, with 80% of this growth expected to be carried by trucks using the Pacific Highway.