Transport issue gathers steam

A commitment by the NSW Opposition to restore the Casino to Murwillumbah rail line for a commuter train if they win the March election has been cautiously welcomed by campaigners fighting to restore a train service to the region.

A delegation of members from Northern Rivers Trains for the Future (NRTF) met with Opposition leader Peter Debnam and NSW Nationals leader Andrew Stoner in the Tweed last week to talk about the urgent need to improve public transport in the local area.

NRTF vice president Basil Cameron said the Coalition MPs promised to restore the line to enable a regional light-rail commuter service, running four trains a day, linking to the current XPT service at Casino.

But Mr Cameron said the commuter network would need more than two return services a day to be really functional.

Wed like to see a few more services than the four trains to make it functional so it can be realistically used throughout the day by workers or students, he said.

But its a great start a regular commuter rail service on the Casino to Murwillumbah line would give young people and others alternative transport options for getting to work, education, health care and other commitments.

The long-running campaign to restore the Casino to Murwillumbah line which was closed down by the NSW Government in 2004, has been marked by promises and counter-promises by both state and federal politicians.

In 2004, the federal government said it would make $30 million available to the state government to restore the line for a light-rail commuter train, while the NSW Government said it was prepared to put up $75 million to restore the line over five years if the federal government matched it.

The state government maintains it will take a $150 million commitment to put trains back on the track.

Mr Cameron said the latest commitment by the NSW Opposition was encouraging and the NRTFs Trains On Our Tracks (TOOT) campaign was forcing politicians to listen.

Of course, well have to hold them all up to their promises after the election, he said.

Wed be happy to have a heavy-rail $150 million Rolls Royce upgrade of the line if we could get the funding for it, because no doubt in the future the massive benefits of such a line would return to the community.

(But) we can stage it with light-rail first at half the cost of what the state government is saying, then a heavy rail line in another 10 or 20 years when the population is likely to double and the cost would then be justified.

Mr Cameron said whichever government came to power needed to urgently develop a public transport system for the region with the huge increases in population and traffic on the Pacific Highway expected over the next decade.

A patchwork of high-priced local bus services that do not connect is a band-aid, not a public transport system, he said.

The Greens candidate for the seat of Lismore, Andy Gough, dismissed the latest offering by the NSW Opposition as playing politics with the rail issue.

If the NSW Opposition gets elected they could just as easily decide theyve got other priorities, he said.

Were still waiting on the NSW Government to release a report on the full costings of the upgrade of the line. Its all just hot air especially given the Nationals lack of commitment in addressing climate change. Obviously the Greens want the line re-opened... but whoever forms government well continue campaigning to restore it because we believe rail is the backbone of an efficient and affordable public transport system in the region, which is sorely lacking.

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