Mayor Simon Richardson is looking for suggestions to keep the railway tracks from being ripped up for a rail trail, but the odds are that it’s going to happen anyway.
And here’s why:
The Northern Rivers Regional Organisation of Councils (NOROC) is the peak body representing Ballina, Byron, Kyogle, Lismore, Richmond Valley and Tweed councils.
It is the obvious organisation to head a Trust to oversee any use of the 130km Casino to Murwillumbah line.
NOROC’s president is Tweed Shire mayor Barry Longland, and I asked him his position on light rail and rail trails and guess what – he is right behind a rail trail.
It took a bit of persistence, but Cr Longland reluctantly acknowledged the absence of light rail in the 2013 Casino to Murwillumbah Transport Study.
Taking the less-than-courageous position, he said, ‘If the state government wanted light rail they would be doing it.’
Cr Longland then pushed the rail study’s rhetoric as to why light rail was not possible. ‘For example, there’s 67 bridges along the line which need replacing…’
‘But such a claim is baseless as no formal study of light rail was ever undertaken’, I replied.
‘There is a real threat that the railway lines will be sold off,’ he then said. ‘Who is making that threat?’ I asked.
It was around then that the line between pragmatism and acquiescence appeared. As state MP Don Page (Nationals) has the ear of Treasury and is armed with supporting ‘studies’, rail trails are all but inevitable.
And thus the track will go, although it appears likely light rail will run from North Byron Beach Eco Resort into Byron.
‘I just want to see something happen on the tracks before I die,’ Cr Longland said in somewhat sad desperation.
Another problem is that rail lobby group TOOT (Trains On Our Tracks) is nowhere as resourced, connected and organised as the rail trail mob. It’s unfortunate but true.
Yet ripping up railway lines is an abomination. Especially this one. In Byron Shire, it’s fairly straight and flat with only a few (mostly small) bridges. I recall that, when at Mullum High, we could jump on the train to Byron – it made all the difference growing up in a quiet town. To think we are now at this point is not just depressing but embarrassing.
Regardless of the lies and deception that the last two government-sponsored reports provided, rail track removal signifies defeat to a community in desperate need of more public transport and a victory for lazy and inept politicians.
The $2 million dollar rail study into this region is a failure because its terms of reference do not mention peak oil, climate change, food security or the intelligent design that rail offers.
And MP Don Page obviously carries little weight in parliament – he told ABC radio last year that he would ask for a broader environmental scope but somehow that was ignored.
The study provides answers the government was looking for: more roads. It’s a rail study that looks like it was written for the fossil fuel dependent freight industry.
So while the fossil fuel dependent freight industry move almost everything about, including food, why did this report not mention any of the environmental and social benefits of rail?
Wilfully concentrating transport options could perhaps be considered treasonous in more informed and engaged societies.
Interestingly, the government report alluded to this region as being home to a bunch of welfare dependent moochers.
It says accessibility and mobility needs, ‘are not primarily driven by economic growth, but by a large and increasing dependent population needing regular access to services.’
Perhaps we should instead blame ourselves for not breeding enough to create a consumer economic need. Or for not developing this region as fast as Queensland.
Light commuter rail between towns is in the best interests of this Shire, not ‘tourist trails’. It would create instant economic stimulation, and apart from easing traffic burdens, the greatest gains from trains would be in ensuring food security, self dependence and resilience.
Where are the vision and balls in current political governance? Was it ever there? Maybe the last future vision was when then- premier of NSW Sir Henry Parkes arrived by train to make his famous federation speech in Tenterfield. It was a speech that set in motion the formation of the Commonwealth of Australia.