Last week in Parliament, a momentous event occurred. The long awaited Legislative changes to enable the building of a walking and cycling path on the disused railway corridor in the Northern Rivers has finally been tabled and was bilaterally passed in the Lower House.
The legislation specifically relates to the closure of the rail corridor between Casino and Bentley and between Crabbes Creek and Condong in the Tweed. Both these projects are shovel ready and the community can expect construction to commence in the very near future.
Several MPs debated the legislation in the Parliament, with speakers from all sides of politics agreeing that they supported the development of Rail Trails in NSW, and MPs from throughout the region speaking to the bill.
This rail trail “will result in much-needed economic activity in the area,” said Ms Janelle Saffin (MP for Lismore), during her speech to Parliament. “It will be an added bonus and will provide infrastructure jobs that will do a lot to help the local economy.”
This was seconded by Mr Geoff Provest (MP for Tweed) who added that – “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.”
Ms Jo Haylen (Shadow Minister for Active Transport), described the Northern Rivers Rail Trail project as shovel ready and that “it will have a positive effect on local jobs and the economy, just when the region needs it most.”
The public ownership and the potential for re-introduction of a passenger train service has been a continued debated in the Northern Rivers, and the issue of public ownership of the corridor at its heart.
Ms Saffin stated that shortly after the railway was closed in 2004, she was approached by the original members of the Rail Trail committee with their proposal of a rail trail on the disused corridor. She advised that they should go ahead and work on it, but to also make sure that the corridor was kept in public hands for future transport use, particularly rail. That was always the proviso. That commitment was made, and it has been honoured in the legislation.”
This was confirmed by Mr Provest when he added that the purpose of this legislation is that the rail corridor “is public land and it always should be. We should never lose sight of that principle. It should not be impacted by private enterprise.”
Similar legislation was passed unanimously in NSW Parliament in 2018, allowing the State first pilot Rail Trail to be constructed between Rosewood and Tumbarumba.
In his second reading speech for today’s legislation, Mr Paul Toole,(Minister for Regional Transport and Roads) related that this pilot was as a “huge success, with over 5,000 riders using it in July alone.”
Ms Jo Haylen MP acknowledged the “incredible hard work and tenacity of the Northern Rivers Rail Trail Group and local activists. They have fought for many years to create a world class rail trail in their community.”
Ms Tamara Smith (MP for Ballina) held that “the Greens do not oppose rail trails, but we do oppose this legislation because it has been rushed through”
Ms Saffin related that “We all knew that a bill was coming, and we knew that it would do two things: provide a cycling and walking track rail trail and keep the corridor in public hands. That commitment was made, and it has been honoured in the legislation.”
Commenting on local social media posts, Ms Saffin added that she had read that “the Coalition and Labor are not allowing the community to have a say”, and added that that “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. We have done our best to keep the corridor in public hands, to satisfy everybody and to allow it to be used as a rail trail.”
The next step is for the bill to go to the Upper House on 13th October. It is expected to go through without a problem.
Once the legislation has passed through the Upper House, the Tweed Shire and Richmond Valley Councils will be at liberty to commence the construction process. Ms Saffin jibed that there may be a throwing down of the gauntlet between the two councils in their race to open their prospective sections.
All quotes are from Hansard 23 September 2020 – speeches in relation to the Transport Administration Amendment (Closures of Railway Lines in Northern Rivers) Bill 2020 – NSW Legislative Assembly
BYRON LINE UPDATE
At the Byron Shire Council Meeting last week, it was decided to go ahead with further work on the Byron Line (train and rail trail), between Byron and Mullumbimby. This involves the engineering company Arcadis doing further exploration of the bridges at a cost of $33,000 per bridge. There could be up to 20 bridges in this section. There has been no response from government to assist with this project, including help with clearing. This is necessary before the bridges can be assessed properly. Councillors Hunter and Spooner spoke against the motion claiming that is a fairy tale to think a train can be activated on that line. No-one has come forward to pay for it as far as we know.
We would, however, like to thank Byron Council on their work making a start on cycleways in Byron Bay – from Suffolk Park into town.
Richmond Valley Update
Where we are up to and our timeline:
- Survey completed
- Minor vegetation clearing and spraying completed. We also conducted some further spraying within the corridor this week.
- We will have a draft Masterplan by Friday 2 October which we will put on public display for 28 days the following week. The plan is to have a final Masterplan to the November Ordinary meeting.
- Providing the land switches to Crown (as indicated in the amendment bill), we will then also have a Plan of Management drafted for Council approval. This will complete our Phase One works.
At a recent Bangalow Chamber of Commerce meeting it transpired that a large part of the Bangalow community are disappointed they may miss out on the Rail Trail and are getting ready to campaign for the trail to come through their village. There is very little public transport from Bangalow and the rail trail would allow kids to ride safely to Byron as well as around the town.