Scenes at the Lismore train station in 2004 when the last XPT ran.
Scenes at the Lismore train station in 2004 when the last XPT ran.

Train tunnel vision won’t stop rail trail going full steam

DESCRIBING a potential rail trail between Casino and Murwillumbah as of the "most disturbing and contentious issues" doing the rounds, is like Chicken Little saying the sky is falling in.

All sorts of wild claims have been made about the rail trail and its impact, but when you are in the middle of a pandemic, with lives, and livelihoods on the line due to COVID-19 and border closures, that sort of statement seems way over the top.

The anti-rail trail rhetoric has ramped up because a Bill, which will lay the foundation for the rail corridor to be used as a rail trail, has finally made its way into parliament.

During a protest for the Bill held last week in Murwillumbah, Tweed mayor Katie Milne wrote a letter labelling the issue as "one of the most disturbing and contentious issues we have faced in the council".

Instead of a rail trail she suggested "heritage trams or a solar train".

Generally, the anti-rail trail sentiment is based on an outdated and forlorn hope that trains will one day return to this corridor.

They won't.

The last XPT left the station in 2004.

Sixteen years on, attempts to resurrect a rail service, which at its demise carried just 400 passengers per week, have fallen on deaf ears.

A 2013 report estimated the cost of returning trains to the existing track would be $900m.

 

Critics believe it wouldn't cost nearly that much, even though there are 180-odd mainly wooden bridges on that stretch that would need a major overhaul or replacing to bring it back to life.

They are probably right in one respect, it wouldn't cost $900m, it would cost a whole lot more.

Just look at the 155km stretch of the Pacific Highway between Woolgoolga and Ballina which is nearing completion. That's costing $4 billion.

And let's face it, with four lanes or brand new highway running through our region and an increasingly busy airport at Ballina, the chances of commuter rail coming back are slim to none.

Even the potential for a very fast train between Melbourne and Brisbane, with stops on the North Coast, would probably require an inland route and not the existing rail corridor.

The best the anti-rail trailers can hope for is the rail corridor to remain in public hands and for the rail trail to run alongside the existing tracks, where possible.

In the mean time, those nostalgic for the rattle and hum of rail on track, can buy a ticket on Byron Bay's world first solar train running on a small section of track between the centre of town and the industrial estate.

Toot toot!