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Is it realistic to think that trains will ever get back on the tracks in the Byron Shire?
A majority of Byron Councillors certainly seem to think so.
An old bridge section of the disused Murwillumbah rail line.
Having already spent $330,000 on a study into the viability of this endeavour, five of the seven councilors who attended last week’s full council meeting voted to start the planning process for a service between Byron Bay and Mullumbimby.
‘The busiest major transport corridor in the country travels right through the middle of our Shire,’ independent councillor Basil Cameron said, in reference to the Pacific Highway.
‘You only have to look at Ewingsdale Rd to see that the wave of traffic from that corridor is already breaking over us.
‘Tinkering with local roads won’t fix that. We need an alternative to road travel. This is the motivation for building a rail link.’
In what Cr Cameron described as a move with ‘no direct budget implications’, councilors passed a motion incorporating the rail project into Council’s draft Integrated Transport Strategy.
Council will also prepare an economic and social business plan including the development of a governance framework to support the project.
It will also investigate Federal and State funding options, including ‘tourism, infrastructure, transport and climate change mitigation/adaption grants’.
The priority focus will be on funding vegetation removal within the rail corridor – something which a quick stroll down the rail line reveals is likely to be a sizeable task.
But not all councilors felt that pursuing the dream of reopening the rail line was a worthy endeavour.
‘This project has no budgetary implications? Please keep me on my chair,’ Labor councillor Paul Spooner said.
‘We need to look at the opportunity cost of pursuing this.
‘The area of land along the rail line could be used for affordable housing, market gardens, and of course a rail trail as our neighbouring councils have embraced.
‘If we continue down this path with no realistic prospect of funding the project we will be jumping into the rabbit hole.’
Mayor Simon Richardson replied that if someone had ‘asked Alice whether she was glad she jumped into the rabbit hole I imagine she would have said yes’.
‘Overwhelmingly the community want a reactivation of transport in that corridor,’ Cr Richardson said.
‘What we need to be very clear about is that we have a dysfunctional transport set up in this Shire.
‘We are the only place in the country that I know of where there’s a daily traffic queue on a major highway.
‘This is the one project that allows us to get a great social and environmental outcome from something that also benefits tourism.’
The motion was passed by five votes to two, with Cr Spooner and Cr Alan Hunter the two opponents.
This article first appeared on www.echo.net.au
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