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Rail trails, another smoke-and-mirrors grab for government (read taxpayer) cash for the benefit of a few.
For the past five or six years I've been watching the rail trail movement's attempts to take over the NSW north coast line which closed in 20014. Now it took 13 years for something to happen on this line when a converted and restored rail motor set began operating over a three kilometre run in Byron Bay in December 2017.
The rail trail mob have now targetted the line from Casino to Eltham, a distance of about 45 kilometres for the amazing price of just $32 million. Plus of course the obligatory annual maintenance, and the accepted cost is 3% of the set-up, so $960,000 from the local councils. The $32 million does not consider the cost of repairing or replacing the numerous bridges which have been taken out of service on this line either. Ka-ching!
Safety factors are rarely addressed by the rail trail proponents and this northern rivers line does not run parallel to any major roads and it only passes through a couple of towns at the end of the line near Eltham. What happens in case of an accident, how would an ambulance or emergency services find the patient, bushfires are a threat as is the security of landowners whose property backs onto the tracks, and also bio-security. These key issues are never mentioned in rail trail publicity.
Not happy with one bike track the rail-trailers in the northern rivers have also put their hands up to rip out the tracks between Murwillumbah and Crabbess Creek, and for that 24 kilometre run they have their eyes on $12 million, plus the annual clean up the bike riders rubbish and fixing pot holes costs of $360,000.
At least Tweed Shire Council is looking at creating a rail + trail here, keeping the tracks in place for possible tourist rail use and building an adjacent bike path.
It should be pointed out that the north coast line is in a sub-tropical region, it gets mighty hot and humid in summer, and it rains. There were a couple of catastrophic floods in 2017 and Murwillumbah hasn't fully recovered with several shops in the main street still closed. Not exactly great conditions for riding a bike. Lismore is planning to reduce the damage to that city from flooding after last year's floods which cut off the CBD for several days.
The big question here is, will the tracks ever be used for rail transport again? There's little point jumping up and down asking the state government to restore heavy rail services when they cannot carry sufficient passengers or freight to pay their way.
There are several heritage rail services in NSW either in use or undergoing planning and feasibility studies which will provide regional towns with a tourist operation and also a local transport service. Towns thinking about blocking rail trails have to have a viable reason for keeping the tracks in place.
The rail trail mob appear to use a template to prepare their assaults - the fluffy real estate phrases and glossy pictures, promises of jobs for all, new business popping up and improved health for everyone. Praise be!
No rail trail group has ever made their business plan public, yet as they are seeking government funds shouldn't their business methodology be open, transparent and accountable to the entire community? This is stuff of hopes and dreams, far removed from reality.
BBIRT promise "up to" 30,000 "could" visit the Boyne Valley, local communities are waiting for the rail trail to arrive, tourists beating a path to local businesses, as good as anything else in the world, a "much more unique experience", cruise ship passengers to visit the rail tunnels. The hysteric gloss is never ending.
Just be sure you know what's in store if your region is lucky enough to score its very own rail trail. Don't say you weren't warned.
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