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Advocates for the return of Eyre Peninsula's rail services put their case forward in a public meeting in Port Lincoln on Sunday, arguing it would bring economic and social benefits across the region.
South Australian Transport Action Group Inc organised a public meeting at the Nautilus Arts Centre on Sunday, attended by about 60 people to discuss the impacts of the closure of the rail network in 2019 and options to revive the network.
Discussions included possibilities for connecting Eyre Peninsula to the national network,which would open up tourism opportunities as well as benefit mining projects and provide freight for a range of local products.
Marie Shaw QC was one of the speakers and said a CSIRO report in 2020 which showed inland rail could save producers about $170 million in transport costs compared to roads.
She said the government should take back the rail corridor on Eyre Peninsula from One Rail Australia (formerly Genesee and Wyoming Australia) and have it run by a coop, as had been seen in Western Australia, and then invest in rail.
"If you invest in your rail then that means you're going to be investing in your communities, your communities are going to grow and then the jobs will be filled and the people will come," she said.
Mrs Shaw, who has family links to the Eyre Peninsula, said she attended a meeting in Lock earlier this year where there were concerns about the towns decline with the supermarket being closed at that time, as well as numbers at the school having reduced.
She said communities have been in decline, as seen by the recent amalgamation of football clubs across the peninsula, and argued significant investment into the region was needed to revive communities.
"I'm hoping that the people on the West Coast will realise that they can do something about the decline of population, they can do something about the lack of transport infrastructure and they can do something to revive the declining football clubs," she said.
"When the football clubs are starting to amalgamate, the further and further West Coasters have to travel, it's nothing to travel 130km for a football game and if they don't do something now to revive their communities, then my question is will there be football on the West Coast in 10 years?"
The action group has argued for a new standard gauge railway to connect Whyalla with Kimba, in addition to converting and upgrading existing narrow gauge rail to standard gauge from Kimba to Port Lincoln as well as Wudinna to Cummins with a connection to the Cape Hardy deep water port.
Action group chairperson John Hill said while it seemed like this would be an expensive endeavour, this would involve a gauge conversion and some of the existing materials could be reclaimed which should reduce costs.
Mr Hill mirrored Mrs Shaw's call for people to stand up for rail and said the development of rail could be done, as the group has advocated with the Adelaide HIlls, but the people needed to stand up and act.
"It was about a message of 'listen community, this can be done but you've got to do something about it'," he said.
Political figures also had the chance to speak, including Independent South Australian Senator Rex Patrick, as well as Independent candidate for Flinders, Liz Habermann.
Liberal candidate for Flinders Sam Telfer said it was important to discuss the future of transport going into the future but the region needed to be strategic with its infrastructure investment.
He said the decision to shift the transport burden from rail to road was not taken lightly, and the business case to bring rail back would need to be tight.
"We got to be aware of what's happened in the past but we got to be forward looking, and think what are the infrastructure needs of Eyre Peninsula going forward," he said.
This article first appeared on www.portlincolntimes.com.au
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