Future of rail corridor gets councillors fired up
Byron Shire councillors have been at loggerheads over the future of the shire's rail corridor.
Councillor Paul Spooner sought for the council to suspend all work on the Byron Shire Rail with Trail project at the council's meeting on Thursday.
While a solar train runs between Elements of Byron Resort and the CBD, the remainder of the shire's rail corridor remains disused, with its future unclear for now.
Cr Spooner's motion sought information on whether discussions took place between the council's staff and the mayor or any the councillor as to "the perceived benefits of getting a positive result for a railway option".
It also queried the cost of the project in this term of council and Cr Spooner raised concerns about rail options having been given a more "advantageous methodology" by report writers than the rail trail-only option.
He said information before the council indicated it would cost in the order of $30,000 to remedy this.
"I suggest it now casts very significant doubt on the decision taken by this council based on the report's conclusion," he said.
A workshop was held between the council and Transport for NSW along with other state departments in November last year and another meeting is scheduled for Friday, March 5.
Mayor Simon Richardson suggested the motion was politically motivated.
"If I breathe in through my nose I'm sure I can smell the council election coming up," he said.
Cr Richardson said it "wouldn't take a rocket scientist" to realise he was in favour of a public transport capacity in the rail corridor, but stressed he just wanted to know what could work for the community.
"Simply tell us what is possible," he said.
"Tell us what it would cost to put something on those tracks. If (an option was) too expensive and it didn't stack up I can hand-on-heart walk away."
He said there was a strong economic argument for a "mass transport" option, compared to a rail trail alone.
"Right now we're right in the middle of decent, robust, state government agency-rich discussions."
Cr Jan Hackett asked how much would be spent before the council had an answer on what is possible, and staff confirmed this wasn't exactly clear.
Cr Richardson said he still wants to know whether a public transport service could be offset by tourists enough that it can exist for locals, too.
He said a rail trail along wouldn't bring with it the same service.
"This community will not want another tourist product and please do not offend us by saying it's for locals," he said.
"Locals here will not accept giving up the (rail) corridor for a tourist product when we've got 2.4 million visitors a year if we can't say to them it's the only option," he said.
Cr Richardson and Cr Basil Cameron put forward the staff recommendation, including that the council would consider a budget allocation at the March 2021 quarterly review for further work on the project, and this garnered majority support.