An acetylene cylinder was set alight on railway tracks in South Murwillumbah early Saturday morning.
An acetylene cylinder was set alight on railway tracks in South Murwillumbah early Saturday morning. Fire and Rescue NSW

Inquiry hears North Coast rail line must reopen

A PARLIAMENTARY inquiry has heard the Murwillumbah-Casino rail line must be reopened to offset the North Coast's regional transport disadvantage.

Robin Spragg, a former Tweed Shire Council officer in charge of local transport for seniors, said substituting trains for a coach service in 2004 was a major backward step.

"Many older people cannot get into coaches, and once in they cannot move around, stretch their legs, get to a toilet or to a buffet," she said.

"The coaches were sold as serving more stops en route; however these stops amount to a bus stop, without the services, information, safety and comfort that comes from a railway station.

"The patronage of the services immediately declined, and I am not aware that it has ever recovered.

"With such policies, the service usually declines to a token bus service, and then is closed finally for lack of use."

Milton Trott argued the rail closure had been a failed experiment in penny-pinching, and the time was right for the government to make amends.

"I can see Casino becoming a rail transport hub for passenger rail. It's already becoming a freight hub," Mr Trott said.

"There is room near the intersection of the Sydney-Brisbane line where it meets the branch line to build the necessary infrastructure to stable rolling stock for a localised railcar service.

"At the other end at Murwillumbah, the same can be constructed there.

"Not only will this enterprise call for local employees to staff the passenger rail service, it will provide a raft of allied hospitality business opportunities for the towns."

Mr Trott said the "elephant in the room" was whether investment should be made to extend the line to the Gold Coast Airport at Coolangatta.

"It seems incongruous that a major airport some 23km away can't be accessed by rail serving the North Coast," he wrote.

"If the line were to be extended past Condong with a bridge over the Tweed River, the service could then engage patrons in Tweed Heads and deliver people from as far away as Casino, to the airport."

Rail service was not the only mode of transport under discussion.

Tweed, Byron and Ballina Community Transport chief executive officer Phil Barron told the inquiry renal dialysis patients' transport needs had gone unmet on routes between regional towns and hospitals in Tweed Heads, Lismore and Ballina.

He said the group received limited funding from NSW Health to provide renal transport within Ballina, but the support was unusual and not available in most areas.

"Outside of this arrangement, TBBCT is able to provide very limited renal transport because the needs of each individual would tie up significant resources, which would therefore be unavailable to other clients," Mr Barron said.

"Additionally, it is difficult to attract volunteer drivers who are willing to make this regular commitment, as it requires them waiting around for up to five hours at a time."

The inquiry is ongoing with a report due to come before parliament by November 30. -ARM NEWSDESK