Casino to Murwillumbah Rail Line
|About this Item||Subjects||Railways; Public Transport; Regional Development
||Speakers||Page Mr Donald
||Business||Private Members Statements
Mr DONALD PAGE (Ballina—Deputy Leader of The Nationals) [5.05 p.m.]: Residents of the far North Coast are becoming increasingly concerned about the State Government's plans for the Casino to Murwillumbah rail line as well as CountryLink services in general. Since the release of the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal interim report on transport services in New South Wales, known as the Parry report, the Premier and the Minister for Transport Services have failed to rule out the closure of the Casino to Murwillumbah rail line. Yet there is anecdotal evidence of its closure, with CountryLink refusing to take bookings for the service beyond January 2004. There are also reports of CountryLink staff, including XPT drivers, expressing concerns about the future of the service and their jobs.
The Premier and Minister for Transport Services Costa should rule out any closure of the Casino to Murwillumbah rail line and reassure local residents that their service is secure. Rather than closing the line, the Minister for Transport Services should work to increase patronage on the country rail system generally. The Parry report reflects poorly on the Carr Government's administration of public transport during the past eight years. Why should residents of the Northern Rivers pay for the mistakes of this and previous Labor transport Ministers? Why should the mismanagement and huge cost blow-out of the Millennium trains in Sydney impact on transport users in regional areas? In an article in the Northern Star on Monday, Mr Costa claimed:
CountryLink services are highly subsidised by the taxpayer and used by a small minority. The cost of tickets doesn't cover the cost of the services.
Yet the CountryLink service has a 32 per cent cost recovery whereas the cost recovery for CityRail is only 28 per cent. The subsidy for CountryLink is $148 million, whereas the CityRail subsidy is $1,435 million—10 times more. It seems that the Carr Government is contemplating reducing CountryLink services to a greater extent than city services when there is no logical basis on equity grounds. Proposals such as replacing rail services with bus services, which is mooted on the Casino to Murwillumbah line and also on the Tamworth to Armidale line, would most likely reduce patronage on CountryLink services and could be counterproductive to cost-recovery measures. At the very least, in response to the report the Premier and Minister for Transport Services Costa should indicate what they propose to do to increase patronage.
Furthermore, if the Government is serious about viable CountryLink services to the North Coast it should extend the branch line into south-east Queensland, which would increase patronage, open up tourism and commuter opportunities, and help guarantee the long-term viability of the line. This is not a pie-in-the-sky idea. In the early 1990s a technical feasibility study was done on the existing Casino to Murwillumbah branch line to connect with the Queensland system, and it is feasible. A number of options were included. The cost varied from about $300 million to $450 million. Probably the most preferred option was to go via Coolangatta airport. The Northern Rivers region is growing rapidly, and a good rail service linking northern New South Wales with south-east Queensland is highly desirable for both communities.
Expansion of the rail service into south-east Queensland is a matter not only for the New South Wales Government but also for the Queensland Government, and possibly the Federal Government. However, if the New South Wales Government were to remove trains outright from this branch line it would nullify any plans for future expansion, and would be a short-sighted step indeed. The line would depreciate further and the cost of bringing it back to working condition would be used as a reason not to extend it. Evidently, there is some confusion within the Government about the future of the Casino to Murwillumbah rail line. The honourable member for Tweed says that any plans to close the line are hogwash. Frankly, I hope he is right.
However, Minister Costa, who is the real decision maker on this issue and has the carriage of it, has not committed the Government to maintaining the line, and nor has the Premier. In fact, during a September visit to the region by Minister Costa it was reported that he had "refused to guarantee the future of the current rail service to the Northern Rivers". I call on Minister Costa to now give the assurance and guarantee to the people of the North Coast and the Northern Rivers area that he was not prepared to give in September, namely, that the Casino to Murwillumbah rail service will be maintained and will not be replaced by a bus service. I ask the Minister to seriously consider what he and the Government can do to increase patronage on that line, which is important infrastructure for the future prosperity of the Northern Rivers area, especially in the development of commuter services and long distance passenger services. I would like the Minister for Transport Services to be proactive about joining the Casino to Murwillumbah line to the Queensland rail system because I believe that will ensure the long-term viability of the line.