$2m is on right track
THE $2 million budget allocation for a study into rail services in the region will also examine the full range of other means of transport.
"To look at the future of rail you need to look at other options as well," said Ballina MP Don Page.
He said the funding would go towards developing an integrated transport plan. The O'Farrell Government was making good on its pre-election promise to fund a study into the Casino-Murwillumbah rail line, which would include looking at a link into Queensland, Mr Page said.
"We are doing more than we promised (by broadening the project)," he said.
"We've got enough money to do both a train study and a trans- port study."
The $2 million outlay has been welcomed by transport lobbyists and business groups in the region, although with some reservations.
John Murray, regional manager of the NSW Business Chamber, said any money spent investigating transport options in the region was a step in the right direction, adding an integrated transport plan was long overdue.
Karin Kolbe, the president of Trains on our Tracks (TOOT), said the group was "cautiously optimistic" about the funding.
"For years we and many others have said the region needs an integrated regional transport plan," Ms Kolbe said.
But she warned no integrated system could afford to overlook rail as a key component.
"Rail should be forming the backbone of an integrated trans- port plan for the region. We hope the terms of reference will seri- ously look at the real costs and benefits of rail, both short and long-term," she said.
"The rail line is an existing asset worth millions and we need to be using it."
TOOT's call to focus on trains was echoed by the Greens, who also criticised the failure to act in the past.
"The best way to improve transport on the North Coast is to bring back the railway," said the party's transport spokes-woman Cate Faehrmann.
"The area has been neglected for far too long, especially when it comes to transport. An integrated rail network is essential to cope with growing population and increasing tourism."
Transport planning was one of the region's greatest needs, said Regional Development Australia Northern Rivers CEO Katrina Luckie.
"We need to get people to and from work, because transport can be an inhibitor for business, but it's also important for access," Ms Luckie said
She hoped the study would extend to new technologies, such as fibre optics, for the "transport" of creative services.