TRAIN DEAL FACES HITCH

By ALEX EASTON The Northern Star

PRESSURE is building on the Federal Government to accept a deal from the State Government that would return a commuter train to the North Coast in 19 months.

Federal Transport Minister Warren Truss was yesterday still refusing to comment on the NSW plan, with a spokeswoman saying he had not yet received the letter from his NSW counterpart, John Watkins, outlining the plan.

Under the proposal the NSW and Federal governments would contribute $75million each over five years, allowing for the replacement of 179 bridges, upgraded signalling systems, improvements to the corridors and the replacement of 30,000 sleepers.

Page MP Ian Causley yesterday said he would look at the offer and urge the Federal Government to accept the deal if it stacked up.

The offer also won conditional support from Richmond MP Justine Elliot, councils and Northern Rivers Trains for the Future.

However, Mr Causley said he viewed the State Government's offer with suspicion.

"I'm not rejecting it, because I am prepared to go to the Federal Government and talk about re-opening it," Mr Causley said. "And I would go further and talk about extending it into Queensland, which would make it more viable.

"I do believe this is a promise that the State Government has no intention of delivering on.

"I would liken it to a $90million promise they made (in 2003) for hospitals on the North Coast, and we still haven't seen it."

However, Mr Watkins, who was in the region ahead of a State Cabinet meeting at Banora Point today, said the offer was genuine.

He said the offer was based on a Federal Government promise made before the 2004 Federal election, restated to local mayors in June last year, of $30million over two years with the option to negotiate further funding.

"Until today there's been no

money on the table from the State Government," Mr Watkins said. "Now it's $75million. That's substantial money in anyone's language. It's a fair dinkum offer to bring the train back."

Ms Elliot, the Northern Regional Organisation of Councils and Northern Rivers Trains for the Future also offered conditional support and called for the State and Federal governments to start working together on the issue.

Trains for the Future president Karin Kolbe said she was encouraged that the State Government was talking about restoring rail services.

nMeanwhile, NSW and Queensland will look for ways to extend the Gold Coast train line into NSW, Mr Watkins will announce today.

Mr Watkins will this morning announce plans to form a 'high-level working group' reporting to him and to Queensland Transport Minister Paul Lucas on ways of extending the Queensland Citytrain line as far south as Kingscliff.



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