Government Admin Committee B - Tasmania's North East Rail Corridor Final Report
Consideration and Noting
Ms ARMITAGE (Launceston) - Mr President, I move -That the final report of Government Administration Committee B onTasmania's North East Railway corridor be considered and noted.This report has been a long time coming. I thank the member for Nelsonfor allowing this matter to go first, being an order as opposed to amotion. We have been waiting for quite a few weeks, so I am sure any members will be very pleased to see it finalised.I also welcome your family, Mr President. I have met your mum before, andit is very nice to see all your family here in the Chamber. They may bequite aware of the North East Recreation Trail, depending on whether theyare from the north-east.
Ms Rattray - I feel sure they support the train initiative.
Ms ARMITAGE - As the member for McIntyre notes, I think our report is fairly balanced between the train and trail. I am quite sure many in this Chamber are well aware of the reason this inquiry came to be. The Tasmanian Government announced its support of Dorset Council's initiative and introduced the Strategic Infrastructure Corridors (Strategic and Recreational Use) Bill in 2016. The purpose of the bill was to allow a transition of corridors from railways to recreational uses, providing a framework for their future management and arrangement for adjacent land holders. The inquiry was established to provide an open public forum for the ongoing community concerns. I think we all know the angst and the divisiveness in the communities with regard to the issues between trail and train. We received some 63 submissions from both sides, train and track. We thank people very much for coming along and giving their time to provide information at our hearings. It is very important people come and give their views, and I am sure all members of the committee were extremely grateful to receive those. As further background, funding of $1.47 million for a north-east rail trail was announced by the then federal member for Bass Andrew Nikolic in 2015 to convert the disused north-east rail line into a trail for cyclists. There was concern by rail enthusiasts about pulling up the track. The concern really was between the two groups, whether trains or whether trails would prevail, and the committee spent considerable time in hearings, going to Victoria and New Zealand to investigate and looking at a variety of tracks and trains to try to work out what could be managed in that area, and hopefully to bring the community together. On behalf of the committee, I thank the individuals and organisations who participated in our inquiry by putting in submissions attending the hearings. I particularly recognise Dunedin City councillor Kate Wilson and CEO of Dunedin Railways, Craig Osborne. When we went to New Zealand, it was interesting to see how the trails and the trains both work so well together. People were saying that they get on the trail, they ride there - it is an easy ride for people - and then they get on a train. The train could take them between different areas. One of the areas we went on the train, I am quite sure you would not want a trail.
Members here would remember the Taieri Gorge and its steepness. You certainly would not want to be riding a bike along there. It was interesting to see how they worked well together. That was one of the things I really noted. I am sure other members will mention when they contribute to the debate that instead of being one against the other, it was working together with each other and was an outcome we tried to find when delivering our report. From all accounts, from the results or reports I have had back - I am not sure about other members - the majority of people were actually fairly happy with our report, which is really a good outcome. I appreciate farmers are the one group I have seen in the media that still has concerns, but as for the cyclists and train enthusiasts, my understanding is they are now actually starting to work together. It is a really good outcome for any committee or inquiry to have two competing groups actually starting to get on together and be pleased with the report we brought forward. It is appropriate to read out a letter we received from the vice-president on behalf of the North East Recreation Trail link. He is quite happy for me to read it out and this was following our report -
The board of the North East Recreation Trail would like to acknowledge with thanks the final report from the committee's enquiry into and report upon tourism opportunities provided by the Strategic and Infrastructure Corridors (Strategic and Recreational Use) Act 2016 in relation to Tasmanian north east railway corridor. We wish to acknowledge the effort and diligence with which the committee has carried out the remit of this enquiry. The final report backed by the substantial evidence collated during the enquiry has provided a wealth of objectives information available to all. We trust that both proponents, other stake holders and the broader community can use this resource as its objective nature to recognise the merits of both proposals. We further trust that the committee efforts to shine a welcome spotlight on the issue will act as a spur for all involved to recognise the overarching goal of maximizing benefit to the communities of the north east and thus finding a way of working collaboratively towards the kind of win-win outcome outlined in the concluding report. Sincerely Mike Scott.
It was really good to receive positive feedback and to have also received positive feedback from people involved in the trains. We went to Victoria and met with Brett Wheelan of the Yara Valley Railway. That railway is still under construction because they lost all their rail to a fire and are gradually rebuilding it; from memory, they have four kilometers at this stage. One of thing Brett Wheelan said was that the main thing is to keep the corridor. Even when track is pulled up in some of these areas for the trail to go through, the corridor is still there so we are not losing the corridor - whether we have determined it should be for a trail or rail, the corridor is still there. As he pointed out, this is really the main thing. Sometimes you lose the train and you have the track, but as long as you have the corridor, it is the main imperative. We met with Damian McCrohan, President of the Rail Trails Australia. He was showing us the areas where the trail met the train. When we were standing on the side of the trail, the number of people who actually came past using these walking trails was quite incredible. The other members will recall that the constant stream of people walking past us using these trails, which went from area to area, was almost unbelievable.
One of the things we really noticed, which came out in the report, is that it is important to have a starting point and a destination, so you are actually going from somewhere to somewhere, whether it be on the train or on the trail. It is really important to be heading in a direction. When looking at our findings and our recommendations, it is interesting in regard to some landholders. When we were in New Zealand. the evidence we received was some of the landholders had been concerned early on, but none of that had eventuated and they really did not seem to have any great concerns. I appreciate in the case of the north-east, certain landholders, one in particular, do horse training. Obviously if you are close to a train track, you know the time the train is going through and you can avoid doing your horse training at that stage. With unscheduled bikes, it is more difficult and a horse might shy or be frightened going around the tracks. Certain elements cannot really be controlled, and obviously that would not suit the trail and would be more suited to a train because people would know when the trains are or are not going to run. Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator staff along with TasRail provided us with a great opportunity to experience the sections of the rail corridor at firsthand. They also provided a very informative report. I would have to say it was probably the most enlightening part of the committee - certainly for me - to be on a hirail and to go along and see the rail, the track and some of the areas that were mentioned, and also discuss with staff the bridges and current standards for things like rail crossings. You start to get an appreciation of what you have to have in current standards. Obviously with occupational health and safety these days, it is getting stronger, not less. It was fabulous for them to come along, and of TasRail to provide the drivers with the two hirails for us to have the day to go as far as we could. There were some occasions when we could not go on the hi-rail; some of us were on rails that had a longer wheel base and we could not get across the road. It was challenging for some of the TasRail people to get around to where we needed to go, but they took us as far as we could go. We went to the Wyena bridge, to Denison Gorge. That was as far as we could get because the bridges were in a fairly sad state of repair. Some of them obviously did not need as much work, but certainly we could not even walk across the Wyena bridge. In relation to the bridges, the committee's report noted that -
The rail bridges inspected were typically constructed with track laid in ballast, supported by the bridge structure. That is, a ballast-topped bridge. With the exception of the Second River Bridge (which has steel decking supporting the ballast) all other bridges had timber decking supporting the ballast. All of these had some level of decayed timber in the decking and local loss of ballast support. That is, ballast is falling through the deck, or spilling over the side of the deck, or both.
It goes on to say -
Any modifications proposed for the bridges will require a detailed engineering assessment and design, constructed by those competent to do so and have engineering certification when complete. The railway bridge at Shepherds Rivulet at Wyena was observed as being close to collapse and will need to be substantially or fully replaced.
It was also acknowledged by the committee that the bridges were not suitable for track or train. It was not just that a train could not go over them; we could not walk on them and a bike could not go over them, either. It was one of the recommendations of the committee that we ensure any sections of the northeast railway that are not repurposed for use as a rail trail be retained where safe to do so, particularly the section of the line between Lilydale and Wyena, in order that this section of line could be restored in future in the event that a heritage train becomes viable. The feeling was that obviously there are sections of the line that a bicycle track would not be able to go along and would need to be diverted around the road. If they diverted around the road and they were not going over that section of track, do not pull up that section of rail. Another recommendation was that any serviceable railway materials should be recovered and made available to Tasmania's tourist heritage rail sector, with priority given to LN and NER as part of the rail corridor management agreement in the event that sections of the north-east rail corridor are converted to a rail trail. Anything pulled up that could be used could go to the train group. We also acknowledge the valuable contribution of the honourable Craig Farrell, who was part of our committee until 21 May 2019. It was very good to have someone with us with the member's knowledge of trains. The other members of the committee were Robert Armstrong, Ivan Dean, Jane Howlett, Sarah Lovell and Tanya Rattray, and I am quite sure they will speak on the report. As I mentioned, there was a lot of angst in the community. We are now hopeful that much of that has been dissolved. I appreciate that, as we have read in the media, the farmers' group is likely to appeal. As well there has always been a concern that the money promised may not still be available. My understanding is the area it was coming from no longer exists. However, I have been assured that our federal members are looking into trying to keep that money to ensure it is there. I believe it would have been parked and quarantined. It is highly unlikely it would have gone to any other area. It is hoped it can still be used for what it was proposed to be used for. Our main recommendation was obviously that we support the establishment of the heritage railway between Launceston and Lilydale and that it is necessary to negotiate with TasRail for access to the section of railway line between Launceston and Turners Marsh. To start a train at Turners Marsh in the middle of nowhere, where there is nowhere to park and nothing there, seemed inappropriate. In the hearings we heard it is very important that a train or any tourist venture has a good place to start and a good destination. It was felt that it was important people could get on at Launceston. There were several areas at Launceston where perhaps something could be purpose-built with facilities for a tourist heritage train. If people wanted to bring their bikes, they could put them on the train; they could get to Lilydale and from Lilydale, they could ride on to Scottsdale. Obviously, from Lilydale to the Lilydale Falls because of different issues, it would be riding along the road, so certainly not going along that first section. The trail goes along the road until it gets to the Lilydale Falls and from there it leads to Scottsdale; in some areas, possibly near Wyena, people would again need to go on the road. I also extend my sincere gratitude to Natasha Exel, Julie Thompson and the other Legislative Council and parliamentary staff for their excellent and tireless work. Particularly Natasha and Julie were just amazing when we investigated different areas. They were our drivers; they negotiated where we were going. They organised everything, putting up with us and sorting us all out - sometimes for them it was probably like herding cats, but they were wonderful. Their performance was exemplary. In closing, I thank the members of the committee who never went off-track no matter how long it went on. On occasion where there was much criticism in the media, on social media, in members' communities, but at the end of it, the members were steadfast. They kept on track with what we were trying to do - find the best outcome for the trail and the rail. I sincerely believe we have a good outcome for the cyclists and for the trains. This will also allow train enthusiasts the opportunity to work out whether they can get a train running from these areas and whether they can use sections of TasRail when they are not being used on weekends. Whether it is on a Sunday or some other time, it will give them a real opportunity to get a heritage rail up and running. Thank you, Mr President. Thank you, everyone, for being part of it - all the committee members as well as council and Legislative Council staff.