Councillor disappointed at rail demise

By Raquel Mustillo

PENOLA-based councillor Dean Burrow has expressed disappointment that the progression of a rail trail will be the “final demise” of passenger and freight rail in the Limestone Coast.

A staff report tabled at Tuesday night’s Wattle Range Council meeting advised elected members council had been successful in receiving $200,000 towards the development of the Coonawarra Rail Trail.

The contribution will be matched by council and is in addition to a $1.6m windfall from the Federal Government.

Construction will start on the cycling and walking path later this year and will follow Coonawarra’s abandoned railway line to Father Woods Park.

While Cr Burrow said he supported the concept, the development of the rail trail marked the end of any prospect of resuming passenger and freight rail in the region.

Reading from a prepared statement, Cr Burrow cited figures from a recently completed CSIRO study which indicated a saving of $15m in local freight costs if a rail service between Mount Gambier and Heywood was reinstated.

“The other thing is rail is so efficient, it’s 75pc more efficient on fuel,” he said.

“We have got our environment committee that is trying to save electricity and be environmentally friendly and yet I don’t think we’re biting the bullet and getting freight back onto rail.

“We’re just burning fuel instead of saving it.

“The most important thing we can do is have a rail trail, but we should spend this stimulus money on having a bike and foot traffic alongside the railway or the roads and leave the train tracks open.”

In an unusual move, Cr Burrow warned council should remain vigilant about unintended consequences from the stimulus package.

“Sometimes stimulus packages get some unexpected results that are not good,” he said.

“The pink batts resulted in loss of lives, we’ve also had stimulus grants for sporting stadiums on schools that are about to close.”

However, councillors did not support Cr Burrow’s sentiments, with all elected members in attendance voting to accept the State Government funding.