Wednesday 12 October 2016
Hansard of the Legislative Council



Mr FINCH (Rosevears ) - Mr President, thank you to the Leader and to the Government, the minister and those advisers involved for the briefings we have had, which have been really fulsome and really given us a lot of information and a lot to think about.  We have heard both sides of the argument through those briefings and then comes the time to make a decision on the evidence we have heard.

Amongst all those arguments, there is a general acknowledgement that Tasmania's railway corridors have great tourism potential, whether as bike and walking tracks or rather, more unlikely, as passenger rail systems.  Resurrecting rail services for tourism has been on the cards for decades, yet not much has happened.
The Tourist and Heritage Railway Group , Diesel Traction Tasmania, The Don River Railway and the member for Derwent would no doubt argue otherwise but the fact remains that some rail corridors have been unused for years.  However, here we have a concrete plan to use the section of the north-east rail route between Coldwater Creek and Scottsdale.  That is basically what this bill is about, yet the bill goes much further.  It is about the railways and the routes throughout Tasmania.

Before we look at the arguments for and against, I would like to enlarge on the benefits of bike and walking trails beyond tourism.  In many of my presentations since I have been in parliament over 14 years, I have talked about the community benefits that walking trails provide, such as providing safe places for child cyclists.  I have long argued that if we want to keep ourselves fit and healthy, we need to keep that continuous exercise both in our daily work and also our recreational routines.  Planning by local and state governments should promote this and these bike and walking trails are vital.  Such trails, if properly planned, can also create transport links for other purposes such as regional shopping trips and all sorts of wonderful connectivity that we can see between hamlets and local towns.

As we heard today in the presentation by the group from the north-west, their vision is to link the north-west coastal towns with their rail trail, if it comes to fruition, over a long distance between Latrobe and Wynyard.  What a fantastic achievement that will be if they are able to create that.

I want to go back.  There was a part in the second reading speech that nailed it:  [OK] 'Rail trails often link rural towns and can be a stimulus for visitors and economic activity for townships along the trail, with opportunities to develop cafes and accommodation to support trail visitors.'  That is the case that we have had presented to us by the people who are in support of this rail trail, the one that dominates the debate.

Many of the arguments against rail trails seem to be based on the misunderstanding that this bill will preclude the use of corridors for future rail transport projects.  This is obviously not the case.  I will quote, as I am going to be prosecuting that amendment to clause 4 tomorrow on behalf of the member for Western Tiers about the opportunity to resume a rail line if it is proven to be worthy.

In the second reading speech it says -

The Government is committed to retaining all strategic rail corridors within the state.  The development of recreational projects such as the North East Rail Trail will always be on the basis that the corridor is 'banked' and can be reclaimed if required in the future.

This bill delivers the Government's primary objective of protecting the rail corridor for strategic infrastructure use, ensuring that it can be reactivated if required at a future point in time.  The bill also provides the legal basis necessary to support the alternative use of the corridor.

To me, that is a clear commitment to future rail transport use if it is justified. 

One of the problems with disused railways is that they deteriorate quickly, becoming a dumping ground for rubbish and a breeding ground for weeds.  There was one email I received amongst the many we received, and it came from Michael Lowe -

I am on the community group that is looking to convert the corridor from Launceston to Scottsdale to a rail trail.  It is sure to create jobs and be a healthy and fun recreational asset for the community.
I have walked the rail corridor from Rocherlea to Scottsdale and can tell you that it passes through picturesque country.  But it is sorely neglected and seems to be nothing more than a rubbish dump at this point.

There are plans to address that particular problem if the North East Rail Trail goes ahead.  Before I read a quote from Sarah Hirst I want to point out that probably over 15 years ago, I acquired about 100 railway sleepers from the railway line at Tunnel.  I have walked through the tunnel which was in pretty good condition.  I am told that bricks are falling out of it but when I walked through it looked in pretty good condition.  I have been informed that those wooden railway sleepers will be replaced by steel railway sleepers.  At that time, because the rail was not being used, it was not in a good state.  It was overgrown, there were weeds and it looked pretty dishevelled.

Ms Rattray - They did use it again after that, once they replaced the sleepers.  It has only been 12 years since it has not been used.

Mr FINCH - That is right.  What I was pointing out before was how quickly these areas fall into visual disrepair with weeds.  They become overgrown, and that sort of thing.

Mr Dean - That does not make a railway line unable to be used, just weeds.

Mr FINCH - That is right but I have also mentioned earlier that they can be restored and re‑equipped, redeveloped, to become a rail line again. 

If I might digress again, you may remember, member for Apsley, when we were talking about the pulp mill, it was my thought that if the pulp mill went to Hampshire, which meant that I am not opposed to a pulp mill, I thought Hampshire was the better option and that with the forests of the north-east, if they were still to be harvested, the best move would be for it to come on rail out of the north-east, through Western Junction and through to Hampshire.  One of the big arguments was about the traffic on the highways and the danger they pose having so many log trucks.  My thoughts then were about that north-east line coming out of Scottsdale and beyond, back to Hampshire.

Sarah Hirst wrote in an email, that 'there are currently a lot of weeds, dumped rubbish, and fallen trees and rocks along the rail corridor.  This will all be cleaned up as part of the rail trail construction and managed, moving forward, by North East Cycling Track Incorporated.  Weeds that emerge on the rail reserve will be kept under control as part of the project's maintenance schedule.  By controlling the level of growth we also minimise the presence of rabbits, snakes, wallabies, possums, snails, slugs, fire and fuel'.

This bill will enable a weed and rubbish-infested rail corridor in the north-east of Tasmania to be converted into a tourism and community asset, and with the proviso that it can also be resurrected as a rail line, if needed, if the economic factors involved warrant that.

I support this bill in principle but concede that when we move into the Committee stage, there will be a lot more work needed to see this bill through parliament.