The campaign for rail in far-north Qld

March 28, 2009

The reintroduction of a rail-based public transport system for Cairns and promotion of rail freight in far-north Queensland were the key themes of a 100-strong public meeting on March 18.

The meeting was organised by Cairns Action for Sustainable Transport. On behalf of CAST, Svargo Freitag presented its proposals to improve public transport in the city.

CAST's key proposal is that 40% of trips in Cairns be made by public transport by 2025, compared with just 2.6% now. The state government plans to have only about 10% of trips in Cairns made by public transport by 2036.

Two light rail routes running the length of the city, together with electric buses on short suburban routes, would provide the comprehensive service needed to achieve this, Freitag said.

Many long-term Cairns residents remember the local train service that ran a generation ago. CAST's initial suggestion to duplicate the existing rail line from Gordonvale to Cairns was still part of the government's transport plan less than a decade ago.

Other CAST proposals are: 100% renewable electricity generation; expansion of rail freight to the Atherton Tablelands, and a fast train service along Australia's eastern seaboard to replace domestic air travel.

Local Indigenous representative Ken Reys gave a welcome to country, and Cairns Regional Council mayor Val Schier and James Cook University Cairns Campus Students Association Environment Officer Sarah Douglass also made introductory remarks.

State election candidates also spoke briefly and responded to questions. The Qld Greens have adopted CAST's proposals as its policy.

Liberal National Party candidate for Cairns, Wendy Richardson, spoke about the value of rail services but put no policy proposals.

Sitting (and now re-elected) ALP parliamentarians Desley Boyle (state member for Cairns) and Steve Wettenhall (state member for Barron River) supported the current government plans on the grounds that no bigger improvement in public transport services could be achieved with the available resources.

This claim was criticised by Greens candidate, Steve Brech, who said in recent years more than $19 billion of private and public investment has been made in the coal industry.

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