PROTESTERS say they won’t give up their fight to stop the removal of tracks and sleepers from the rail corridor between Leongatha and Nyora.
They want the rail assets retained and a rail trail built alongside a privately-funded tourist train service, despite VicTrack awarding an 18-year contract to South Gippsland Shire Council to use the corridor for a rail trail.
The protesters said they planned to seek an injunction to stop the works.
VicTrack and council have both previously stated that the works would not preclude the return of a train service but there was no intention from the state government to return passenger rail services to South Gippsland and, even if services were to return, the tracks and sleepers would have to be replaced.
Council recently awarded a contract for the removal of the tracks and sleepers to Leongatha company, BJ’s Earthmoving, apparently prompting this week’s snap action by protesters.
The Victorian Government: Return the Leongatha Pass/South Gippsland Train Facebook group which organised the barbecue and rally at Ruby on Monday, claimed 50 concerned Gippslanders turned out, although photographs and news footage showed between 20 and 30 people at the gathering at the site of the former Ruby station.
A media release issued by organisers said South Gippsland Action Group secretary Lindsay Love raised questions about the council administrators’ decision making.
“We’re not against a rail trail but we believe it’s incredibly short-sighted to rip up this public asset and vital transport link when we know we can have both,” Mr Love said.
“The Southern Rail Group had a proposal to operate a tourist rail service and support a rail trail, at no cost to the ratepayer. Why council administration actively ignored this proposal beggars belief (sic).”
Facebook posts promoting the event said rail trails and operating tourist railways co-existed around the world and “we shouldn’t have to choose between these, and the undemocratic administrators should not have the right to rip up publicly-funded and owned infrastructure”.
“Un-elected council administrators using ratepayers money to destroy public infrastructure = public theft and vandalism,” one caption read.
Not all commenters supported the posts and protest action.
Stuart James wrote: “Stop spreading incorrect information. Ripping up the tracks will have no affect (sic) on future rail corridors. If rail was to return, they would have to rip the tracks up anyway and start again because they are unusable”.
Jesse Michael said: “Wow and private companies spewing pipe dream ideas and misleading people about commuter rail is totally okay? Would love to see where the 10s of millions of dollars of cash that Southern Rail apparently have to fund a private tourist rail are coming from. What a joke. Also, council administrators were appointed by an act of parliament so not sure how that could be undemocratic.”
Southern Rail Group, which wants to develop the tourist service and supports the return of commuter trains, was not involved in Monday’s action.
The group said in a statement last week that the awarding of the tender and start of work to remove the rail assets “makes Southern Rail Group’s tourist railway proposal untenable”.
“It comes as a great loss for the community, as our proposal included about 30 local jobs, a greater economic boost and provided the region with a company that was prepared to reinvest into the infrastructure for the return of a passenger rail service.
“We are pleased to announce this is not the end of the Southern Rail Group brand. We are currently working on several feasibility studies and more information will be announced in the coming months.”
Meanwhile, organisers of Monday’s action said they were planning another similar event and were investigating an injunction against the removal of railway tracks “to half further destruction”.