Exactly thirty years ago, on the morning of Tuesday 23rd November, 1993, the brand new Xplorer passenger train departed Armidale Railway Station for the first time carrying paying passengers.
Shortly before its departure the community had gathered on the platform to celebrate the reinstatement of this valued service by witnessing the breaking of a bottle of champagne against the front of the train by Mrs Sonia Stucken, who was one of the passengers travelling that day.
For the Friends of the Northern Railway group who had led the campaign to restore passenger trains to the Northern Tablelands it was an occasion of profound mixed emotions.
They had hoped to do better for Glen Innes. The New South Wales Government of Nick Greiner had withdrawn the passenger trains and most, but not all, freight trains from north of Tamworth three and a half years earlier.
Only the superphosphate deliveries to Dumaresq and Glen Innes had continued. When it was announced that the Xplorer trains would be built and run to both Armidale and Moree it was the first time in the history of the state that regional passenger trains had been reinstated on lines from which they had been completely withdrawn.
Since the 1960s regional rail had been an almost unbroken tale of decline, so that Armidale's victory in winning its trains back was a significant achievement and led to great rejoicing and an all-round sense of euphoria for those involved.
But Glen Innes had missed out. Back in 1989 and 1990 when hints were leaking from government about the possible return of passenger trains to the Northern Tablelands, Glen Innes was usually mentioned as the proposed destination.
When the big announcement was made on 13th June,1990, at a press conference in Armidale, the Sydney Morning Herald mistakenly reported on its front page that the new trains would run to Glen Innes. But it was not to be so: at the press conference it was made clear that Armidale would be the terminus for this service, even though the line remained open to trains north of there at that time.
Ray Chappell, the MP for Northern Tablelands at the time, who had been instrumental with other Nationals in securing the Xplorer trains, continued for a while to advocate for them to run to Glen Innes, but without success.
President of Trains North, Matthew Tierney, commented, "Those mixed emotions have remained for three decades: while on the one hand the train does not run as far as it might have, on the other hand its reinstatement in 1993 and growing popularity since then have been a powerful demonstration that rail transport has a bright future.
And that reinstatement was obtained from a government headed by one of the most anti-railway premiers in the history of New South Wales.
There were plenty of local people with a pessimistic view of the trains when they were axed, but very few today who think that the Northern Tablelands should do without them."
In a strange irony Glen Innes council is proposing, on the very day of the thirtieth anniversary of the return of passenger trains to the Northern Tablelands, to adopt a stridently anti-railway resolution at its meeting on Thursday.
The costs of renewing the railway and running trains are described as "prohibitive" in the most uncompromising terms.
The report accompanying the proposed motion characterises support for rail as being irresponsible with public funds, but ignores the question of whether the huge shift in burden of costs from the state government to council that would be entailed by destroying the track and leasing the corridor is itself irresponsible management of ratepayers' funds.
Matthew Tierney said, "The report effectively pats on the head the current advocates for the growth of rail in this region, the local Glen Innes branch of Trains North Incorporated, and dismisses them as well-meaning but naive dreamers.
In an age when rail is being revived in Australia and modernised for the movement of both freight and passengers, and when this has become urgent because of the hugely significant contribution rail can make to fuel-efficient and environmentally responsible transport, the report to council supporting today's motion seems to bundle the railways together with boiling the washing in a copper, gas lamps in the main street and the treating of childhood maladies with castor oil, as if it were a curiosity of the distant past.
The opinions of Australia's logistics experts tell a very different story. The railways are for the future and Armidale, Guyra, Glen Innes, Deepwater and Tenterfield will be running a very great risk of consigning themselves to a regional backwater if they destroy the track that connects Sydney to Queensland through this region.
Rail freight will not always consist only of coal and grain in inland New South Wales; general freight will be going by rail too as it does in other developed countries. And regional passenger trains are more and more popular."
Vice-President of Trains North, Siri Gamage, pointed out that, "It is the state government that owns the rail corridor and that government,perhaps with financial input from Canberra and collaboration with Queensland, must keep good interstate transport planning under review.
Councils can be active advocates for projects that can bring benefits to their local government areas."Trains North hopes that Glen Innes council is ready to listen to the 10,746 people who signed the petition taken to parliament this week, calling for the reintroduction of passenger trains north of Armidale,and that council will reconsider how important it is to protect the railway line, a public asset ready to be used for the social and economic good of this region.
Trains North committee