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Greens lead renewed push for railway network

Former State Rail worker Phillip Hill, left, with the chopper pilot.

Former State Rail worker Phillip Hill, left, with the chopper pilot.

Darren Coyne

A former railway worker believes sections of the region’s railway network could be reopened for commuter services despite a state government-commissioned report saying it would cost up to $900 million.

Phillip Hill, who worked in various positions on the railway, told Echonetdaily that the $900 million figure was ‘a total fabrication’.

Mr Hill was accompanying Greens senator Lee Rhiannon on a helicopter tour of the line last week to gather video and photographic evidence of the state of the railway tracks.

He said before the line was closed, State Rail had maintenance plans in place.

‘We did costings on bridges and track repairs and it was nowhere near that amount,’ he said.

‘We had programs of $20 to $30 million over several years for bridge renewal and track renewal so the $900 million figure is a furphy and there should be an inquiry into that.’

‘The whole thing was a fabrication’.

Mr Hill admitted sections of the line had problems but ‘in the meantime we could have sections up and running like Mullumbimby to Byron, Byron to Bangalow and Casino to Lismore’.

Greens senator Lee Rhiannon about to take off.

Greens senator Lee Rhiannon about to take off.

Greens senator Lee Rhiannon said the helicopter tour, paid for from here parliamentary allowance, would help inform the Greens work towards an integrated transport plan for the northern rivers region.

‘This work is incredibly important for the region and it would have rail as the backbone of those transport plans,’ Ms Rhiannon said.

‘Ensuring roads are safe is important but public transport needs to be the backbone.

‘Video and photos collected today will help show the state of the lines so that people can understand that the line can be restored and the services can be expanded.

‘We’re not looking at just going back to XPT services but we’re also looking at reintroducing commuter services on these lines … public transport is a social justice issue.

‘This area was robbed of something it had for decades and we need to get that service back and expanded.

‘Were not putting a timeline on it but committed to getting this done as soon as possible and will be coining back to consult and get regular feedback.’

NRRAG president Beth Shelley said there was a strong push for a rail trail but advocates of the train were finding it difficult to be heard.

‘State Rail owns a huge amount of land in Byron Bay, right up to Belongil, through the CBD and up to Bangalow,’ she said.

‘That property is worth so much money and we think that’s where the push is coming from.’


24 responses to “Greens lead renewed push for railway network”

  1. Tim Shanasy says:

    The dreaming of a train service returning, appears to be going through the rapid eye movement stage (REM), after 11 years of sleeping.

    The NSW government must think we’re now a very serious bunch of hippies about to spit the teet and chuck all over mummy.

    It will be very interesting to see how the rest of the sleep pans out . .

    The future is in soft wheeled electric “very light” vehicles that will make even “light rail” look truly dinosauric.
    Our rail corridor is perfectly placed to achieve a world stage cutting edge corridor arterial, that could provide immense value to all connecting villages, far exceeding the initial rail trail driving initiative.

    The Greens are well placed to see a green and technology driven future for our community.
    But their dogged city train mindset is very short sighted for our rural, very low density population.

    The Greens are failing to offer us a real, available, and achievable vision for our future, by engaging in a doomed exercise that is already 11 years in the making.

    I implore the Greens, to wake up, and lead, whilst we hold Ballina.

    • Gary Ainsworth says:

      Tim, as hard as it is to believe, not everyone wants the rail trail. Mr Hill is a ex-railway worker, I really wouldn’t dispute him as he knows much more about the line than you do. The railway line is much less defunct than you think, and train services are not very hard to achieve.

      Currently the rail trail is a illegal pipe dream that will never happen as it is way too impossible and expensive, realistically considering only a dozen or so will use it.

  2. Shawn Durkin says:

    Seriously??? Whether the cost is anywhere between 300 and 900 million, are there really that many people who would want to go from Murwillumbah and Byron to the centre of Lismore every day to make this worthwhile? Sure we need more public transit but if it doesn’t go where people want to go does it really justify the cost to put a train in to take a dozen people a day? And once again the FACT there is no prospect of connecting to Queensland (there is no rail corridor) is coveniently not mentioned. Advocates for the return of the train are finding it difficult to be heard because it is a stupid idea. The rail trail is the best way to make use of the line in an environmentally friendly way which will boost our local economy while also preserving the corridor for future use if and when a train makes sense.

  3. walda says:

    This is a green dream, commonly used in veterinary circles as euthanasia to a very sick animal.

    The rail line had been euthanised about 10 years and unless you believe in a miracle it will not ‘rise again’ in its present form.

    A rail line along the coast to Ballina then to Lismore to rejoin at Casino would be the only solution as it could reach the majority population. This is only an idea and not at all likely. Passenger lines always run at a loss and there would not be a freight circuit viable.

    The current line is not at all viable and will not return regardless of the minority green member for Ballina.

    • Gary Ainsworth says:

      A railway line to Ballina is another pipe dream as there was once a line from Booyong to Ballina, although steep, hilly terrain caused a number of landslips and soon led to its closure.

      It seems a connection bus service to say Lismore station is the better option instead of trains as far a Ballina goes.

  4. Ken says:

    There is no doubt in my mind that this hokey” rail trail” is a complete fabrication .
    There’s gold in them hills and it ain’t no horsey and bicycle freeway!
    Can there be any excuse for politicians of any colour destroying infrastructure that has been hard earned, by the peoples taxes ?
    The obvious and historical plan to join the line from Casino To Brisbane is not some flight of fancy but an overwhelmingly rational solution to the ever-increasing traffic snarl manifesting,due to the pathetic lack of ‘town planning’ and any forethought as to the desired outcome for North Coast residents.
    Developer’s dollars are dictating the destruction of the COMMONWEALTH for the benefit of a very few greedy politicians and real-estate shysters.
    Call out the Knitting Nannas !
    G”)

  5. Milton says:

    Finally some common sense and truth from once there was deception and lies.

  6. Tweed says:

    ….maybe we open a couple of CSG mines and apart from providing abundant clean gas the funds can build a VFT train between Byron and Sydney?

  7. Damon says:

    I find this story very interesting and full of contradictions. The ex railway worker Phillip HIll says on one hand the 900 million cost to restore the line a ‘furphy’ but then admits there are some sections have ‘problems’ and then goes on to recommend operating a ‘disjointed’ railway with trains running on some sections and not others. Where is the logic in this idea? Do the pro train group really think people will want to catch a train and then transfer to buses for the ‘problem’ sections?

    If the Greens were serious about promoting rail transport in the region then they would be pushing for a new, straighter (faster) corridor that actually links the major population areas (Tweed heads, Ballina etc) rather then trying to restore a corridor that doesn’t serve the majority of the population and has some ‘problem’ sections. If the Greens were also serious about improving public transport in the region then they would advocate for better bus services that can be implemented almost immediately and at a fraction of the cost of the train. Instead it appears the Greens have been ‘hijacked’ by the pro train lobby who after 11 years refuse to concede that trains are not coming back and do not look at the transport issues of the northern rivers objectively. For 11 years the pro train lobby have made it difficult for anyone with other ideas on the use of the corridor to be heard. Now that there is govt funding on the table for the rail trail they should graciously move aside and let a viable project proceed otherwise we will find ourselves in the same predicament of no trains and no trail in another 11 years!

    • louise says:

      All the huffing and puffing won’t change the fact that eight out of ten of the major North Coast population centres are situated along the current line. Only 22ks of line are needed to connect the Casino to Murwillumbah line to the new Gold Coast line at Coolangatta Airport and on to Brisbane.

      More buses on the wonderfully ‘straight and safe’ Bangalow Rd to Lismore. Maintaining the roads for buses won’t cost anything. That’s a good one! Local buses are empty as they don’t connect locals, or 4.6m tourists, to where they need to go. More empty buses won’t make a jot of difference- other than increasing the huge road maintenance bill..

      People voted for trains, they don’t want their taxes wasted ripping up a valuable piece of PUBLIC infrastructure.

      • Damon says:

        Louise Just one big correction, there is no train to Coolangatta airport! I’m not sure where you get your information from. I actually work for QLD government and know for a fact the new labor government does not have any plan to extend the line in their term of government.

        Maybe one reason the buses are empty because most people prefer the convenience of car travel in 2015. A train will not change this. The Gold Coast trains are often empty outside of peak hour.

        You can dream and twist the facts as much as you like but I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for the trains to return.

        • louise says:

          The long term plan has always been to replace the Gold Coast heavy train line, which was ripped up in the 1960s and the land sold off to developers, to Coolangatta Airport. The Gold Coast light rail service will also go to Coolangatta Airport on completion. Only 22ks of line is needed to connect the Casino to Murwillumbah line to the Gold Coast line, the airport and on to Brisbane.

          People call sitting in traffic jams for hours, and driving endlessly around looking for parking, a lot of things- ‘convenience ‘ isn’t one of them. They can’t believe the stupidity of not having train services to towns with train stations in the centre!!

          Ratepayers certainly are not happy with the ‘convenience’ of driving on roads full of dangerous potholes, or the ‘convenience’ of paying ever-increasing rates to have them repaired!!

          The community has not bought the spin being peddled that a cycleway will be more ‘convenient’ for them than regular train services.

  8. Gary Ainsworth says:

    If you do the maths, the railway would actually be quite cheap compared to the rail trail in the long run.

    The $50 million possible funding for the rail trail will probably fund Murwillumbah to Yelgun (only just) (comparing the cost for the bridges to be relayed with concrete, fencing, and overall refurbishment, plus the cost of destroying all the valuable infrastructure to replace it with concrete path, then relay the track with concrete path.)

    Oh and thats not including all the other components needed for the rail trail! you would also need fencing, car parking, toilets, drinking stations, toxic chemical removal… – just to name afew. All that would probably add another million or so to the project.

    And remember that’s just from Murwillumbah to Yelgun! image how much it would cost overall! and then if you add up the ongoing maintenance costs, you have a VERY VERY costly project on your hands.

    Now as for the railway cost, it only needs some minor touch ups here and there, some bridges replaced and a bit more before it is usable again. Making the railway the cheaper alternative by far.

    • marie lawton says:

      Gary,
      Some “minor touch ups here and there?” Where are you getting your information?
      Have you walked this corridor?

  9. John Holstein says:

    An interesting collection of replies. Imagine returning to the Pacific Highway of 1890 and running modern cars along its length or using sections of it and requiring people to leave their cars and take horse and buggy to the next section of road. That is the basic premise of the rail proposal outlined by some above. The line was surveyed and built to carry steam trains and a hundred years of successive neglect have ensured they stay that way.
    Rail trails in other states are simply compacted road base or decomposed granite surfaces, not concrete paths as proposed by some people. They are cheap to lay, require little maintenance because bicycles cause little damage to the surface.
    Toilet facilities only require basic composting toilets and in most cases the towns along the track are close enough to supply all the toileting and food needs of riders.
    As for the assertion only a handful of users will be present – that is simply not true. Towns like Bright in Victoria and much of the south Island of NZ have seen a resurgence in tourism numbers due in part to cyclists as it provides a further income stream for existing businesses which leads to better facilities, which leads to more tourists.
    One cyclist per day spending $10 in a business will provide the owner with $3650.00 extra turnover. 10 cyclists per day spending the same money equates to a part time job for someone. Given that cyclists are likely to spend upwards of $100 per day, that equates to quite a few jobs, just for utilising a disused rail corridor.

    • louise says:

      There’s plenty of room along most on the rail corridor for a cycleway-no need to deprive the whole region of much needed public transport. As for cyclists spending money in our towns, locals, tourists and cyclists arriving by train, especially on market days, would spend much more and do less damage to our roads. Less traffic congestion on the roads would make them safer for cyclists. Win win all around.

  10. Angie says:

    interesting comments, we need to keep this discussion going to get the best outcome for the community!
    some facts;
    1. Byron is having a traffic congestion crisis and locals have been crying out that the proposed bypass isn’t going to fix it.
    2. a rail trail is not going to fix the traffic. rail trail advocates are being selfish if they expect everyone to get into town on pushbikes
    3. we need an integrated transport plan and for some reason the bus services alone just aren’t cutting it. they don’t connect, they don’t suit elderly, disabled or people in wheelchairs, they are expensive, the Countrylink buses don’t pick up passengers for short trips between towns, and they get stuck in the traffic like everyone else.
    4. adding more buses to the network WILL increase road maintenance.
    5. The Rail Trail proposal to rip up the tracks is currently illegal and requires changing the legislation protecting the corridor for rail only
    6. The best way to protect the corridor is with a rail service
    7. There once was a rail connection to Ballina which was closed, and the land sold off.
    8. There was also once a rail connection from Murwillumbah to Tweed and sth east Qld. It was also closed and sold off. Now that the Gold Coast light rail and the Brisbane-Coolangatta lines are being constructed, it is costing way more because of the value of the land the government is having to buy back.

    Bring back the trains!

    • Damon says:

      Why is this always about Byron? Byron is not the center of the universe or our region! Byron/Bangalow is the only place that has regular traffic jams in our region. I fail to see how are train using the current corridor is going to solve this.

      The rail trail is a fantastic and proven concept to get tourists out of major centers like Byron and into the small villages and communities that could really benefit from this type of eco-tourism. Rail trails have been proven to work in other states in countries and their is govt funding available for it now. If we keep this debate going for another 11 years like it has been we will end up with no train and no trail and just a corridor full of weeds that no-one can use.

      • Angie says:

        Damon, i focussed my comment on Byron Bay because this is the BYRON SHIRE ECHO, and because Byron is the main contributor to the regions tourism industry, so of course bringing more tourists to the region will impact on Byron Bay! It is not the only place with traffic congestion, maybe you don’t get out of Byron very often as there is also congestion in Bangalow, Mullumbimby, and Lismore. It’s not like we ever hear about locals complaining about traffic in Ballina is it?

    • John Holstein says:

      Not quite true Angie, the Tweed to Murwillumbah line was never commenced, nor it appears land purchased to build it, let alone sold off (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murwillumbah_railway_line) & http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/16495759 It also seems that there was never an Act of Parliament for either Murwillumbah to Tweed or Ballina to Byron Bay Railways.

      The rail trail proposal is not to solve transport problems, but to promote a healthy and active tourism pursuit that would encourage visits to smaller centres along the currently abandoned railway corridor. Bus loads tend to travel through most small towns because they can’t accommodate a bus load of tourists, whereas small numbers of cyclists, who are likely to visit for several days can stay at small B&B’s or hotels.

      Obviously the road network exists and so do buses. It appears to me that if there is such a need for public transport and such a demand for it, why hasn’t a private operator begun such a service? Could it be, that like a rail service, it is financially unviable?

      Parliamentary Acts, have always & still are, able to be changed.

  11. Craig Holdsworth says:

    Its a great way to view the redundant line by helicopter. You can inspect the vegetation etc but nothing else

    The only way to inspect and report the defects etc of the line is by walking and visual inspection. This inspections of the Track, Structures, Level Crossings and earthworks should be completed by a Company or Person who holds the Accreditations to Inspect and Certify the Track.

    Maybe a Political Party could funds this task, so a real estimate could be given.

    Maybe start with an inspection of the Bangalow to Byron Section and Then the Byron to Mullumbimby sections.

    If these 2 sections were open, it may help the tourist industry etc.

    Regards

    Craig Holdsworth
    CR Rail

  12. Christina says:

    Why are the rail trail people so nasty?

    • Damon says:

      Why won’t the train supporters move aside and let another group have a go at doing something viable with the corridor? We have government funding for rail trail now. After 11 years, two governments and a feasibility study the supporters refuse to accept that trains are not coming back on the corridor.

      As for nasty try the facebook group ‘Stop the Rail Trails, Protect our Railways’ that TOOT supports. They constantly vilify rail trail proponents with posts such as “Does this dickhead ever shut up and turn off the BS tap?FFS Graham, the more you prattle on, the more you look like Ronald McDonald!”

  13. Graham Smith says:

    Hasn’t a quarter of century of chanting ‘bring back the trains’ and ten years of TOOTing resulted in more rotting sleepers, more rusty rails, more weeds and decades of lost opportunity?

    If TOOT get their way, there will be no rail trails, no trains and a rail corridor that will become Greener with weeds by the week. The next publicity stunt survey in ten years won’t need a helicopter. It’ll need machetes, chainsaws and whipper snippers.

    Any MP who cares for their electorate will get on with the rail trail. The alternative is a weed trail, not trains or a rail trail.

    Do the sums. Look at the numbers. Check the demographics. Effective, efficient (fast and frequent) mass public transport for the Northern Rivers won’t be on the old rail corridor. It’ll be more direct, lighter and faster. And even if it is on the old corridor, it won’t happen for decades. The rail corridor will still be there used and protected by people using the rail trail instead of weeds growing in it.

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