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Why not a tourist steam train for defunct rail line?

I would like to propose a much  better idea for the defunct railway line we have: why not open it up to the steam train enthusiasts with the idea of running  steam train trips along the line calling in at various art galleries, pottery places and other tourist stops on the way to perhaps Byron Bay?

This would be a huge tourist attraction and bring more money to the area than any bike trail will which only caters for a few fit people here.

This is mostly a retired area and would offer more advantages than just bike riding. The arts can be catered for and a day out for families. So many options especially as an attraction to bring more tourists to the area.

I know in Brisbane and in other areas where they run a ‘blues’ steam train trip and this is always sold out it is so popular, the train pulls into various stops where refreshments can be bought and people move around carriages to enjoy different blues music that is on offer in each carriage.

There is also a dinner train which is always popular. There is no limit to what it could be used for when you incorporate steam trains. The whole concept would be wonderful for the Tweed.

Terri Bradley, Tweed Heads West


14 responses to “Why not a tourist steam train for defunct rail line?”

  1. Gary Ainsworth says:

    This is the best idea I’ve heard in a while!. Yes Terri, great idea, and it would be a screaming success and would also directly recoup the cost of refurbishing the line within a matter of months. If we spent the same amount of time lobbying for something that will never get off the ground (rail trail), we would have this steam train by now. This idea would give all the town and cities an ACTUAL link and cater for everyone, not just the super fit. It would be used by thousands more people than a lonely pathway that will eventually become an overgrown eyesore due to lack of use. Plus the fact that the option of a commuter rail service is not out the window with this idea.

    Perhaps the Northern Rivers needs to make a new NRRT (Northern Rivers Railway Tours) and start re-focusing our energy on something that is accomplish able without braking the law (the rail trail still needs an act of parliament and new legislation to pass the senate – which as failed numerous times since 2009 – to become remotely legal) Because once the railway line is gone, its gone forever and there will be no escaping the growing traffic woes.

    • John H says:

      Rail trails aren’t for the ‘super fit’. They are a linear recreation reserve that can be used by anyone from a person in a wheelchair or mobility scooter through to Cadel Evans. They are walking trails, provide access for bird watchers, could be used for events such as half marathons or a cycling leg of an iron man event. They are safe, vehicle free venues for novice riders, children etc,. They are not the exclusive domain of the cyclist. Add to that the State Government plan to try and sell off rail lines in areas of “State Significance” (read developer interest sites) and you may find us losing these important environmental corridors for ever .Rail Trail Organisations support the retention of the rail corridor and are prepared to accept the condition the corridor be returned to use as a rail line should that become feasible. In the meantime, they fall further victim to weeds and trees and become more attractive to developers or farmers.

  2. Len Heggarty says:

    This is a great idea.

  3. Jarle says:

    From personal experience, railfans aren’t huge money givers, whilst steam trains require a lot of money to run.

    Recent experiences in Victoria are showing that you can’t have too many tourist railways otherwise some will start to collapse.

  4. Ross Thatcher says:

    Really, another pie-in-the-sky unrealistic dream that will drain more from the public purse than would ever be recaptured in exorbitant fees that only the super-rich could afford?

    Not only causing even more traffic delays on the single-level rail-crossings, it still fails to address the FACT that thousands of willing bike-riders are being denied safe pathways between towns and villages and forcing them into polluting motor-vehicles.

    Just another big DELAY to getting a real and viable alternative transport option open to residents of all degrees of fitness.

    You do realise that a double-laned bike path would allow traffic to flow BOTH directions don’t you? Unlike this archaic single-rail line that won’t offer any suitable transport options to anyone but a few wealthy tourists who won’t be amused at how boring the ride is.

    With a double-lane we could actually accommodate a viable alternative public transport option in the guise of small golf-buggy powered carts that could move one to two dozen people at a time in either direction, even surfboards and bikes for the weary riders. These open-air carriages could be rooved with solar panels and each station could be a charging point for electrical motors of every kind, as well as turned into tourist information centres and cafes.

    Trains are dangerous, smelly, noisy, heavy and expensive. Bikes are cheap, practical and human-powered, and we have nowhere safe to ride them in this beautiful region. Stop living in this romantic past and give us some real options.

  5. Gary Ainsworth says:

    Ross, your comment is actually quite ironic.

    First of all, there are already plenty of walking trails in Byron and all over the region. All of which are a very safe distance from any roadway and are all in excellent condition indeed. Another thing, however, I have noticed, is that every time I see these pathways there is always nobody using them in any way, with the exception of 2 people one afternoon near Belongil. So why waste millions of dollars wasting money on something that can only be used by the able bodied (that is if it is ever used at all).

    Second of all there is a thing called ‘train control’ – something that is done daily on the single track sections of the North Coast Line and railways all over the world. On this line this would involve say the tourist train waiting in the loop at say Byron, while the Elements railmotor passes on the mainline etc. Oh and the funny thing is, trains are like bikes from an emissions point of view when compared to the road based transport that currently clogs our roads – FACT – Road based transport accounts for 77% of Australia’s emissions, while trains account for lower than 3%, so while some may LOOK fumy, they are cleaner than the cars in your street…

    Oh and trains are not dangerous, smelly, noisy, heavy and expensive – I believe you may have got that one confused with cars.

  6. While it maybe good in paper and in theory, do people realise that running steam trains is very expensive?

    Having said that, some preservation rail societies DO run trains over rail lines that are not used for passenger trains.

    And do people realise that most of these unused lines are physically (though not officially) closed? They would have to get special permission, of those lines that can be used.

    And in most other states, except NSW, most unused lines ARE already considered closed.

    And one fact that the author has forgotten, since the early 1960’s, their has been NO rail line to Tweed Heads.

    But the author has forgotten another point. Having regular steam trains may take away the “novelty”

    And to Ross Thatcher, trains are not dangerous, smelly or noisy.

  7. John H says:

    A great idea, another steam train proposal. Just what the tourism sector ordered as established groups such as the nearby Glenreagh Mountain Railway struggle to even meet the upkeep on their station and surrounds and dozens of steam locos lie stranded at Dorrigo. The real Heritage Rail Movement admits it is a struggle to survive. Dwindling volunteer numbers, high operating costs, strict safety regulations to be met as well as huge maintenance works required to bring their equipment up to a usable state. Add to that the millions of dollars required to repair the sadly neglected rail corridor and it starts to become more and more of a pipe dream.

    Rail is an effective, environmentally friendly method of moving people and freight across the face of our planet, second only to the bicycle in energy efficiency in moving people (if the train is full). Sadly the infrastructure being proposed for these pie in the sky proposals was built in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s and is unsuitable for rail freight in their current state. They were built for small, light trains, not 1.5 km long trains with 60 tonne carriages travelling at 100 km plus per hour.

    A recent rail fan trip from Lithgow to, Kandos & return had a ticket price of $95.00 for an adult & $50.00 for a child a total of $290 for a family of four. Admittedly it did include entry to the Kandos Show. Just how many families have access to this amount of discretionary spending?

  8. Warwick Mead says:

    The idea of steam on the old Murwillumbah line was attempted in the late 1980’s when the line was in daily use with the MOTORAIL, a heavy main line express.
    The Casino rail club started with that dream to get & operate a steam train on the Murwillumbah line. First obstacle, all old steam locos owned by various museums. None willing to part with a loco or carriages. Next came the Northern Rivers Railroad, with luxury carriages, diesel locos, money & staff to run them but they were unable to attract enough paying passengers. The train was laid up and sold off. Remember, these guys didn’t have the cost and responsibility of maintaining the track. Line closed. Formation of Tweed rail group, aim, to take over & run the line. Failed firstly due to lack of volunteers, yes, lots of people would like to see old trains run, few willing to give up their time & money to make it happen. No money to pay for staff, materials or trains. Meanwhile along the railway,9 years of neglect, decay and removal of structures & bridges takes a toll.
    In NSW only 1 out of 30 of the old steamers now going due to worn out boilers costing well over 1 million each. Even the great 3801 is in pieces, no boiler. Welcome 21st century “nanny state” rail safety requirements on old trains & rail lines. Old carriages are expensive to overhaul, over 60 years old and high mileage. Just like cars, your trains have to pass “rego” as does the track.
    Cost & availability of timber rises, timber sleepers now same price as concrete (over $100.00 each), life expectancy of timber sleeper 20 years. Expect ½ of sleepers to need replacing, say 66 thousand at around 6.6 million, add the cost of installing them, clearing the overgrown vegetation along tens of kms of track and fixing landslides etc. Add the cost of Bridge timbers, $ 300.oo meter but very hard to get and once sourced from huge old growth trees. Over 130 bridges including that ½ km long one at Woodlawn. Some bridges now gone, stations too are gone or wrecked by vandals and termites like Bangalow.
    Start doing some sums. Signals & level crossing equipment gone.
    Sleepers, bridge timbers, staff of ? qualified fettlers, bridge workers, their tools. Track machines, more staff. Buying locomotives, 6-8 carriages, workshop facilities, admin & restoration staff. Drivers, guards, carriage attendants, signalling gear. Restoration & maintenance of stations & structures.
    Where would the hundred million or so needed come from vs how much would the train actually make in revenue?

  9. Damon says:

    Thanks Warwick for a great and factual letter outline some of the history of the line. So refereshing to get real facts for a change rather than ‘invented’ ones. The only correction is the line has had 12 not 9 years of neglect as it was closed in 2004.

  10. Geoff Bensley says:

    We have coal for the steam train located at Myocum and Nimbin that could be used . It will give employment to our local residents and have a positive to develop a coal fired power station . The open cut mine required could be used as a waste storage dump or converted into a lake.
    A coal fired or timber fired steam train may leave a trail of soot in our towns but at least we are getting coal out of the ground.
    Puffing Billy is very popular steam train near Melbourne , it gets funding of $2.5M every year to help buy coal for its engine , could we start selling to them?

  11. Chrissie says:

    Since when did this letter become a rail vs trail debate? If someone wants to create a business similar to Northern Rivers Railroad, fine, let them – don’t shoot it down with pro rail trail propaganda. Set the self interests aside and let it happen.

  12. Brian says:

    Why the obsession with steam trains all the time? There are vintage rail motors and indeed vintage passenger trains hauled by old diesels that are arguably a better, (and more reliable), mode of historic travel.

    The up side of all this I guess is that it would be on a “disused line” not on a main line, where many rail safety experts say steam excursion trains should not be even running, where they often break down, holding up regular timetabled trains. That of course, is an argument for another day.

    And if anyone has ever been a regular passenger on a “steam enthusiasts” tour, some of these “enthusiasts” are more than just that, they are right pains in the you know what, with no consideration for other passengers at all, rude in the extreme, loudmouths who think they know everything, when in reality, most do not. Oh and before anyone has a go at me, I come from a very extensive rail background, having been a driver on high speed rail in the UK as well as a rail manager and safety investigator. And no I’m not a pom either, I am an Aussie who took time to learn about rail oversees as well.

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