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Byron Shire
June 21, 2021

Rail trail funding announced

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Rail trails like this one in Pennsylvania USA could soon be attracting a new type of tourist to our region. Flickr/UGArdener
Rail trails like this one in Pennsylvania USA could soon be attracting a new type of tourist to our region. Flickr/UGArdener

Hans Lovejoy

Funding is available for a feasibility study into the development of a rail trail on the Casino to Murwillumbah rail line, says minister for the north coast, Don Page.

The push has had a mixed reaction, with Northern Rivers Rail Trail Inc (NRRT Inc) warmly welcoming the announcement, while train advocate Karin Kolbe from TOOT (Trains On Our Tracks) voiced concerns that the tracks would be covered and a temporary bike path constructed over the rails. She told The Echo, ‘We need to have  bike tracks beside the rail, or be able to take our bikes on the train.’

Mr Page, when asked if he advocated a rail trail beside the rail or on the railways, said, ‘The rail trail would be for the most part on the existing track area and certainly within the rail corridor.’

Mr Page also said, ‘The corridor will be kept intact, not sold, and be preserved for the possible re-introduction of rail services, should a viable economic model for trains become available at some stage in the future. The potential benefits for tourism and employment are significant. It would also deliver health and social benefits.’ He added, ‘The official terms of reference will be finalised in the next few days prior to going out to tender.’

The previous rail study of the region, which cost $2m, was blasted back in March by the Greens and TOOT for its narrow terms of reference, the exclusion of light rail, lack of comprehensive ground truthing and a bloated figure of repair comparative to an earlier Price Waterhouse Coopers report in 2004. In regard to the shire’s high visitor numbers and if rail could alleviate the pressure, NSW transport minister Gladys Berejiklian told The Echo at the time, ‘The needs and travel patterns of tourists were considered in detail in the development of the study, and it found tourists do not form a large proportion of public transport users’.

And despite criticism of a flawed report, Mr Page referred to the 130-page Casino to Murwillumbah Train Study and backed his party by claiming rail is not an option as it ‘wouldn’t meet the current or future public transport needs of the region because two of the three largest centres (Ballina and Tweed Heads) would not be served’.

Meanwhile NRRT secretary Steve Martin said of his not-for-profit group: ‘We now have close to 5,000 community supporters, as well as backing from local government, tourism and chambers of commerce.’

NRRT was formed by a steering committee comprising local business philanthropists (known as the Sourdough Group), community volunteers, local councillors and people working in the tourism industry.

Its chairperson, Pat Grier, says ‘The rail trail would act as the spine that links a network of communities, regional towns and villages. It would provide the platform for economic development, new businesses and jobs for the region.

Mr Martin added, ‘Instead of the land gradually being overgrown it can become a drawcard for tourists and revitalise many smaller villages along the track.’


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52 COMMENTS

  1. This looks like a step in the right direction!

    If you look at the very positive effect Rail Trails have had on communities in Victoria you couldn’t help but be in favor of converting the train line to a Rail Trail.

  2. What a great idea. My daughter has used rail trails in Canada and US. loves them. They are a great way of seeing the country and villages, with minimum environmental impact.

  3. I support the rail trail concept as a good use of the existing rail corridor. As well as promoting tourism, as a bicycle rider, I would use the rail trail myself with my family for recreation.

    For those who are wanting a quick resumption of the train services on the Casino-Murwillumbah line, I say, “Why not give the existing Countrylink bus services a go. The buses are actually a better public transport service than the old trains. I find the Countrylink bus service the best way to get between Lismore and Brisbane by public transport.”

  4. Hi – this is a very exciting proposition, and getting bikes off the road and away from vehicles is a great way to get people motivated and fit.
    Riding in France is wonderful along the rivers and through farms and forests – all on trails. It truly is enjoyable(I can say from the experience of being hit by a jeep in Murwillumbah at 5.30 am and ending up in hospital)

    Jenni

  5. The rail trail proposal has caught the attention of our political leaders as well as our business and community leaders, lets hope we can all work together to make this innovative project a reality – I cant stress enough the economic benefits to our entire region – Through these benefits we can expect stronger employment ( especially in our youth sector ) which is sadly running at 30% and is a disgraceful result for our community. Through economic development of this kind, improved community prosperity will achieve better results at all levels of our society.

  6. Many rail trails in Victoria have completely transformed the tourism opportunities, ease of transport and quality of life of entire regions (See the Murray to Mountains rail trail website http://www.murraytomountains.com.au/ ).

    There is every reason to suggest that a rail trail linking Murwillumbah, through the small villages of the Tweed and onto Byron and Casino would be a massive economic success and a boost for the entire region as well as the small towns.

    What better use of this valuable land asset?

  7. Great, Fantastic Awesome, Wonderful, if the rail trail goes ahead it will be just what our area needs. We need to attract more activity based, outdoor, family orientated things for the locals and tourists to enjoy. I can think of nothing better than cycling down the hill with my family on the rail trail from St Helena into Byron for a swim with the sweep of the Bay, the lighthouse, Cape Byron and the ocean opening up in front of us. It’s a fantastic asset, let’s use it. As far as the trains on our tracks, we need to come up with our own solution. Our rail line will never be viable for the transport of freight, it is too costly to upgrade the infrastructure, and does not go between the relevant urban areas. We could come up with a light ? solar, passenger type taxi / small bus to run between the villages on the line to transport passengers. As a doctor I would love to be able to ask my patients to use the rail trail. Cycling is a fantastic activity for general health and fitness without putting strain on joints and spine, and on the rail trail it would be safe without the risk of cars. Movement is the best medicine for us and our visitors

  8. A Rail Trail would be a wonderful asset for the communities involved. In Victoria where there are lots of rail trails established, tourism has increased and local communities have greatly benefited. The days of trains on slow winding tracks are gone. Lets make use of this valuable resource while it is still available

  9. What a fantastic idea!
    We rode the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail…..
    Great fun for all the family.
    Can’t wait to ride our own local rail trail!!!
    Friends in Sydney are look foward to it also.
    They will come up specially to ride the trail….when it is finised.
    This is just the kind of tourism we need.
    Bring it on.

  10. Well-balanced article – thank you. The rail trail is the only viable option at the moment to ensure the rail corridor remains in public ownership. The economic and environmental benefits of the rail trail to the region are well-documented above.

  11. Earlier this year I joined a group of nine to ride the Otago Rail Trail. Talk about laugh Trev! Like most of the other riders on the track we were well behaved, middle aged cronies with money to spend on lunch, dinner and shopping. Casino to Murwillumbah? What fun – bring it on!

    • I have ridden the Otago trail twice and would love to do again.How about the little towns along the trail that had almost died but are now booming from all the healthy tourists.And it is only open 6 months of the year,

  12. Yes, we all love trains, but the simple facts are that the tracks are in a state of massive decay and the cost of repair versus potential passenger numbers sadly justifies no reintroduction of train services in the foreseeable future. Trains run on filthy diesel too.
    A Rail Trail offers zero carbon transport with high flexibility of ride on, ride off whenever it suits, for people that love seeing it all along the way. Stopping along the way for the views and refreshments at ultra low tourism footprint stations, would offer a game changer for truly connected businesses to add to our sustainable economy of the future.

    • Yes I agree. Trains are great and I love ’em, but they need to meet the same sustainability criteria as other competing transport modes. In this case, train patrons would have to be either journey-to-work riders or tourists, Daily long haul commutes to work by any fossil fueled vehicles (including mains electricity power) are inherently bad for the planet, and really shouldn’t be encouraged, irrespective of mode. And long haul rail tourism for fun is much more environmentally damaging than cycling yet it still can’t provide the same local economic benefits as a rail-trail. So for me it’s just a great bike opportunity.

  13. As a high school kid living in 80s Lismore I remember catching the train to Byron Bay – wish I’d done more of that trip. I also did the train trip from Brisbane to Kyogle / Casino a few times. The scenery was awesome – like a fairy tale. Every time I take a trip back to Lismore I look wistfully at the unused rail lines. Great to hear that the corridor will be maintained and reopened in some form.

  14. Great idea to develop the tracks. Will be awesome for tourism and locals if they get developed into multi use paths. Done really well internationally so no reason it can’t be done here.

  15. A good idea but I’m still not convinced many of the assets and land, especially through the middle of Byron, won’t be sold, or at least swapped. Until we see ‘the corridor will be kept in tact, not sold (or swapped, exchanged, long term leased, etc.etc.)’ in legislation nothing is safe. Mr Page’s promise is a great sentiment and aspiration of community but unless he puts up a Bill in support to change the law, and it passes, so that it can’t happen, the dollar will win out. It’s the Byron CBD and northern beaches we’re talking about here darlings not some cow paddock at the back of Bexhill. And I, for one, can’t believe the Byron dollars are going to give up several million dollars of prime for some nut muncher’s bike track without a fight.

  16. I’m looking forward to be able to bring my family up to the Tweed to ride this trail. It’s a safe, healthy, fun and authentic way to see a beautiful area. I get frustrated at being stuck in the car when visiting the Tweed hinterland and look forward to parking it and riding instead.

    We have ridden many of the rail trails in Victoria and they’re great tourism assets. Many towns that were previously struggling are getting the benefits of rail trail tourism. Rail trail cellar door tours, fruit and nut stalls along the route all add to the experience. I’m sure the Northern Rivers has the culinary skills to put on a comparable, if not better, spread.

    Well done to those who have advocated for this asset.

  17. My family fully supports the idea of a local Rail Trail. It presents so many benefits for the region. Would love to see this fast tracked (pun intended)!

  18. Maybe we should start with small sections like Cemetery Road to Byron Station which is needed now as a bike path to town, rather than take 10 years to get the whole thing funded.
    There are probably other small sections like this around some of the other towns.

  19. All of the read comments are particularly persuasive. Other such rail trails both here and overseas are of immense popularity and very viable tourism opportunities. Unfortunately while we have opposing groups such as TOOT all it does is hold up any process. Surely there can be a point of compromise. Whether we would like a return to rail or not, it is extremely unlikely this will ever happen so why not move forward in another direction.

  20. An amazing opportunity for Byron to utilise this infrastructure in a practical and sustainable manner. Many obvious benefits from such a project for the entire region. This is a project that certainly contributes to a positive, connected, healthy future for the region – many examples exist throughout Australia and indeed the world which highlight the contribution of such projects. The linking of the regions unique townships in this way will certainly grab national and international attention, and surely provide a positive flow-on effect for a range of demographics within local communities and visitors alike. C’mon dear leaders show some foresight and take this one on, it’s a winner!

  21. Brilliant! Well done to all involved. The successful conversion of disused and economically non-viable rail corridors into viable, thriving eco-tourism bicycle rail trail opportunities has been repeatedly proven in many countries and in other states in Australia. We wholeheartedly support this development as a way to improve the area’s Eco-image, improve its attraction to tourists, bring visitors to the otherwise often bypassed villages in the area, and improve safety for cyclists and motorists alike, at a fraction of the cost required to establish and operate a train service to duplicate services available by road transport.

  22. Yes, we all love trains, but the simple facts are that the tracks are in a state of massive decay and the cost of repair versus potential passenger numbers sadly justifies no reintroduction of train services in the foreseeable future. Trains run on filthy diesel too.
    A Rail Trail offers zero carbon transport with high flexibility of ride on, ride off whenever it suits, for people that love “seeing it all” along the way. Stopping along the way for the views and refreshments at ultra low tourism footprint stations, would offer a game changer for truly connected businesses to add to our sustainable economy of the future.

  23. I would love to get around the Shire on my recumbent, electric assist trike. I’m reluctant to ride on the noisy freeways and most of the Shire’s roads don’t have a cycle lane. I enjoy cycling with my wife – it’s a beautiful romantic date, riding together. My boy is six and as he grows we want to ride further. I hope the rail trail reaches Billinudgel by the time my boy is old enough to ride to the nearest towns in a couple of years. YES! Let’s connect our towns with a rail trail, in several stages, considering the needs of towns. Where possible, let’s keep the people tracks on the side of the rail tracks for a future with a convenient light rail, using renewable sourced energy.

  24. This is great news! It would be one of the biggest tourist initiatives in the area and not just focused on Byron Bay. It would assist so many of the smaller towns.

    Locals will be able to use it for exercise without the worry of getting hit by cars. In addition it can be used by school children so they can safely cycle to and from school.

  25. Fewer cars on our roads has gotta be a good thing. I am sad the trains are gone, but it doesn’t seem possible to get them back, so this at least will salvage some of the rail corridor and little stations that still exist. I’ve even bought a bike too !

  26. I think this is a great step forward. It’s a shame that so much money has to be spent on this process… I can understand TOOT not being on board since they have an agenda (before I learned about the concept of rail trails I was on their page) but sad that the Greens representatives naysayed it. I hope by looking at models overseas & other Australian states more people can see the fantastic potential in the trail. Think jobs, school excursions, affordable holiday options, greater exercise experiences, social experiences, more jobs, linking otherwise remote communities, even alternative transport options (bike, horseback)! All at a much lower cost to estaish & maintain than rail (sorry TOOT).

  27. I totally support the idea of having trains back in town. As a person with European background I can appreciate and see how much travelling is done by trains – tourist as well as locals use them a lot and I dont agree with the study result where is stated “The needs and patterns of tourist were considered in detail in the development of the study, and it found tourist dont form a large proportion of public transport users” – why this result? because there IS NO FORM OF PUBLIC TRANSPORT! …I am speaking from a position of a business operator /B&B owner/ and to us is visible every week how useful it would be to have trains here- there is great amount of airport pick ups transports, but when people dont have a car or are afraid drive on the left hand side (many Europeans travelers) then there options how to get to near by towns are nearly non-existent. Trains for the sat/sun markets would be great form of transport and I think would bring lots more tourist and day visitors to the hinterland.

  28. We love the idea of the bike trail being beside the old rail track so that perhaps in the future a convenient light rail would be possible. Perhaps with that flexibility, the TOOT team might compromise and welcome this very exciting and worthwhile concept.

  29. Totally support this initiative! Would be great to get pushbike riders off dangerous long and windy single lane roads in our area.

  30. As members of a keen cycling group who meet weekly trialling different routes we’d welcome this Rail Trail. We think it would bring in much interest and tourist dollars from like minded cyclists in Australia and overseas.

    More power to the pedal!

  31. I have taken 18 people to ride the otargo rail trail and am about to take 20 on the alps to ocean rail trail.
    both in New Zealand. we have enjoyed these as well as the Victorian High country, the Wangaratta to Bright and many others. In every case the local people have commented on the amount of NEW business these trails generate and their surprise at how far people will travel to ride them.

  32. Best idea ever.
    Keeps the asset in public hands, while promoting the kind of tourism we all want, to the benefit of the outlying villages as well as the usual destinations.

  33. I think we have to face facts, “them trains aint comin back”. So why not turn a negative into a positive and create a wonderful drawcard to our area.

    Railtrails have bee popular and an economic boom everywhere they have been created, just what all the small towns and villages along the corridor need.

    Imagine, with a link to the Coolangatta airport you could ride car free all the way to Casino, Billiant!

  34. I’ve ridden a lot of rail trails in Victoria and one in NZ as well, and they are great. This would be an excellent link taking in Casino-Lismore-Bangalow-Byron-Mullumbimby-Murwillumbah and lots of places in between. I’d come from Sydney to ride the trail for sure!

  35. This is fantastic. The best news for local sustainable healthy tourism.
    This will become an iconic feature of the local tourism scene. Of course, like all the best bits of the Northern Rivers, it will be heavily utilised by locals.
    It wont be cheap, however, I’d suggest there is at least 240 kms of rail grade steel there to recycle to help pay for it. The seasoned timber sleepers must be worth a bit.
    I’ve used rail trails in Scotland and Victoria, on foot and on bike, and they are brilliant.
    Thanks to Don Page for the funding for a feasibility study. He needs to produce for his electorate now and actually get the project off the ground.
    With respect to rail enthusiasts, I hope your passion for rail does not come in the way of this project.

  36. A wonderful opportunity to ensure the future of a great public asset. Rural pedestrian trails and rail trails have long been highly valued in Europe. With politicians hell bent on a “BIG” Australia, future generations will owe a big thanks to those retaining these public corridors. Hopefully something will be achieved a little quicker than the nearly 30 years we have been waiting for the Lennox – Ballina cycleway.

    Would it be too much to start thinking of ways of connecting Ballina? Perhaps by the old rail corridor? A great job for a visionary pollie.

  37. To get private bus companies to invest money in securing contracts for bus routes then it would not be economically viable for them to compete with a government funded train.Sure it would be nice to have both running but we must be realistic.
    On another note can you imagine the traffic queues in Mullum and Byron Bay waiting for the trains to pass thru?I remember how bad it was back in the early 2000s .Farmers market days,public holidays,market days would be an absolute nightmare for traffic queues especially if it was going to the trains had 1 hour timetables.

  38. This will be a fantastic trail through a magic and picturesque part of Australia and will become a worldwide destination of cycle tourists…3 cheers for “The Echo” for taking an interest !!

  39. As if in chorus with so many others, what a wonderful thing it would be. it both brings those local folk in the hills within easy access of the coast, and those of the coast a chance to explore the beauty of the hills and hinterland villages.

    The many benefits of activity – physical, emotional and spiritual will all contribute to a better community.

    The rail? that too is a dream to pursue – but unlikely to be achieved on this corridor. well done for advocates of both rail and trail – both endeavours worthy efforts.

  40. What a great initiative. The rail trail is exactly what the Northern Rivers needs to show off its beautiful landscape in an eco-friendly and healthy manner.

  41. It would be wonderful to have the rail way line being used in such a positive eco-friendly way! What a fantastic opportunity for cyclists and the community alike.

  42. Living in this car and truck culture, what better way to get some fresh air, exquisite views and a taste of nature, combined with abundant health.
    Yes, preserve the ‘Rail Trail Corridor’ and move towards sustainable jobs for the Tweed Valley & beyond.
    Healthy Activities for local and International Students. Connecting and supporting local businesses, local Towns and Villages.
    Developing healthy habits, hand in hand with Economic Healing.
    Affordable inter-links with Train Services and other forms of sustainable public transport while creating jobs with some vision for the future.
    ‘Qi’ Cheers,
    Jennifer M. Press

  43. What a marvellous thing for this town! We have little public transport and pedalling to the beach would be great. Our station would make a wonderful cafe etc.

  44. Sydney train system costs $3.5 billion but the sales from tickets is $700k,we NSW taxpayers make up the 80% difference.In QLD the Cairns to Brisbane tilt train fare costs $1200 but most passengers only pay $250 as the same air fare you can get for $120.

  45. A rail trail will make commuting by cycle safer and easier. Utilising stations such as the derelict Eltham building as rest stops or even coffee shops would be great draw cards. The safety of bridges over the gullies and roads are one of the drawbacks but I think this infrastructure is a real possibility for the region

  46. Having ridden the Mountains to the Murray Railtrail in Victoria earlier this year I am a great supporter of developing a railtrail on the Murwillumbah to Casino line. The business people I spoke to in North East Victoria were extremely positive about their Railtrail citing the economic benefit it had brought to their region. The Northern River Railtrail will be a huge boon to the Northern Rivers.

  47. thank you to don page for helping to get this funding for the feasibility study on the rail trail. It would be the best thing that could happen to the northern rivers!

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