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Byron Shire
February 26, 2021

Light rail or lie trail?

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Casino to Murwillumbah rail line, Booyong Bridge. Photo Northern Rivers Rail Trail
Casino to Murwillumbah rail line, Booyong Bridge. Photo Northern Rivers Rail Trail

Chris Dobney

Trains on our Tracks (TOOT) president Karin Kolbe has accused Don Page and other north coast politicians of lying to the public about their intentions for north coast rail in order to garner their votes.

Ms Kolbe’s comments come just 24 hours after a local newspaper’s web poll showed 69 per cent of readers supporting the return of a Casino to Murwillumbah rail service and two days after Mr Page delivered a petition to Parliament calling for the track to be turned into a bike path.

‘Why is the government ignoring the people? Why are they back-flipping on their pre-election promises?’ Ms Kolbe asked yesterday.

‘The land up here is very valuable – we strongly suspect that that’s the real reason: that the government wants to rip up the tracks and sell the stations and corridor,’ she said.

The petition of 1,400 signatures read, ‘it would be economically attractive and socially beneficial to convert the railway corridor into a world-class rail trail to create jobs, attract tourist revenue and enhance the wellbeing of communities along the 132km corridor’.

The poll on the Northern Star website did not disclose the number of voters but was broken into supporters of the existing rail link, supporters of an extended rail link to Coolangatta airport and supporters of a rail trail.

Taken together, support for the two pro-rail groups totalled 69 per cent of all voters.

But TOOT believes light rail and pushbikes can co-exist, with people using the bike track to ride to their local station.

‘Rail and bikes can work together safely in the same corridor – like in Victoria – to create a true transport system for all,’ Ms Kolbe said.

She added that she believed the terms of the recent feasibility study had been manipulated to get the outcome the government wanted.

‘The government’s so-called feasibility study last year ignored the option of light rail. It unnecessarily added in the costs associated with the XPT to make the costs higher than needed.

‘The report didn’t include tourists in the passenger numbers, [it] totally ignored all environmental issues [and] deliberately inflated the costs and ignored any benefits to justify a policy backflip.’

And she reminded voters that all the region’s National Party state MPs – Don Page, Geoff Provest, Thomas George and [then member for Clarence] Steve Cansdell – had been vocal supporters of the rail link in opposition, only to backflip once in government.

Mr Page is quoted by Hansard as saying in 2006, ‘it is essential that we… put trains back on this track. If people want this, they must support The Nationals and the Liberal Party at the next election.’

As recently as 2011, Mr Provest told Parliament, ‘members would be aware that my colleagues and I have campaigned for many years to reinstate that rail line’.

Not to be outdone, Thomas George said in 2009, ‘the government could provide stimulus to the north coast by reinstating that rail service’.

‘It would not only support the region’s transport industry but also support tourism and industry along the line,’ Hansard quoted him as saying.

TOOT is now calling on the NSW government ‘to show vision and leadership in creating real transport options. And to honour their commitments to rail transport in this region,’ Ms Kolbe said.


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37 COMMENTS

  1. Politicians caught out lying, to win an election, what a shock !

    The rail-trail is a joke. If the government is serious about attracting tourists, then they should re-instate the train line and extend it to the Gold Coast airport – that will bring billions more dollars to the region than a bike path.

    • I dont follow this logic…Build a light rail line from GC to Murwillumbah and it will bring in the tourists? How? People can visit the region now easily enough and they aren’t exactly coming in droves. Do you think people will visit just to experience a train ride? Attractions like a rail trail would bring in more tourists I would have thought.

    • The rail goes way beyond attracting tourists. We have the greatest skew toward young and old demographics in Australia. Large percentages of the population needing public transport. 85% of local residents live within 5km’s of the existing line. Put hte bike path along side the track, and we will get bike tourists, and health nuts (maybe even a few more) as well as dependable infrastructure for the sustainable future of this region.

  2. I can only think that politicians, like people generally, can dream and stand for something until such time they realise the sheer infeasibility of it, and then be forced to change accordingly.
    It was obvious way way back in the Bob Carr days of 2004, that the rail line needed massive funds injection to get it up to scratch, and with a continually declining revenue base, he had to pull the pin.
    Very sad, but obvious.
    Trains use stinking diesel anyway. How romantic is THAT?
    Much better to utilise this amazing corridor as a Rail Trail, with zero emissions and healthy lifestyle to boot.

  3. First and foremost we need a reliable commuter light rail service back on our tracks. I and many others I’ve spoken with miss this transport option terribly and want to see it return. Then if we can add a tourist/leisure element to this with bikes, fantastic.

    I too am deeply concerned about the motives of those pushing the current rail trail option as it seems highly unlikely that if this option goes ahead without also including the rail service at the same time (i.e. the line that’s been spun about ‘protecting’ it for ‘the future’) that the chances of getting the rail service back up and running will diminish over time as other uses and users take over the corridor. Imagine the outcry in 5 or 10 years if established tourist-based businesses are to be disrupted or ended because the rail is coming back? The cry will be “What about our incomes?” “What about our jobs?” i.e. no politician will have to balls to disrupt them.

    Get the rail sorted as the priority and build the other opportunities around it. Let’s put local resident’s transport needs first and other options second – where they belong!

    PS I totally support the creation of new businesses and jobs but let’s get the rail sorted first and build these opportunities around it – not at its expense as it appears it will end up being. That way it’s a win-win for all.

    • I agree rail transport is a great idea – but it seems that that option is highly unlikely on that slow, windy corridor.
      Lets use the corridor for something that is possible and sustainable, much cheaper and thousands of people will use it (as on other rail trails world wide). It will be a terrific “active transport option.”Old people need good community transport door to door – not struggle to get to a railway station and then what to do at the other end?
      If we have a successful rail trail in 10 year time with new jobs and businesses, why would we want to change it?

      • You have completely missed my point Marie. The rail option needs to be made the priority and the other options built around it. If it’s not done now in 10 years time if the rail trail is up and running we will have lost the rail option forever. At a time when we have an opportunity to link to Gold Coast rail and eventually the future high-speed train service from Melbourne to Brisbane. Your love of cycling is making it difficult for you to understand or appreciate the needs or wants of others. Rail first. Other options second.

  4. The old highway between the Gold Coast and Ballina that was built in the 1930s was an amazing engineering excercise using technology and a route suitable in the 30s.The railway line between Murwillumbah and Casino was also an amazing engineering exercise using technology and a route suitable in the 1880s.But we are in the year of 2014 ,do we still use the same route for a train that needs to travel much faster and safer for it to be economically viable .Sure it would be fantastic to have a train picking up all those tourists and work commuters from the Gold Coast,Murwillumbah,Lismore and Casino but it needs to be fast and not a meandering pleasure tour that takes forever to get you to your destination.You must look at least 50 years down the track and think will the existing train corridor carry us to the future or do we need a completely new and straight high speed line.

  5. Just a cursory glance at the condition of the tracks will tell you that the trains are NEVER going to run again. Govt could give every house in the North Coast a Hyundai Getz for what this would cost. Let it go.

  6. I’m disgusted that Don Page, Geoff Provest and Thomas George have failed to act on this issue – it is vital to our future that the Northern Rivers has a workable integrated public transport system ready for when the Cooloongatta rail link is opened in 2017. Public transport encourages physical activity, is safer than driving, has less emissions than private transport and with fuel prices ever increasing is the obvious way of the future.

  7. Your article on the Casino to Murwillumbah rail line is a disgrace. Normally if a person accuses another person of lying you as a journalist should at the very least contact the person being accused to give them a right of reply. You did not contact me. For the record, our commitment before the 2011 election was to do a feasibility study into trains being reinstated on the Casino to Murwillumbah line. We honoured that commitment. The feasibility study said, amongst other things, reinstating trains on the Casino to Murwillumbah line would not meet the public transport needs of the region because two of the three largest towns in the region (i.e. Ballina and Tweed Heads) would not be serviced by the trains no matter what combination of services were provided. This remains the case regardless of any argument about costs.

    Secondly, the Government has made it clear, and it’s in the Terms of Reference for the Rail Trail study, any consideration of a rail trail must be based on the commitment to keeping the rail corridor in public ownership in case at some future time trains become viable.

    Don Page MP
    Member for Ballina

  8. Strange isn’t it that the rail line was mooted by both states not so long ago. That the line should be built from QLD to NSW with gauge the same, to move all the people around from Sunshine, Gold coast and Northern Rivers in a cost effective way. What happened …….. of course too expensive…. yet we drown in visitors each holiday with day trippers that could hope on a train and wow that would lead to jobs, and gosh that would lead to business, but of course that’s to simple and costs to much… for any of our pollies. Brian never say die we may win yet lol.

  9. The Casino to Murwillumbah line traverses most of the main, growing population centres on the North Coast and with the 22ks connection to the Gold Coast has the potential to transport the majority of locals and tourists.

    To acquire the corridor and rebuild the line at todays cost would be at least $6 billion. That’s a $6 billion asset which belongs to the public and should be utilised to our advantage. The whole line does not have to be rebuilt, around 50% of it is okay and all reasonable estimates for necessary repairs to the line come in at around $100m to $250m. That’s peanuts compared to the $2.5 billion to upgrade 50ks of the highway, to accommodate endless numbers of diesel spewing semis and B doubles. No matter how the pollies try and spin it, no other form of transport can provide the economic, environmental or social benefits of a rail service.

    Trains run on diesel, which can carry large numbers of passengers, are a lot less polluting and damaging to the environment than trucks, buses and 4 wheel drives stuck in traffic for hours.

  10. Everyone who is intereested in future regional rail should visit http://www.vinschgerbahn.it. There is an english language option on the site. Small towns, tourism, rail and trail, with rail services and tourism booming. It might not be on the coast, but it is a showcase of what is possible with light rail.

  11. Have a Rail Trail would be by far the best use of the line. I have lots of cyclist friends that wish it were so. The small towns and scenery in the area are second to none. Cyclist of SE Qld are ready to come and ride the weekend away. Spending money on accommodation and food. If you look at the Rail Trail demographics in NZ you will see that the majority of cyclists are middle aged with money to spend while on their adventures.

  12. The train will never be on those tracks again. Far too gone. Bring on the rail trail. Those of us that have lived here when the train was functional saw that it was very underused hence it’s demise. Give all the little towns and villages a better lifestyle with more great visitors. Not just the drunks that get drawn to Byron now.

  13. Light rail will only work in this region if we build our towns to look like Surfers Paradise and Broadbeach – we don’t want that and we don’t want the population densities that are needed to make light rail, or any rail, viable. In sparsely-settled regions like ours, buses provide the best public transport options – they are flexible, can travel around local streets and have multiple stops close to where people need to go. Light rail, on the other hand, is inflexible and relies on tens of thousands of people travelling every day to make it work.

    The rail trail will keep the rail corridor in public ownership, revitalise station precincts and ensure all residents and visitors can explore our great region. If the rail trail is not built, then the government may come under pressure to sell off the rail land – that is the real risk that opponents of the trail are running. The rail trail cleans up the corridor for current use and preserves it for the potential return of rail services sometime in the future.

  14. I’d like to clarify something: I didnt use the word ‘lie’. The Echo added that. I used the term ‘policy backflip’ which I think is accurate.

  15. I want to start a MTB tour business on the rail trail and create jobs. It is not being used at the moment and will not be viable to restore. I need some crowd support to get started and the rail trail will do that.

  16. I being a train traveller would like to see the trains come back from Casino to Murwillumbah, if you travel at night from Sydney you have to wake up at 2 o’clock and catch a bus from Casino to Murwillumbah or where ever, it is very frustrating and tiring, it would be wonderful it they could put light rail from Casino to Coolangatta .

  17. I still don’t get it, that those against the Rail Trail must surely be aware that the trains were NOT viable thus they were ceased!!!!!
    Do your homework, they only people using the trains were on concessions and having there free ride.
    NOT VIABLE.

    At least the Rail Trail will open up a beautiful corridor for most people including tourists.

  18. Similar arguments are taking place across NSW at the moment & have taken place in other states before. Rail is the most energy efficient method of moving freight across the land and may well have a resurgence in the future. It is not likely to happen any time soon. In the meantime, let’s secure the ownership of the rail corridors by turning them into rail trails instead of the lying idle for some future Government to sell them off.
    Rail Trails have proven to be an economic boon for communities across the world & or the more adventurous could be coupled with other disused transport corridors such as Travelling Stock Routes & Reserves, corridors which also deserve preserving.

  19. Rail trails have become an important part of the tourist economy wherever they have been built. Let me just talk about some first hand experience: rail trails that I have ridden where I have had the chance to talk to local businesses about the impact of the rail trail.

    In New Zealand the Central Otago rail trail is keeping businesses alive in several small communities suffering the same sort of rural downturn as we have seen across Australia. In Spain, where the economy is in terrible shape, hotels, bike shops, cafes and others really appreciate the steady influx of money into local communities. In Australia, ask the businesses along the Murray to the Mountains trail, the East Gippsland trail or any of the others. Several small businesses have been established just to service rail trail tourists.

    Each year, sometimes more than once, I lead groups to overseas or interstate destinations with the express purpose of riding these fantastic routes. So our tourist dollars go to where the rail trails are. And let me tell you this: not one of these routes, spectacular and enjoyable though they are can hold a candle to the North Coast rail trail route. Just from my small group of friends this would have totalled a fix figure sum that has gone outside the state or outside the country.

    The Northern Rivers rail trail has the potential to be the most popular and successful in Australia and can become famous worldwide. Sustainable eco-tourism, recreational and commuter route for local traffic, all this and more.

  20. The train line will never see another train. Everybody can see this. It’s financially impossible. A rail trail is the answer. Across the world rail trails have been very successful in the areas of tourism and fitness as well as being financially viable for governments and us the taxpayers.

  21. Time to get on Track

    Government has contributed vast finances to build highways which now clog the streets of Byron Bay with more day tripping tourists that the local roads can handle.

    The Days Of Entitlement are over, so instead of complaining and asking Govt to fix it, local business and Council need to use this bountiful day tripping tourist glut to advantage in solving their long term infrastructure.

    Govt is now out of money and what is not used will be sold, so now is the time for local business and council to use it or lose it.
    Early last century railway was built to serve local community for passenger and freight, but road transport has obsoleted it. Probably the best part of that line is the Mullumbimby to Byron Bay section.

    This is an ideal opportunity for local business and council to seize the situation and raise enough money to buy an old Qld cane steam train, substitute NSW gauge bogies and possibly substitute gas fire for the boiler fuel.

    The huge number of day trippers coming to Byron could be parked at Tyagarah and a train terminal could shuttle passengers to local attractions and free Byron from traffic congestion and provide market freight and tourists between Mullum and Byron.

    If this is successful the rail link can be gradually expanded to include expansion in local tourism attraction, Resorts and Restaurants Stops expanding to Booyong, Eltham Pub etc and Lismore. A Stop at Binna Burra could be used for a bus excursion down Friday Hutt road to Tintenbar and back via Macadamia castle.

    This can be an answer to the rest of the state as to how to resurrect their own local rail lines for their own local service for their own benefit without state run bureaucracy; it would also be helpful if local govt can discount or waver development administration costs for meaningful tourist development applications.

    Regards
    Patrick Madigan
    Ballina

  22. I love to look at trains and travel on them. I am also a realist. The supporters of a return of trains on this line need to get a grip on reality. No government is going to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a transport system that is; more expensive; slower; not servicing major population centres; will mostly carry $2.50 seniors, concession card school children and other concession holders, when cheap and flexible buses are already doing a better job.

    Lets get behind the rail trail and keep the corridor in public ownership and control.

  23. And who’s been working Facebook overtime today posting on numerous rail trail pages encouraging rail trail supporters to jump up and down here about this article?

    • I have been Christina.Luckily we live in a democracy and I have the chance to be able to voice my opinion as much as anybody else.

  24. I could be wrong but isn’t the govt doing a bike trail feasibility study on this line ? Or was that a rumour to keep the lobbyists quiet, who knows…
    To re-instate this line would cost a gazzillion, the whole lot of it would have to be renewed plus the rolling stock
    Bike trails on old disused railway corridors have been, & are being developed all around the world and are very popular with all kinds of bicycle riders, walkers, horse riders etc…
    So in this beautiful part of the country there’s a trail that runs thru a majestic changing landscape with small towns and places to visit along the way, users will be spending their money in cafes, bakeries and a whole lot of other shops, motels, camping areas & taverns…whereas train travelers would be just commuting & bypassing all the attractions of the area…
    A bike trail would bring people in from all around the world, holidaying in this area and spending money…contrary to what a lot of people think, bike travel is a very popular pastime… so bring on the railtrail !!

  25. I’ve just ridden 60 Km on the Murray to Mountains rail trail from Bright to Myrtleford and back.

    Ask the publican at the Happy Valley pub what he thinks of the rail trail …. runs right past his front door.

    Experience in Victoria, New Zealand and shows that rail trails are brilliant for bringing life and jobs back into small towns.

  26. The Murwillumbah – Coolangatta rail proposal will never happen for two plain reasons :
    1: The trucking industry funds the National Party and people around here vote National, tribally.
    2: The rail line, if ever funded would have to be a public asset and the National Party is about selling out community assets to privateers.With the National Party in effective power, both sides of the border, a snowflake has a better chance in Hell than a government-funded project, no matter what the benefit..
    If you want another example of National Party lunatic ideology, just see what happened at Taree!! An employment generating project has been trashed by political chicanery in a town with a serious unemployment problem caused by irresponsible actions of private enterprise.

  27. The TOOT campaign is about running several light rail services per day, up to about 16 per day. So its about helping locals and visitors get around on a daily basis. (This is nothing like the old daily XPT service which was to get people to/from Sydney)

    So, for example, young people could get to sports practice at the Byron Sports and Cultural Centre without needing their parents to drive them. We’d create a new station at Sunrise which is just the other side of the Centre.

    With light rail we’d also see tourists moving around the region to visit markets, galleries and other attractions. (Some of you may recall that Becton’s ran a 2-car motorail one Sunday 2004, all day up and down the line in Byron Shire. It was so popular I, and many others, couldn’t get on it.)

    This brings me to just one glaring problem with the governments so-called “Feasibility” study. With absolutely no supporting evidence the study said that tourists wouldn’t catch any light rail/motor-rail services around the area.

    So in one broad sweep the massive holiday increase in Byron’s population was just ignored. That’s over 2.4 million visitors per year. Why were they ignored ? I’ll let the reader answer this question.

  28. There is already a bus service running past and thru the residential areas every hour between Suffolk Park and Sunrise Beach.Would it be that children would get dropped off at Mullumbimby or Byron Bay train station by their parents/taxi or bus ,wait for a train to get to the Sports Centre.Then when finished get back on the train at Sunrise Train station ,alight at Mullum or Byron Bay train station and get picked up by parents/taxi or bus again.Seems like a lot of double handling and time wasted.Why not just ask for more buses (that is already existing) that pick up or drop off at least 500 metres from your home?
    Ask the bus companies to supply statistics for passenger numbers to see whether a train is viable.

  29. I think the train is dead for now. The land is being wasted. A rail trail is the only viable option to get anything useful going.

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