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April 23, 2021

Rail trail study recommends removing track

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Staff reporters

It has been welcomed by rail trail enthusiasts, but condemned by those wanting light rail: a state government-commissioned study released Friday gives a strong case for a regional rail trail but suggests removing existing track to accommodate foot and cycle traffic ‘in a majority of locations’.

The Casino to Murwillumbah Rail Trail Study comes in at 68 pages, cost $80,000 according to the deputy premier’s office, and estimates a rail trail will cost $75.5 million and that it would add 88,320 visitors the region per annum.

Consultancy company Arup were commissioned after the Casino to Murwillumbah Transport Study was released in 2011. But that study, which cost an astonishing $2m and totalled 130 pages, inexplicably omitted light rail as an option, only surveyed a small percentage of the entire line, bloated costs and estimations which were at odds with previous studies and largely ignored Byron Bay’s traffic congestion and exceptionally high tourist numbers.

And while the state government and rail contractor John Holland refused to disclose to The Echo the cost and quality of rail maintenance work – if any – being undertaken in the area, the new rail trail study claims that there is an ‘approximate annual budget of $750,000 allocated for the purpose of maintaining the corridor’.

Track removal

The report suggests removing the existing track to accommodate foot and cycle traffic, dashing the hopes of the line co-existing with light rail. ‘In a majority of locations,’ the report says, ‘the removal of track, sleepers and ballast material will be required, where a trail cannot be economically formed adjacent to the existing line and remain within the existing railway corridor boundary’.

But it’s not all bad news; the study says, ‘Byron Bay forms the focal point for the rail trail and it would be logical to consider Byron Bay as the starting point for the rail trail development.’ Additionally, the ‘section from Murwillumbah to the shire boundary at Yelgun could be timed for delivery to coincide with a similar progression north from Byron Bay’.

Supporters and opponents

Northern Rivers Rail Trail Inc has supported the move, with spokesperson Marie Lawton saying it confirmed the trail would ‘create strong benefits for the northern rivers region and that the project is likely to be viable’.

‘By developing a cycling, walking, horse riding trail along the disused railway corridor, the community and visitors to our region will be ensuring the whole corridor is kept in public ownership for our future population,’ she said.

But Greens NSW MP and transport spokesperson, Dr Mehreen Faruqi, slammed the study, describing it as ‘a blatant exercise in justifying a pre-determined outcome’.

‘Converting the Casino-Murwillumbah line to a rail trail would be a death knell to any hope the northern rivers would have access to the same levels of public transport as other areas of New South Wales.

‘The estimated cost of the rail trail will be $75 million which comes to around $600,000 per km. Railway lines in regional Victoria have been reinstated at half the estimated cost per kilometre of this rail trail.

‘These funds should be used to reinstate the railway line, starting with the Casino to Lismore leg, not tearing up vital infrastructure.

‘The report suggests that the rail trail would attract 97,000 visitors a year based on a comparison with the Murray to Mountains Trail in northern Victoria. What the report fails to mention is that towns along this trail such as Chiltern and Wangaratta have functioning railway stations.

‘At the end of the day, despite what this report claims, a bike trail cannot be a replacement for public transport for the population centres of the north coast,’ Dr Faruqi said.

Grab The Rail

Surprisingly the report supports the proposal put forward by residents’ group Grab The Rail, which is at odds with mayor Simon Richardson’s advice and position.

Grab The Rail, made up largely of residents likely to be adversely affected by a Butler Street bypass, is promoting ‘an alternative vehicular bypass through Byron Bay town centre utilising a section of the rail corridor from the existing Shirley Street level crossing to Old Bangalow Road level crossing, a length of approximately 2.5km.’

Unlike other sections of the 130km track, ‘the corridor width in the vicinity of the proposed [Grab The Rail] bypass is generous, particularly around the Byron Bay Station locality… and [it] is considered likely that a shared corridor could be laid out that meets the needs of both a rail trail and road bypass.’

Byron’s light rail

Ironically, the fossil fuel sector is leading the charge for light rail in Byron Shire.

Queensland-based coal mining baron and owner of the North Byron Beach Resort, Brian Flannery, has plans to establish a railmotor service ‘between the existing Byron Bay station and the proposed North Byron Beach Resort located to the north of Bayshore Drive’.

Entitled ‘Byron Bay Community and Tourist Rail Shuttle’, the report says that as the corridor width is ‘generous’, it will ‘likely allow for both rail and trail to co-exist for the majority of the proposed operating route’.

Meanwhile, ‘Tweed Shire Council are promoting the connection between Murwillumbah Station and the Tweed Regional Gallery as the ideal ‘pilot’ for the development of the trail.’

Funded by gas industry?

While federal and state government grants are identified to help fund the project, the ‘formation of partnerships with business and industry is considered vital to the ongoing viability of the rail trail’.

Remarkably, the report, authored by James Robinson, suggests that the northern rivers region partner with its ‘emerging gas industry’.

‘For example BHP Billiton contributed over $200,000 to the Victorian Coast to Crater Rail Trail.’ But local state MP Don Page (Nationals) told The Echo, ‘The rail trail will be in no way coming from anything to do with gas. It will be funded by state and hopefully federal government.

‘I’ve done the submission to the state government and I’ve been talking to [fellow Nationals federal MP] Kevin Hogan regarding a federal contribution. The state government announced on Friday a Regional Tourism Fund, which contains $110m, [and] I expect after treasury checks out the Arup report they will indicate the state government’s response financially. I expect this to be positive.’

As for ongoing funding, the report suggests reallocating the $750,000 of ongoing maintenance funding, ‘until such times as the rail trail derives sufficient income and funding revenue from other areas’.

Rally organised

A snap action rally is planned this Wednesday morning from 9am at Don Page’s Ballina office, and will include TOOT (Trains On Our Tracks), Northern Rivers Greens, Northern Rivers Guardians.

Mathew Townsend from the Ballina Greens and The Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) says, ‘I am deeply concerned about our rail line being destroyed by a rail trail project, because it does not solve so many problems within our region. The purpose of this is to stop the political favour and short sighted of the Northern River’s public transport infrastructure issues.’

The report can be found at http://bit.ly/TXZ9RM.


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28 COMMENTS

  1. Uncommon sense prevailing over common nonsense, as Rail Trail, the only viable option on the table, re-writes “common sense”. Yeay . .

  2. I have always been an advocate of retaining the corridor, and for years have suggested leasing it to the Qld government to extend its electric system through from Varsity Lakes to Casino via Coolangatta airport and joining it up at Murwillumbah. It would take heaps of pressure off our road systems, and provide lots of opportunities for young unemployed here on the north coast to travel north to get work and the list goes on.
    But try to tell this to a drongo NSW politician. This is a real opportunity lost to our region if they are going to tear it up for a couple of health freaks on pushbikes.
    The corridor is there so why not use it?
    It just does not make sense to me, and I would suggest a lot of others too.
    Halden Boyd – Evans Head

  3. I will be contacting all the scouting associations around Australia to bring all their young members for the inaugural walk.Word will spread worldwide thru these groups to make our Northern Rivers the major drawcard for healthy tourism.Green buses will be required for not only Rail Trail patrons but to service every little backwater road in our shire.You won’t have to walk the 5km to a train station ,the maximum may be 800 metres.This will give better coverage to a much larger majority of residents.Keep the pressure on for a better bus service and a train line that will cater for the future population corridor.

  4. This is great news for the region! Just let me say that it is not the removal of the tracks that will inhibit the return of the train. It is my understanding they would need to be removed anyway. Lets keep the corridor and use it for something wonderful!

  5. Geoff Bensley can march his scouts troop on any of many wonderful walking tracks already available around the area, along the rivers, through the forest, you don’t need to wait for the corridor to be ripped up to do it there.
    It seems there’s a lot to be made from the salvaging of materials as from the Casino-Lismore sectionwhich had a $50 million upgrade not long before they close the line including many kilometres of all steel sleepers. That and the rails should fetch a good price. Not to mention those amazing old bridge timbers. I wonder where they will be going?
    It is the greatest shame to lose this infrastructure and I am ashamed of people who think it’s a good thing to sacrifice any chance of a train with the provision of bike trails. You are thinking for your own selfish wants not the needs of the young, elderly and disabled in this area. You are not thinking for the future or for the region.
    You can put bike trails virtually anywhere & if you are starting from scratch anyway why wreck the railway?

  6. Fully support this proposal which will showcase the beautiful northern rivers in an environmentally friendly and healthy way.

  7. Rail trail is a VERY POOR SECOND to a good & frequent rail service – easily possible by connecting directly to QR GC line, & regauging to QR gauge.

    Hourly trains Casino to Brisbane, inc 2 international airports – no CO2 powered by Condong Cogen. Commute Casino to Bris & anywhere between.

    We just have to get over the ‘New South is New South, & Queensland is Queensland, and never the twain’ mentality – which prevented connection a hundred years ago, at the behest of territorial state pollies & NR retailers.

    Rail trails are good for only a minority of the population; trains are useful to all, x the 1%.

    Cars & fuel going to become very expensive as the real cost of fossil fuel must be paid; train uses a few % of the energy of cars, & can be renewable. No parking problems!

    Gov has spent 3 – 4 times the cost of restoring NR line, & connecting to QR GC line, on NR roads in recent years – Chinderah to Yelgun, & St Helena Tunnel.

    Only public transport has a chance of giving our children a sustainable planet – if they mean anything to you.

    Visit https://www.communityrun.org/petitions/queensland-rail-to-casino. Read / think / sign / forward / feedback.

    Stuart.

    P.S. Trial a part of the rail trail that does not mean removing track – then compare cost benefit to hourly trains.

  8. As P.T.Barnum is quoted as stating ” you will never go broke underestimating the intelligence of the public”
    It seems like this is confirmed again. Some of the above comments prove these people don’t even understand that they’ve been duped.
    G”)

  9. Imagine how much tourism a rail line would bring, compared to a walking track.
    Wouldn’t every tourist want to do hinterland trips on this beautiful and unique rail line out of Byron Bay? Think what it could do for the towns of Bangalow, Eltham, bexhill and Bentley.
    I’ve suggested putting Kombi Vans on light rail chasis, linking 5 toghether and chugging on up the hill.
    I’d want to ride that into Lismore!
    I like the idea of the Gas companies funding the light rail link to Bentley.
    Finally, I think the Poli’s are interested in the public being fooled into the value of a walking track (are you going to walk to lismore?) because it allows them to scrap the railway for good while saving face. No?

  10. We need trains back getting to Casino to catch a train south or coming back again is really annoying you have to catch buses at odd times to get from or to Casino,bring back the train.

  11. “But Greens NSW MP and transport spokesperson, Dr Mehreen Faruqi, slammed the study, describing it as ‘a blatant exercise in justifying a pre-determined outcome’”

    Fariuqi should also acknowledge that the Greens have a pre-determined outcome and would not accept the results of any study that showed what they refuse to believe. Let’s stop arguing about the obvious fact that is not viable to revive a rundown branch line that only served a very small proportion of a relatively small population when it was closed down.

  12. The trains are not coming back as there simply are nowhere near the numbers required to make them viable. Honestly how many of you in Byron would get on a train going back and forth to Murwillumbah every day? How many of you ever actually get out of Byron and into the greater region such a train would service? It just makes no sense spending hundreds of millions on a train line that would be used by a few dozen people. And there is no rail reserve between Murwillumbah and the border – a distance of 35km – so any idea of connecting to the Queensland system is a pipe dream.
    The rail trail will be a huge benefit not just for Byron but for the entire Far North Coast region. It has the potential to be a unique and popular tourist attraction embodying all the right ecological values, as well as an amazing recreational space for locals. It is about time the community got behind this project in a united way rather than whingeing about some lost train fantasy.

  13. a better tourism investment would be to have trails BESIDE and CONNECTING to the tracks and start a section of commuter rail services eg byron shire music festivals for a start! we want bikes and trains – we should be fighting for an integrated system and nothing less than what our community deserves. Replacing our rail line with a bitumen bike path is NOT a transport solution for our area, and this would be a disastrous outcome for future generations. It will create more transport problems such as more cars and buses and maintenance of a trail will be costly.
    The government would like the community to believe that a rail service is not viable, but this is a cop-out. A Rail Trail in the Northern Rivers is only a good idea if it is integrated with a commuter rail service which will also benefit the community and provide transport options to tourists.

  14. BTW, trains are Also Better for the RailTrailers; lots of destinations to go, & to bike around. A new destination every week; put a goods van on the train, for bicycles.

    Only ‘rail trail’ is just going to become so much ‘same old, same old’ as few will ride more that 10 – 20 km from home base.

  15. Bring back the trains. The so called rail trail is a rubbishy idea.
    $75.5 million dollars, how does that make sense? What a scam. I don’t want my tax dollars wasted on this.
    Why are these corporations wanting to put money in? What’s the catch, they won’t be doing it from the goodness of their hearts that is for sure, what do they get out of it?
    This is a travesty. Whose brilliant idea was it to take the rail service away. At a time of environmental meltdown trains are an extremely good idea. Who ever did away with it should face [the music] for their mishandling of public utilities.

  16. The region needs to wake up. We do not need a stand alone rail trail. It is a wast of money and public assets. It will add to congestion with or without bypass. Byron does not need 90,000 more tourists, coming in cars, their bikes on a bike rack. The hinterland needs more tourists in order to have economical benefits for the region. How do they get there? They drive to their BB in the hinterland, leave their car, jump on their bike or the light rail and explore the region.

    I have specifically travelled to Norther Italy to check up on a previous disused rail line in a regional area, to see what will happen when it reopens. It closed in 1990 and reopened in 2005, after 15 years. The villages are not larger than in our region. Since opening, it has beaten all expectations, more than 1 million trips per year. It had the same fights as we have here, but sensible people have prevailed. Now it is a worldwide showcase for integrated transport. Its called the Vinschgerbahn. Google it. A rail trail goes along the whole line, and people taking their bikes on the train.

    If we use the same method from the trail study to estimate the economic benefits for the region, and working out a break even point, that is using their figures of 90,000 new tourists and multiplying that with $200 dollars per day, then a train would be viable in no time. A train even brings in fares.

    The rail trails, we hear about here and are used for comparison are in remote areas. You are lucky to count 30,000 residents along the much praised Murray to Mountain Rail trail. Rail trails are good in really low populated areas without tourism. It has no benefits here on its own, but rather destroys our future opportunities. Why don’t the rail trail/ cycling enthusiasts fight for better cycling ways on existing roads? We already can yccle to Mullumbimby from Byron or to Bangalow. I have done it as an avid cyclist myself. So lets make the existing roads safer to ride on. Use some of the available money for bike pathes on existing roads

    I urge people to read the report, it is so one-sided, as was the rail study earlier in the year, both to push one option only. It stinks. How can anyone get away with this.

    Jens Krause

  17. I fully support the rail trail concept. I would use it and know many other locals who would too. What an awesome way to showcase our beautiful region!

  18. the study; “Better integration between bicycle facilities and public transport will increase cycle usage and cycle tourism in particular. Cyclists should be allowed to carry bikes on all forms of public transport” – THATS THE GREAT THING ABOUT TRAINS> THATS WHY IT WOULD WORK BETTER WITH A TRAIN SERVICE AS WELL.
    and the bit i like the most: that the trail surface will be made of compacted road base and “Although maintenance frequencies are likely to be higher over the life of the trail, …..local government and road maintenance organisations will ensure that maintenance costs are contained at efficient levels….(!!!) Maintenance of gravel surfacing would concentrate on pothole filling and would generally be undertaken manually meaning routine in spection and maintenance regimes would be required. ” Yeh right, HAVE THEY SEEN OUR ROADS AT ALL???? Especially the roads that the rail would actually take pressure off? St Helena Rd, Ewingsdale Rd, Bangalow-Lismore Rd, roads in Mullum and Byron….
    The people who are really profiting from us not having a rail service are the road maintenance organisations (who cant even maintain our local roads as it is, locals will agree it only takes one weekend of sub-tropical rain to undue most of their pothole filling) and then the petrol, car, taxi and bus companies. WHY do you think that the last 2 studies done on the rail have recommended more buses even though they cause more road maintenance and use more petrol?

  19. “health freaks on pushbikes” has the ring of smarmy, clueless derision, the sort of attitude that reflects a contempt for others and an inflated opinion of ones own importance.

  20. No wonder people don’t trust politicians and don’t want anything to do with politics.

    This so called ‘study’, like the dodgy Transport Plan which cost taxpayers $2m, is a blatant betrayal of the Northern Rivers community and not worth the paper it’s written on.

    The previous ‘study’ claimed that restoring the Casino to Murwillumbah line would cost almost as much as it cost to build the Alice Springs to Darwin line. That line cost $1.3b for 1420Ks of line and 90 bridges, built from scratch over very difficult, isolated terrain.

    While our local politicians have been telling us they can’t find $35m to restore the line and get the trains running as promised (they even had Tshirts printed) they can spend $75m to destroy the line for the exclusive use of a few cyclists. Too bad about people who want to get to medical services or university or access employment, or tourists who would prefer to get to their destination without having to sit in traffic for hours.

    Their “studies’ stink to high heaven. If people allow themselves to be duped by this nonsense there will be a huge cost to the Northern Rivers community and taxpayers will pay dearly for the behaviour of a few disgraceful politicians.

  21. I fail to understand some peoples logic regards this Railway line…….

    Joan Jones says…….. ” We need trains back getting to Casino to catch a train south or coming back again is really annoying you have to catch buses at odd times to get from or to Casino, bring back the train.”…….Where were people like Joan, prior to the line closing in 2004 when 3 people would get of the train, daily.

    Stuart 21 says……..”Hourly trains Casino to Brisbane, inc 2 international airports – no CO2 powered by Condong Cogen. Commute Casino to Bris & anywhere between………..Where were people like Stuart prior to the line closing in 2004 when 3 people would get off the DAILY train in Byron.

    Matt says………” Wouldn’t every tourist want to do hinterland trips on this beautiful and unique rail line out of Byron Bay?………Obviously No, Matt………they would want to do a short Steam Train trip but the trains only do limited stops in the hinterland, Matt. Cars, motorbikes, horses, pushbikes, tourist buses & skateboards will get you to every destination…..anywhere.

    Rail freight instead of road? As much as I hate B doubles & semi’s on the road they get the freight to the door……trains don’t….double handling.
    My father started truck driving in the mid 40’s & the railways were being subsidised by road freight back then. They are highly inefficient & costly as a means of transport & limited in their point to point base also. Society these days seems to demand total convenience & that’s why we rely so heavily on the car or bus or taxi.

    I agree that we, as a society need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuel based transport but until society evolves away from that then trains will fall to the bottom of the preference list.

    From a purely practical position, trains ain’t gonna happen……..rail trail is better than weeds.

  22. There seem to be a lot of comments from ill-informed people who have never used the Gold Coast to Brisbane train (on the line that had to be rebuilt as the original had been ripped up in the 60s by another lot of dodgy pollies) and had to stand for most of the journey as the train is always packed.

    Studies have shown our train would be as popular. When an old vintage train ran trips from Mullum to Bangalow several times a day during a weekend in 2004 it was also packed every trip.

    But of course having a well-used train service is not in the best interests of the road transport lobby who donate many millions to both political parties.

    They’re the ones dictating our transport policy.

  23. Give us our railway line back!!!! Which political party allowed it to run down, they are the political party’s that you do not want to vote for. The next state election is less than a year away.

  24. im confused by the article and even more confused by the varying opinions IMO..i prefer trains to bike paths..but that doesnt seem to be the option..I prefer trains to fighter jets ..that doesnt seem to be the option either… i think a monorail would do or light rail they only have a 20-30 year lifespan and cause little detriment to an already unused thoroughfare …problem is we the people dont have a say in the matter..if we did i think the majority of people would want a rail system whats more I think a lot of people would use it definitely more than would use the bike path maybe could have both..but probably get none …just another few million spent on an environmental impact study and costing reinventing the never ending bureaucratic wheel…I think ive seen this movie before

  25. Of course the government wants to rip up the rails. You don’t think the road transport company lobbyists want competition from publicly owned railways do you?

  26. As I sit here today, I desperately hope that a huge number of people went to Page’s office for the protest this morning to show him that common sense instead of dodgy deals will give the people what they want. I say bring the train service back (and extend to Coolangatta) immediately and stop stuffing everyone around!

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