Queenslander Peter Finch is hoping to be able to cut through the battle between locals who want to see trains back on our tracks and those who would rather have a rail trail.
The creative media student and vintage tram enthusiast believes a volunteer-run light rail service, along the lines of Melbourne’s Puffing Billy or the ill-fated Zig Zag Railway could work in Byron Bay.
He plans to put his ideas to a community meeting at Byron Community Centre this week.
While Mr Finch readily admits he doesn’t have funding or a feasibility study in the bag, he does believe that Byronians will embrace the alternative to ‘a big, dirty old diesel rail car’, which is one proposal currently on the table.
But lack of funding doesn’t faze Mr Finch, who says he put similar proposals to the Queensland Government in the 1990s.
‘I did a proposal in when the Queensland Government was looking at doing light rail in Brisbane over some of the old rail lines,’ he told Echonetdaily.
‘My suggestion was that they could use the old trams that used to run in Brisbane.
‘I met with the minister and also did a proposal for the mayor, and they were very keen, but there was an issue with the gauge of the track,’ he said.
Mr Finch has coined the term TramLink for his Byron Bay plan, and says that if it wins council support he would look at putting together ‘a consortium of people’ who are interested in public transport and ‘something more environmentally sound than some of the suggestions going around at the moment’.
He added his option would be compatible with a rail trail.
‘The rail trail could work in with a tram service with trams taking bikes from Byron Bay to Mullumbimby or Bangalow for further exploration in and around those towns, Mr Finch said .
‘The track is not in as bad condition as the ARUP report puts out and the costings are two or three times the amounts that other states seem to go on,’ he told Echonetdaily.
‘The total amount of track that we’re looking at is only about 30km anyway and since we’re only talking about light rail, the work required would not be nearly as much as for heavy rail, which would run at quite high speed.’
Mr Finch envisages a staged process that would see a tram operating from the from the Services Club near Browning Street in Byron Bay to Mullumbimby with a stop at Tyagarah to service Bluesfest patrons.
He added that route extensions could also serve Suffolk Park and ultimately Bangalow, which he said Byron Shire Mayor Simon Richardson was particularly keen on, although he did concede the track to Bangalow would need a significant upgrade to be viable.
Mr Finch said while the state government was unlikely to come to the party given the ARUP report, there were other sources of funding that could be tapped for the project.
‘To be honest I haven’t even got to that stage. Firstly we need to see whether the people of Byron will support it.’
‘Firstly it’s about the people of Byron being able to use it as a viable transport service. Secondly, it’s about the 1.3 million visitors and tourists to the area each year,’ Mr Finch said.
If his proposal gets the nod, Mr Finch would then look at a feasibility study to determine the costs of the various route options, ‘by walking the track to take a look at it.’
‘The ARUP report only looked at satellite images and track that was visible from the road,’ he said.
‘It does need a lot more further study,’ he admitted.
A Critical Conversations forum will discuss options for the future of the Byron section of the Casino to Murwillumbah rail line at Byron Bay Community Centre on Thursday July 17 from 6.30pm.