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Byron Shire
April 14, 2021

Rail line plans could get Byron moving

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Chris Dobney

A train could be pulling into Byron Bay station again as early as next year. But don’t expect to see one at Lismore or Murwillumbah any time soon.

That was the message of a meeting convened by Byron mayor Simon Richardson at the Byron Community Centre last night.

Cr Richardson was quick to point out the council had no role in deciding which projects would get the green light from the state government, apart from advocating on behalf of its constituents.

The three speakers spruiking advanced projects looking at ways to use the line all impressed on the 200-odd attendees that the key to getting things moving on the line was tourism.

Two of the projects would involve short-distance commuter transport and two would offer self-drive buggies running on the existing rails.

All agreed that substantial work and significant expense was required to bring the lines back up to scratch, with the Bangalow to Byron section alone estimated to cost $1.5 million.

The most ambitious proposal, which includes both ‘ultra-light’ rail and self-drive on-track buggies, would maintain and use almost the entire stretch of track in Byron Shire, from Bangalow to Yelgun.

All three groups said their projects were compatible with a rail trail concept along the full length of the old Casino to Murwillumbah line.

Rail car

Mayor Richardson took on the role of speaking on behalf of the first proponent, Jeremy Holmes of North Byron Beach Resort.

The company has been in advanced discussions with the state government over its plan to run a renovated rail motor, twice hourly from its site via West Byron shops and tavern and the Arts & Industry Estate to Byron Bay station.

‘The two-carriage shuttle would carry around 90 people, beach chairs and surfboards,’ Cr Richardson said, ‘and would charge around $3 for the 3.5km trip.’

‘The resort’s owners would fix and manage the track, including the bridge over Belongil Creek, at their own expense,’ he added.

‘They are looking to renovate it so that it will run on solar power,’ he said.

In answer to a question about the impact of the train crossing Ewingsdale Road twice an hour, Cr Richardson said they would be using ‘advanced technology, which I’ve seen demonstrated, which means the boom gates are only closed for around 30 seconds each time.’

‘If you sit in a queue on Ewingsdale Road at the moment, look at your watch and wait for 30 seconds, the car in front of you probably hasn’t moved very far,’ he said.

Cr Richardson said the resort owners already had initial approval from the NSW Government and expected final approval ‘in six to nine months’ for ‘non-exclusive’ use of the line’.

James and Charlie, with parents Alex and Mary-Joy, show how much fun rail carts would be if they were given the go-ahead. Photo Jeff Dawson
James and Charlie, with parents Alex and Mary-Joy, show how much fun rail carts would be if they were given the go-ahead. Photo Jeff Dawson

Pedal cars

The Rail Explorers group, headed by Alex Catchpoole and Mary-Joy Lu hopes to tap into the shire’s appetite for community involvement with its plan to launch up to 100 pedal-driven ‘rail bikes’ on the downhill Bangalow to Byron Bay stretch of the track.

The plan is modelled on a successful venture in South Korea, which sees groups of two-to-four people pedalling the open sided vehicles along one of the most picturesque stretches of the line.

The quad bikes would be pedalled in one direction only, with a tour bus taking patrons up to the Bangalow start of the line.

The bikes would be towed back up the hill by a high-rail vehicle (a modified road vehicle) initially and later by a light-weight diesel passenger train.

‘We want to be profitable and partner with the community in a social enterprise,’ Mr Catchpoole said, adding the group would be happy to give way to light rail after five years if that could be shown to be feasible.

He said the group would be responsible for the upgrading of the track and Bangalow station. Locals would be welcome to ride on the shuttle bus for a small fee, he said.

At a one-way price of $45-$50, Ms Lu said the group envisaged a significant return to the community after the second year, based on a 30 profit share of revenue from an estimated 50,000 passengers.

An audience member who identified herself only as a ‘fellow eco-tourism provider’ said she liked the scheme but questioned the numbers, suggesting they were ‘optimistic’.

 

A Rail Cruiser on the tracks of the company's Rotorua attraction in New Zealand. Photo supplied.
A Rail Cruiser on the tracks of the company’s Rotorua attraction in New Zealand. Photo supplied.

Rail cruisers

But the most ambitious plan of all came from two New Zealanders, who are already running a similar system on an old stretch of rail line in Rotorua.

Spokesperson Neil Oppatt said the group would restore and maintain the entire track from Bangalow to Yelgun, running a combination of powered self-drive buggies and ‘ultra-light’ rail vehicles carrying up to 40 sitting passengers.

The line would be divided into three sections: Bangalow to Byron; Byron to Mullumbimby; and Mullumbimby to Yelgun.

Passenger ‘ultralight’ services would run up to twice hourly from Byron Bay to Bangalow and Mullumbimby.

The self-powered four-seater rail cruisers would also run on the Bangalow to Byron and Mullumbimby to Yelgun sections of the route.

Mr Oppatt was at pains to point out the company’s experience in building and maintaining rail lines and the vehicles that will run on them.

‘We will build our 40-seater trams and four-seater cruises from our factory in Coffs Harbour,’ he said, adding they are cheap to construct and their light weight keeps the cost of line reconstruction and maintenance to a minimum.

He added the company was in the middle of presenting a similar proposal to Coffs, Belingen and Dorrigo shire councils for another abandoned stretch of rail line in those three shires.

‘We can run the ultralight tram and the cruisers over the same track with a maximum speed of 20km/hour,’ he said, adding he expected costs would be ‘about the same’ as the company’s current route in New Zealand.

There it charges $76 per person for the cruisers and $190 per family. He said the tram would like cost $15 one-way and $20 return from Byron to Bangalow or Mullumbimby.

 


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9 COMMENTS

  1. The Casino to Murwillumbah rail line was built for heavy rail for passengers and freight.
    If no one at the meeting had any imagination that heavy rail is to have heavy rail then what was the meeting for?
    The local people cannot see that there is no will in the government to get a real train back on track so the train will not be back according to the government.
    So the people themselves have to do it.
    Sydney once had a dream. The dream was an Opera House where there was a run-down Tram depot and terminus. All Sydney people and the NSW governments looked at each other and said “But we have no money, so there will be no Opera House.”
    So Sydney put in train an idea to raise the money for the Opera House.
    THAT should have been the reason for the meeting in Byron, to raise money, not to float any low-cost, low budget, low-output dreamy scheme that is half baked. The true pie in the sky is fully baked ready to eat and tangible.
    Today, Sydney has an Opera House because Sydney and its people and its government raised the money. They raised the money themselves with the Opera House lottery. We gamblers with the stimulus that we could win the pot bought Opera House lottery tickets hand over fist. And the money was raised.
    Australia now has one of the greatest tourist attractions in the world.
    The Opera House has paid for itself 100 times over.
    What is wrong with the Australian citizen today? They want other people to do all the work.
    When I was a boy I dreamed of a bike. I was eight years old. I collected bottles and the money added up, but it was slow. My mum took pride in her son for his motivation, that he wanted a bike so much. She then donated the rest for my first bike.
    That diligence once was the spirit of Australia. That Australian spirit built QANTAS. In 2014, no one can do anything without asking the Government for the money. The Government have not the money because they give Tax Cuts so they can get elected. That is why we always have a broke and depleted government no matter who we choose.

    • It’s difficult to argue with common sense.

      What about a bike path with
      hired electric assisted beach bikes?

      That seems to fit with the culture and will also
      be a practical / scalable / green means of
      transport.

  2. Great to see these ingenious ideas and to think that we do have hope of keeping our rail line, but please Mayor Richardson, this can’t just be for tourists and visitors! As a non-driving commuter, a regular working stiff, I am almost insane with delight at teh thought of a twice-hourly transport service but the price is way out of reach – $100 a week on light rail fares, just to travel twenty minutes away? This area NEEDS (excuse my shouting but I can’t be too emphatic about this) REGULAR PUBLIC TRANSPORT, not just the skeletal bus services we have now, which are pared down even further on weekends – cos no one in this area wants to anywhere on a weekend, right? – and school holidays.

    Reinvigorating the rail line may be a golden goose for our tourism industry, but ratepayers and other citizens deserve even a tenth of the kind of infrastructure that city dwellers not only take for granted but seem to complain about endlessly.

  3. Are any of these proposals going to deal with all the weeds on the sides of the track, or are they only interested in the money making potential of the track that run down the middle?

    As a resident whose property runs alongside the old tracks I know how beautiful some of the rainforest sections are alongside the track are. But these are of great risk of being lost to invasive weeds such as camphor laurel, lantana, privet etc., that have flushed there in the last 10 years.

    My opinion is, any proposal we go with should deal with the corridor as a whole and not just the track running down the middle.

  4. I agree with Robyn in that the existing structure needs to be kept and that is what Simon Richardson is proposing. Finally a pragmatic mayor. The line is dilapidated but can at least be brought up to a standard for light rail at a cost that is feasible. In this current nanny state country where you need an OH and S worker supervising absolutely everything its good to see our trans Tasman cousins taking the initiative here for us and are willing to spearhead and pay for this project of railcruising and light rail that will be of benefit to many and disperse tourists from the heaving centre of Byron giving business’ a boost in Mullum, Bangalow and Billinudgel. Finally maybe tourists that come to our shire will have something to do other than sit on the beach and drink on their holiday let balconies! Traffic can be reduced by park and ride on the light rail to festivals and the railcruisers will be a fun alternative to cycling which will be set beside the line. These go getters from NZ have a proven product and have the best proposal to breathe life back in the rail lines before its too late. Now I finally realise why the All Blacks beat us every time because their willing to have a crack and have the vision to see it through. Enough talk lets finally allow some private infrastructure that council cannot afford to be provided. And finally lets all have a great time using these lines again and seeing the countryside along them either on pushbike, skateboard, pogo stick, foot, railcruiser or light rail! Thanks

  5. oh what a great and novel idea ..wonderful forethought by our very own mayor..should hit the application just round about council election time….. what a coincidence…..cynicism aside …I’d love to see public transport in the shire maybe get splendour and blues fest to sponsor it…could fix a few traffic issues on the way…..better shelve that idea along with the bypass …..it sounds too easy.. they’ll never get it

  6. Len Heggarty you are so right. The tramcar idea is not new as it was voted for at a council meeting well back in 2013. To all the other people who say what we really need is train transport which the Coalition is so slack on & they are ringing their hands with delight that people are not pushing them for what they should be doing for their constituents! They,the MPs, all cling to that claytons rail corridor study & the same with the rail trail study with its ‘minefield’ of legislation, LEPs, etc etc, contamination, ‘knowing’ they have let their constituents down & those ‘studies’ are rejected! We do not believe them! Read the ARUP Study p.57: 8.2.3 The way forward! Read the Tweed/Southern The SUN 10 July 2014 – Benefits of light rail link felt in south. Jillian Spring

  7. With regards to the North Byron Train.
    I believe they are building a new platform across the road from the existing train station?

    Why not have a bike & walking path …no pollution. Visitors to byron could hire bikes at each end of the track just like they do in London and explore the area along the beach. That way everyone gets to use the corridor, not just a private company. How many visitors are going to park at the industrial area, then wait 30min-1hr for a train to take them on a 3 min trip into Byron. Sound more like a service for the Resort’s guests to me, rather the whole community.

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