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Byron Shire
July 5, 2022

Why not a train?

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In 2003, the Waterfall train disaster cost the lives of seven people and injured many others. It changed attitudes to railway safety in NSW; it was the catalyst for wide-ranging changes to equipment and procedures and it might well have influenced the decision to suspend services on the Casino to Murwillumbah branch line in 2004.

If a train were ever reintroduced on the Casino to Murwillumbah line, it would be a safe, modern, fast, electrified twin-track service of a similar standard to City Rail. No NSW Government (of any political persuasion) will ever fund a sub-standard rail service; no amount of tinkering will ever achieve the safety, efficiency or convenience standards that would be required.

Not even the ballast is reusable. Failed drainage systems and rising clay sediments have contaminated the aggregate preventing it from locking together as the strength beneath the rails. Regardless of any other consideration, the slate would need to be wiped clean, hence the more than $900 million required to rebuild the corridor from scratch; the over 100 wooden bridges and nine tunnels that would never pass modern safety standards and the fabled connection to Coolangatta are indeed moot points.

The NSW Government’s own research data indicates that even with the vast public transport options to be had within metropolitan Sydney only 15 per cent of all commuters use it, citing convenience, comfort, privacy and personal security as the main reasons for driving. Sydneysiders it seems will endure mind-numbing traffic jams to avoid public transport. Here in the northern rivers, we talk of traffic snarls at peak hour as though is was worse than Parramatta Road, or as if we had some god-given right to drive at 100km/hour even during those brief windows when everyone wants to use the road at the same time.  Would 15 per cent of the commuters in the northern rivers get out of their cars and commute by train? If they did, even when it was cold and wet or desperately hot, would that still be sufficient to justify the costs of rebuilding the corridor, from scratch? Empty buses seem to indicate not. The location of Lismore Station alone would be a major disincentive and not even a new station at a new location would get passengers any closer to jobs, shopping, hospitals or the university.

A future train linked to Queensland should be integrated with the Pacific Highway, with parking, bus feeder services and community transport to connect the region. Through traffic and freight that does not benefit our region at all gets squeezed into a narrow corridor that will reduce the negative impact on our lifestyles.  The NSW Government policy to preserve northern NSW as ‘a region of villages’ differentiates our region from Southern Queensland. Many key issues involving this policy and integrating public transport with Queensland are outlined in the (very sensible and succinct) ‘Cross Border Transport Taskforce’ discussion paper, 2007.

We do need a better road between Lismore and Bangalow with more overtaking lanes, we need a bypass for Byron Bay town centre and a diversion of the Bruxner Highway around Lismore. Combine these projects with the soon to be completed Pacific Highway upgrades and add a modern passenger rail service aligned with the motorway as the longer-range strategy, our region would be well served for both the short-term (roads) and long-term (road and rail).

For now, roads are flexible; they take people and freight wherever they want to go and they allow us to avoid the double or triple handling of passengers and freight. In the near future, when sustainably fueled vehicles become commonplace, we will be glad we made the right decision to invest in roads.

Will Jeffery, Nimbin

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  1. Residents of Terrigal, Avoca, Wamberal, Bateau Bay, The Entrance on the NSW Central Coast all have to travel by bus, or drive, to stations at Wyong, Tuggerah, Gosford or Woy Woy to get the train to Sydney and they are all happy to do so. No one has ever suggested that the train service to the Central Coast should cease because it does not go through the large, growing, coastal population.

    It’s ludicrous to suggest that there should be no trains on the Casino to Murwillumbah line for that reason. The 22km connection to Coolangatta could be built quickly and would serve locals and the 4.6m tourists (equal to the population of Sydney) who come to the Northern Rivers each year. 38% of those tourists arrive at Coolangatta airport and would love to be able to catch a train south.

    It’s rubbish to claim roads can cope with the huge traffic increases to the area-anyone who has spent time trapped in traffic on the Pacific Highway or Ewingsdale, or trying to find a parking space, would never make such a claim.

    Just as the Queensland Government realised Gold Coast roads could no longer cope with the volume of traffic and had to completely rebuild their rail line at a huge cost to taxpayers, our politicians will have to get trains running here. There’s no need for double tracks; there’s plenty of laybys on the line to allow trains to pass.

    The thousands of people who have signed petitions demanding a train service, and continue to sign them, want the line protected under current legislation until our government sees the light and restores it to get the trains running.

    They know 50% of the line is in reasonable condition and don’t want $75m spent ripping it up.

    The costs quoted for restoring the line in the government’s dodgy rail study are a complete fallacy and should be referred to ICAC. The completely new 1,400k Alice Springs to Darwin rail line only cost $1.1 billion to build!!

    • What about the thousands of people who have signed the petition for a rail trail? Apparently their opinions and aspirations don’t count at all.

  2. Well, what negativity. Will, if you want to write propaganda I suppose you are entitled to write propaganda.
    I just thought I would gander. Show us your money as the economy of Nimbin is not that good.

    • Nimbin is the second most visited tourism destination in regional NSW. Only Byron Bay gets more visitors. Saying the economy of Nimbin is not that good is just wrong! Try getting a parking spot anywhere in the village any day if you doubt the strength of the economy in Nimbin.

  3. Brilliant letter Will. You’re right the future is in roads and sustainable vehicles with electric and electric hybrid cars are already on the market and growing in popularity. A railway line designed for 1800s steam engines is not going provide transport solutions for 2014 and beyond.

  4. Thanks Will for putting these facts forward. The statement put forward by some people is that 85% of the population live within 5km of the train corridor ,this is a great way to fog people’s thoughts ,why not use the real figure for viable train transport and use the figure of 1km from a train station. This is about the maximum distance that people will readily use a train for transport.Being 1km from a train corridor is not good enough,it has to be 1km from a station.Byron Bay would require 3 train stations,Mullumbimby would need 2 stations,Bangalow 2 stations etc.
    Why do the buses sit most of the day in bus depots around our shires? Get them delivering people between our towns.

  5. We should do a trial run with the railway crossings in Byron Bay and Mullumbimby by putting boom gates across them.Now every 15 minutes (30 minute train north and south) we close the boom gates for 35 seconds and see what happens to our town. We must use 15 minute interval as that will be required during peak hours and we must do this at Xmas and Easter time.
    This will at least allow us to judge what will happen when or if the dual track light rail system is reinstated.
    The next trial task is to drag those idle buses out of the depots every day after they have dropped the school kids off and use them to deliver off peak elderly ,unemployed,shoppers etc to destinations around the Northern Rivers.These buses can almost pick you up from your front door and drop you closer to your destination.
    Try these trial systems and get a feel as to what will be the best solution.$20M spent over 2 years is better than $1B + and not having the certainty that it will be financially viable.


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