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Byron Shire
April 15, 2021

Rail costings put govt study into doubt

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rail shuttle -600x399
The rail shuttle that is being restored by North Byron Resort to provide services between the resort and Byron Bay township. Photo northbyronbeachresort.com.au


Hans Lovejoy

The cost to establish a privately owned diesel rail shuttle service from Byron Bay’s Arts and Industry Estate into town has put the credibility of a $2m government-funded rail study into question.

At around $300,000 per kilometre, the 3.4 km railway project planned by the North Byron Beach Resort will come in just under $1m, according to manager Jeremy Holmes.

He told The Echo that only one in seven sleepers need replacing, along with repairs to the Belongil Creek bridge, platform construction and upgrades to level crossings at Kendall and Shirley Streets. And a 100-seater two-car currently being restored is, ‘Technically not light rail, but is regarded as lighter than normal rail,’ he said. Ongoing costs would be subsidised by a passenger fare in the order of $3 for a one-way journey, according to the resort’s website.

No government analysis

So what does the 2013 government-funded Casino to Murwillumbah Transport Study say about railcar shuttle costings and viability?

While no detailed analysis of light rail or rail shuttle was undertaken, consultants Arup claimed that the estimated construction cost to ‘reinstate rail line to a level suitable for XPT services’ from Mullumbimby to Byron Bay would be $202,326,700.

Light rail and rail shuttle costings were not analysed, according to the report, because, ‘It has also been recognised that a rail commuter service (either light or heavy rail) would not be viable without a significant level of ongoing government subsidy’ [page 8]. Additionally the report concluded, ‘Light rail provides fewer transport benefits than heavy rail’ [page 67].

But those comments are at odds with findings from a 2004 Tweed Shire Council study which compared XPT (heavy rail) and railcar shuttle. Included in the Arup report, it claimed railcar shuttle could be ‘implemented with little or no impact to current main line services.’

Overall, the Tweed Council report found it provides a ‘good rail service at frequencies that are relevant to customers’, despite the assets ‘being in poor condition’.

The Echo asked MP Don Page (Nationals) if he was concerned with the lack of costing analysis for rail shuttle in the rail report, and whether it could result in skewing poor public transport outcomes.

He replied that the section of rail between town and the North Byron Resort is in fairly good shape.

‘It’s much better than in other places including through the Tyagarah area, which is in very bad shape.

‘The costings in the transport study were only one factor which led to the conclusion that any combination of trains, regardless of cost, would not meet the public transport needs of the northern rivers region.

‘Rail not being able to serve two of the three largest populated centres (Ballina and Tweed) was a major reason trains were ruled out, as was likely patronage levels.

‘The original transport study was not skewed towards a rail trail. The rail trail proposal was subject to a separate study later on which said if trains aren’t viable at this point in time, rail trail is a good option.’

Byron Council’s position

And with the most recent government-funded rail trail study supporting the removal of the tracks, what is Byron Shire Council’s position?

At the October 9, 2014 Council meeting, Cr Ibrahim put forward a contentious motion that saw Council writing to minister Don Page ‘fully supporting’ the Northern Rivers Rail Trail (NRRT) project, despite it being far from united; the vote was 5–4.

But the motion also says, ‘In the preparation of the concept plan and design for the rail trail, considerations of multiple uses such as that already approved for the North Beach development [should] be incorporated.’


Cr Ibrahim told The Echo the motion was about ‘securing regional investment’, referring to the promise of $75m from the government and the recent rail trail study.

‘I had it on good advice that the northern rivers was in a good position to secure a massive investment in regional tourism, the precise sort of tourism that our own strategy is aiming for.

‘I campaigned for the rail trail and many people I spoke to during the campaign told me that the rail trail was a no- brainer, and that trains would never come back for the simple reason that hardly anyone would catch them.

‘It was time for a resolution just about the rail trail so we could join our [Council] neighbours in supporting the project.’

No accurate information

But mayor Simon Richardson told The Echo that, ‘The whole rail corridor debate has been underpinned by a lack of accurate information and a lack of goodwill from protagonists to find a solution for the good of all the community.’

‘When thinking about the most important piece of infrastructure we have in the shire, isn’t it rational to do our due diligence and look at all the options, cost and design them, and then choose the best option?

‘I applaud the efforts of NRRT to turn a disused piece of infrastructure into something that may be used by ten per cent of residents and ten per cent of visitors. Ten per cent is better than zero per cent. But is that the best Byron can get?

‘Shouldn’t we expect that costings be provided about services that may be used by the other 90 per cent?’

‘With some of the TOOT leadership not wanting to have a trackless transport service costed even if it meant a light rail service would be costed also, and the NRRT leadership not wanting their stated belief of a rail-based service alongside a rail trail to be costed either, the opportunity to get out of the trenches and to shake hands rather than fists, for the good of all the community, has been lost.’

The mayor added the only winners would be the state government, as they could ‘finally kill the albatross of broken public transport promises that has been hanging around their necks.’

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  1. Look at what Mike Baird is doing to Newcastle currently…

    The rail trail study is rubbish too. the figure of $75million is false, as the study chose to exclude many appropriate things that must be done in order for it to work and be user friendly. Some of these where: 1. Water taps along the trail 2. Toilets at least every kilometre 3. Rest areas 4. Car parking 5. lots of Fencing 6. Environmental impact studies 7. Handling of Highly arsenic and potentially deadly toxins.

    So now as you can see our $75million figure has most likely jumped to something in the BILLIONS for the WHOLE corridor!!!!!

    But the restoring of train services, not very much is needed to bring them back… TOOT has said it would only cost $300 million at the absolute maximum – Trains are included in that price estimate. Clearly Trains are the most beneficial and affordable way to go!.

  2. its not surprising that TOOT didn’t support Simon’s “trackless transport option” which meant building a road ontop of the tracks, but it is surprising how NRRT is opposing any attempt to support trails beside the tracks and sharing the corridor!
    Especially when they still need new legislation to close the rail corridor to be able to rip up the tracks, and then they would have to deal with the contamination issues.
    The Rail Trail study didn’t even factor handling and disposal of the contaminated materials even though it had been tested and found to be toxic! For $75 million we wouldnt even get a safe bike trail on the corridor. and the $750,000 a year wouldn’t be enough to maintain it either.
    We are better off using any funding for rail services, and extending the North Byron Beach Resort railcar shuttle to Bangalow and Mullum. It would be a better way to avoid the traffic congestion than the bypass too.
    Good on the Byron Echo for doing some real investigating on the rail and trail issue.

  3. A few questions to ponder
    1: Will the existing 1hr bus service from Byron Bay to Sunrise Beach be sacrificed?
    2: Will the bus service be viable when trying to compete with the train ?
    3: What hours will it run ? Hotel opening hours 10am to midnight?
    4: Noise problems running at these late hours?
    5: 35 second closing of Shirley St railway crossing during peak hour, market days,holidays .Ramifications for traffic flow.
    6: I presume the owner of the train will pay for all maintenance costs ?
    7: What is the duration of the lease ?

    I hope that the existing bus service can compete or the people in Sunrise Beach will be walking up to 1km to the train station instead of the existing maximum of 300 metres to the bus route.

    • Geoff, The NBBR Has released a digital information book on their project. If you want answers then that is the place to go.

  4. The use of this public corridor to provide a private resort shuttle is a travesty.

    Rather than a rail service, this particular piece of train corridor would be much better served by creating dedicated bus corridors that could share the rail trail in high traffic volume areas like this. Dedicated bus corridors were used in Brisbane in many places when faced with trying to improve the public transport network in areas where no trains existed.

    The advantage with this is that the buses can use the dedicated, narrow road to avoid the congestion caused by masses of cars, and then carry their passengers to where they actually want to go rather than just between a train stations. It would allow buses servicing the rest of the Shire to offer a real advantage over car transport by avoiding the Byron parking lot, and would be particularly useful for shuttle services during festival times.

    Personally, I am totally in favour of the rail trail, but feel that short sections could be shared with bus corridors in congested areas such as Byron and perhaps Lismore. They would only represent a small fraction of the total rail corridor, and surely would not impact on the overall rail trail experience. If Simon is correct about the NRRT leadership not being willing to negotiate on this, then it does damage their case. As for TOOT, I have seen very little rational arguments, so would expect little more.

    BTW, Can someone explain to me how the cost of restoring a 3.4 km of flat rail lines with no bridges, tunnels or overly tight curves to the rest of the 130km of rail corridor is an example of the “proof” that the government costings for the restoration of rail over the whole corridor are exaggerated? Really?

    • Robert, I am seriously starting to consider how much research has been done on this line by the RT supporters.

      The stretch the NBBR are restoring DOES have a bridge wich is in need of minor repair. And the proof was proof that the Governments original estimate for doing what the NBBR is doing is false, NOT the whole corridor.

      Please do some research and review your facts in the future.


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