Despite $50m being splashed at rail trails for the region, the pressure is still being applied by a group of residents advocating for what they claim is a more equitable bypass and transport solution for Byron Bay.
Grab The Rail spokesperson Paul Jones, who represents residents likely to be affected by a Butler Street bypass, hit out at Northern Rivers Rail Trail Inc (NRRT) claiming they have refused to co-operate to share the railway corridor.
Mr Jones says the NRRT’s $50m funding announcement, ‘further secures their claim to exclusive use of the entire Byron Bay rail corridor together with the potential sell off of the large parcel of land forming the old railway terminus.’
But NRRT’s Marie Lawton has refuted the allegations. She told The Echo, ‘NRRT has never said they are claiming exclusive use of the entire rail corridor. It is our policy to be inclusive of all options for the use of the corridor and accommodate where it does not detract from the success of the rail trail, particularly if it adds to the total tourist attractiveness of the region.
‘An example of this is the rail shuttle proposal between North Byron Beach Resort and Byron Bay town.
‘Members of the executive have had meetings with Mr Jones and at no stage have they refused to co-operate.
‘The Byron Bay bypass has been determined by the state government and has nothing to do with NRRT.
‘There will be no sell-off of railway land and the corridor will remain the property of the state government.
‘The rail trail will not be focused on Byron Bay, but the whole corridor. The trail will encourage tourists to explore the neighbouring townships by bike or on foot or electric bike or horses in some areas. The rail trail is all about bringing alive a dormant asset for the benefit of all the many communities along its path and above all creating numerous jobs throughout the entire region.’
Further criticism by Mr Jones was levelled at retiring local MP Don Page (Nationals), who is an advocate for the rail trail pilot program.
‘Don Page has worked tirelessly with the NRRT to ensure the Byron rail corridor is not available for a multi‐model transport usage,’ Mr Jones said.
‘In the 2001 environmental impact study (EIS) the rail corridor was identified as the best location for a road bypass for the town CBD as it represented the best cost benefit, ie it was the least expensive route with all the best features and it was fully approved by all stakeholders.
‘Contrary to this, Don Page found that the rail corridor now was not wide enough to accommodate the rail trail and a road bypass.
‘His claims remain entirely unsubstantiated. Circumstances have not changed.’
But Mr Page hit back, saying that owing to the recent rail trail funding, ‘circumstances have changed.’
He told The Echo, ‘We are now considering three options whereas in 2001, only two options were being considered. The advice from Transport for NSW is that the corridor is not wide enough to accommodate all three proposals ie rail trail, trains and two-lane road bypass.
‘In addition, an EIS done in 2001 did not consider the possibility of a rail trail and a train as well as a road bypass.
‘In those circumstances it is understandable that the Butler Street option is preferred by Byron Shire Council for the town centre bypass.’
But Mr Jones is unrepentant, claiming the path will lead to an ‘impending disaster,’ from the current ‘tourism juggernaut.’
‘What is extraordinary is that the Rail Trail, a CBD bypass, bus transit interchange, light rail and rail shuttle can all be easily accommodated within the corridor in a location perfectly convenient to town, the railway station and existing services.’