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Byron Shire
September 25, 2023

Helicopter survey to assess state of disused rail line

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An aerial survey by helicopter of the entire length of the disused Casino to Murwillumbah railway line will be undertaken on Friday in a bid to prove the line is in a much better condition than the state government purports it to be.

The survey, starting from Casino at 11am, is being organised by community organisation, the Northern Rivers Railway Action Group (NRRAG), which backs the introduction of a regular commuter train in the region with the railway line extended to Queensland.

The cross-border link, they say, would be a massive boost for the flow of tourism both ways as well as help people get to work.

The survey is being funded by Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon, who will visit from Canberra to take part in the helicopter journey.

The Australian Greens’ official policy is to return trains to the corridor.

NRRAG spokesperson Beth Shelley said ‘we will be undertaking an aerial survey of the line to prove that the line is in much better condition than the state government would have us believe’.

Ms Shelley said the group believes ‘our roads and highways are already congested with cars and trucks and people without cars are unable to access the transport they need.

‘NSW governments have been telling us for years that we can’t afford a train while they continue to spend billions on highways: NRRAG believes it’s affordable and essential for our future and our community,’ she said.

‘The ARUP study (2012) stated that before the track was closed in 2004 it was considered to be in a fair condition, with the exception of some timber bridges.

‘The last eight years have seen little maintenance on the line, and as a consequence further deterioration has occurred.

‘The study went on to say the overall cost of reinstatement of the line would be $953 million which, over a 130km track is around $6.9 million per kilometre, which is ridiculous.

‘The cost to establish a privately owned diesel rail shuttle service from the Arts and Industry Estate into Byron Bay is around $300,000/km, the 3.4km railway project planned by the North Byron Beach Resort will come in just under $1 million, according to manager Jeremy Holmes,’ Ms Shelley said.

Local ex-railway worker Phillip Hill said ‘if the rail trail legislation gets through parliament, the current protection of the line will be removed and large areas of State Rail owned land at Byron, Bangalow etc will be open to property development’ .

NRRAG member Chris Manserge said footage from the survey will also be used to create a documentary film ‘that will capture the beauty of the landscape and terrain that the railway passes through’.

‘In addition to its enormous value to commuters and travellers as irreplaceable public transport infrastructure, it has great heritage value as an amazing example of 19th century civil engineering, and should be preserved for use by future generations as this region grows,’ Mr Manserge said.

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  1. Preserving the 19th Century speed of 80km/hr for the next 130 years also!
    QLD has been spending money for the last 30 years deviating towns,lowering gradients,straightening lines to get speeds above 80km/hr , this will also be required on the MBah to Casino line to get it out of the ” steam age alignment” and give speeds that can compete with cars.
    Go the Greens for wanting to give us a slow snail train for the next 130years that doesn’t follow the population corridor.
    Read Dr Philip Lairds comments on “steam age alignment” and hopefully you will see what a crazy idea it is to use the old corridor.Give us a reasonably fast train following the highways with bus and car interchange stations at the the highway exit points.

  2. The corridor will still be protected and will not be open for developing – only for a rail trail. I don’t know where this information is coming from. NRRT inc are well aware of the heritage value and as much of the old infrastructure will be left if possible. At the moment no-one gets to see much of it anyway. The helicopter survey may be useful but why dispute an independent transport study?

    • “I don’t know where this is coming from” – Either that or you just don’t known your facts! Phill Hill is a ex-railway worker, so it would be foolish to challenge or dispute his level of experience.

  3. Transport accounts for around 15% of CO2 emissions in Australia. Transport today is mainly by car, truck and plane. Trains transport people more efficiently per passenger km with less CO2 emissions. Heavy rail uses about 75% less in greenhouse gas emissions than single use vehicles. Light rail much less. Climate change is real and we only have a few years to do something seriously to reduce our emissions.
    We need to reopen the Casino to Murwillumbah rail line ASAP to connect with the new proposed Gold Coast light rail. Big advantages for the elderly, young and disabled. Public transport here is appalling. Not everyone can afford a car.
    It is ten years since the line to Murwillumbah was closed. Despite the Northern Rivers Region having one of the highest rural population densities in Australia, successive NSW governments have neglected rail transport in this region. The line came to be operated with a Sydney-centric philosophy and timetables rarely suited local travel. Lismore is the only major city in NSW without a rail service.
    At our two previous State elections the Nationals promised to get the railway service returned. In 2004, in State Parliament, Thomas George, said

    “The community feeling about the loss of this rail service is unprecedented during my term in this Parliament. Everyone has been firmly behind the campaign to retain the rail service.”

    Yet nothing has happened.

    • Sue, the ARUP (2013) transport study recommended improved bus timetables and services as a way to address the public transport needs of our region. If you genuinely wanted better public transport then why not petition for better bus services? Why is everybody fixated on trains that will only serve a fraction of the population on a slow, single track corridor built on 19th century alignment for steam trains? Besides won’t we still need bus services to get people from their homes to the train stations? New buses and timetables could be implemented very quickly as opposed to a trains which will need a large capital expenditure and time to get the line operating to modern safety standards after 11 years of deterioration.

      Finally, what proposed light rail are you referring to? The Gold coast has a light rail, it is not proposed. The light rail does not currently connect to the heavy rail and any extension of the heavy rail to Coolangatta, is a long, long way off.

  4. The video should be a brilliant document of the corridor.

    As for proving any economic argument that the line is worth reconstructing, well, of course it will not prove anything at all, except that a helicopter flew over it.

    You wouldn’t want a doctor to assess your health at 100 feet would you. A lot of very old people can look very young at half that distance.

    The pilot may have some difficulty even staying on the corridor, as the overgrowth is so immense in many sections, and not straying off course may require much concentration indeed.

    What a joke it is that assessment can be claimed to be made, let alone proved, that reconstruction would cost a certain amount, under such a ridiculously distant observation view point.

    The Greens need to give this corridor some very serious thinking indeed, especially as they could very easily and unwittingly scuttle the $44 million on the table for a Northern Rivers Rail Trail, which is the only developed option against absolutely NOTHING AT ALL happening to our corridor.

    Reality-check time, is NOW . .

  5. Really? What can you tell about the state of the line from 300-500 meters in the air? What you will be able to see is the a snakey, windy 19th century steam train aligned single track corridor that doesn’t serve the major population areas in our region. I’m, really glad I didn’t donate to the Greens if this is how they spend their donations!

  6. From the article …. “NRRAG member Chris Manserge said footage from the survey will also be used to create a documentary film ‘that will capture the beauty of the landscape and terrain that the railway passes through’.”

    Who’s enjoying that landscape today? NOBODY? And it if becomes a rail trail? EVERYBODY can again.

  7. A helicopter flight might be the best way for the Greens to see the huge population growth areas that exist a long way from the old train corridor.If they look east after leaving Lismore heading north they will see Goonellabah,Wollongbar,Alstonville,Ballina,Cumberland,Lennox Head way off in the distance.
    Keep heading north and the other huge population corridor of Pottsville ,Bogangar,Hastings Point,Kingscliff is about 30km east of the old corridor.
    But maybe the city Greens of Rhiannon and Faruqi will be including the cows and macadamia trees as needing a train for transport.
    As Daryl Kerrigan said “tell them they must be dreaming” .

  8. Funny how an emergence of common sense in regard to the possibility of reinstating the rail service brings out the usual suspects. Some of them even attempt to relate to the ARUP report as if that it was somehow factual and not a confection made to order for a lazy Government. Others bleat about 18th century realities that seem to completely miss the point. The fact that it is possible (at all) to traverse any of the Northern rivers by rail is an amazing thing regardless of “alignment” (sigh) If you look into the next 50 to 100 years, that infrastructure will become vital to the area. The Greens (bless their little hearts) understand this. The Chardonnay set can argue for a rail trail all they like. But at the end of the day, the current and ongoing transport needs for the rail corridor have to seen not as a romantic notion but as a post-oil resource for commuters and tourists alike. Future generations will be thankful for the legacy they have been left.

  9. The Greens will claim anything to get their point across its their way or no way so how truthful will they be. Their transport policy is worth reading they want the government to own everything so who will build it all these people will be employed as public works workers and mix that up with the unions and watch the price blow out this party needs a reality check . If they reckon Tony Abbotts is a fifties man they have to be the party of the 1920’s.

  10. More highways, suburbs and a bike trail instead of rail! Please see this letter i wrote raising some questions, thank you for paying for this Lee.

    My understanding is that the Casino to Murwillumbah Rail Trail proposal by Northern Rivers Rail Trail (NRRT) is for the use & management of about 132 km of rail corridor including valuable land in all of the towns and villages along the corridor.

    How will the NRRT create the income to maintain and promote the rail trail and other corridor land unless it is through leasing and licensing land and infrastructure and how will the NRRT fund and service any borrowings that may be needed to pay for the estimated shortfall of 25 to 30 million dollars needed to construct the rail trail?

    The recent awarding of a 60 year lease on a key railway asset in Byron Shire has raised concerns that even though the land in the corridor may remain in “public ownership” this could be severely mitigated by leases and licences and in particular long term agreements.

    For our communities much of the land is historically and cultural significant and is in central locations in each town and village. Will our local governments have the power to deal with any development applications in the corridor or will these all be fast tracked in Sydney ignoring our LEP again leaving our communities with make believe democratic inputs again?

    The ARUP study estimates a “viable” rail trail visitation level of around 88,300 per annum, if this is accurate the effects on Bangalow for instance (a key place on the proposed rail trail) from just the extra car movements alone may be un-welcomed by the community.

    Byron Shire Council has already severe funding issues dealing with the costs created by 1.6 million and ever increasing annual tourists with very little ability to generate income from. The expected extra tourists means extra costs on infrastructure anyway but will The State Government expect our Local council to help look after and help maintain the corridor without having the ability to rate State owned land?

    The NRRT propose that the rail trail is managed by a TRUST that will span 4 local government areas. Our communities will be mistrustful of how the public land will be used after the example being set in Brunswick Heads by the Crown Land TRUST running the caravan parks for profit with seemingly community disregard and in so doing changing the very nature “of the simple pleasures” that make Brunswick such a special place. The NRRT Trust deed would set out what is expected and as one of the key yardsticks that is being used to determine who will get the 132km prize is their demonstrated ability of doubling overnight stays by 2020 (in 5 years). This kind of political/bureaucratic vision is often at odds with what local communities want.

    I am unaware of any study that has considered the tourism potential and community benefits of light rail in The Northern Rivers and of course with extra cost we could have both light rail and a bike track.

    Rail Trails do not help our rather desperate public transport needs in Byron Shire. It is extremely short sighted to do anything that diminishes the ability of having trains on our tracks. Things change, enlightened governments occasionally appear, population grows, roads get busier and a light rail service that uses a corridor that already goes to the main population areas and could easily connect to The Gold Coast becomes viable.

    The Queensland Government has obviously come to the conclusion that cars on their own are not the answer and the extension from Varsity Lakes to the Gold Coast Airport is already planned and costed and there is also now talk of the need to duplicate the current single line from Varsity lakes. To anyone travelling on the constantly enlarging Pacific Highway to Brisbane or for that matter anyone wishing to go to Byron Bay in peak seasons it is obvious that we have a problem that cannot be solved by wider roads etc. Hello NSW State Government!

    Governments can more easily allocate annual funding to maintain and upgrade an existing asset than come up with say $10 billion to create a railway line from scratch and if we remove the tracks then we can probably kiss goodbye to our rail forever. We only need to look north over the border to see the extra costs that were required after Joh made such short sighted decisions that benefitted a few.

    Our family loves travelling on trains and a safe egalitarian light rail service for us is so much better than a rail trail that we will not use. We would settle for both even though the NRRT does not wish to share?

  11. For the trail supporters who think the train is slow, I tried to follow the XPT from Byron to Mur’bah by car along the freeway and Tweed Valley Way, but when I arrived in Mur’bah the passengers had already left the train. Once the temporary speed restrictions are removed it will be much faster.
    As for not serving the local population, let’s all repeat again – 85% or the residents of Byron Shire and Lismore City live within 5kms of the line, and can get to a station by car, bike or local bus. Pottsville is 12kms away and Kingscliff 16kms, much less than the average worker’s commuting distance of 21kms estimated in a regional Health Survey.

  12. Hrmm very interesting to see the comments already. I can smell climate change deniers. The people live in olden Roman era days. Your intelligence is very low as I read through your comments.

    The train will be new and will be in rebuilt track. Nationals leader’s media release on other day stated this. Services equivalent to tilt trains in regional Qld. Faster, newer and realigned. Thus the case of C-M line is a reserved space for this new train services.

    So, can anyone tell me how does improving bus services going to convince people to not to use their cars, especially from inter regional travels?

    This NRRT argument seems want their pipe dream of world premier horse trails in middle of declining socioeconomics and gasfield region instead of everyone else wants public transport back.

    I just can’t see that is the case.

  13. Why are these comments so desperate? Don’t be scared about the helicopter flight. It can only shed some light It is more acccurate than looking at 5% at the rail as ARUP did, then arguing, that the whole line needs to be replaced in order to last another 100 years and with this argument concluding that it is not a viable option. It would be loughable, if it was not so serious.THIS HELICOPTER RIDE IS TAKING THE PULSE OF THE LINE, how valuable. What is this about going on with 19th century rail? Those who advocate another corridor have no idea about economics. To create a new rail line in a new corridor of the current length would cost Billions of Dollars. Make the best use of what we have got. It can be done, and money can be found.

  14. i can’t wait for all of you to see for yourself that it is not all overgrown as you are saying. Yes there are some heavily overgrown bits near Bangalow and Byron, but i think what you will see is that the tracks from Casino all the way to BinnaBurra are pretty much fine!

  15. As usual, the NRRT supporters bombard any article that doesn’t echo their obsession of ripping up this railway. Fortunately this somewhat controlling behaviour and outlook is not stopping more discerning people from taking a good look at the proposed rail trail and seriously questioning whether spending in excess of $400,000 per kilometre of taxpayer funds to rip up this railway and turn it into a bike track, provides the best value and outcome for the community.

  16. No matter how I look at this issue, I keep concluding that getting trains back on that track will never happen. It is a romantic, sentimental idea. I agree that the route is out-dated.

    Any public transport money should be spent on a comprehensive bus service, even though not many people currently use the existing buses outside of peak hours.

    How can anyone want to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on an old train line when the North Coast roads are in such deadly disrepair.


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