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Byron Shire
July 14, 2024

Rail trail funding heads south

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Six months ago NSW Nationals MP John Barilaro and rail trail advocate Cameron Arnold shook hands at at the $50m announcement in Bangalow. Photo Jeff Dawson
Six months ago NSW Nationals MP John Barilaro and rail trail advocate Cameron Arnold shook hands at at the $50m announcement in Bangalow. Photo Jeff Dawson

Chris Dobney

The much debated rail trail for the Casino to Murwillumbah rail line will not go ahead any time soon, with the state government instead choosing to put its seed funding into the Tumbaruma line in the state’s south.

The trail was a pet project of former Nationals Ballina MP Don Page, who first announced funding for a feasibility study in 2013 after an earlier report into the reintroducing a rail service to the line ruled it out on cost grounds.

In June that year the report announced the cost of developing the entire Casino to Murwillumbah line into a rail trail would be $75 million.

The Nationals went to this year’s election with a $50 million proposal for pilot projects which, it was widely believed, would be split between Tumbarumba and the north coast.

But the state government announced on Friday that the total amount will now be directed at Tumbarumba, with the north coast proposal left on hold for ‘further analysis’.

Minister for regional development John Barilaro said the pilot project decision followed an independent assessment of 12 rail-trail funding applications.

‘The government feels the Tumbarumba proposal is worthy of further investigation as we progress this pilot process,’ Mr Barilaro said.

‘[Tumbarumba ] Council’s application demonstrated an effective plan for community consultation, a viable operating model and potential for the initiative to generate economic and tourism benefits for the region,’ he added.

Ironically, the reason given for not progressing the northern rivers project was not the widespread and vocal opposition but rather the large number of applications for use of the line.

The EOI process generated six applications for projects along the Casino to Murwillumbah rail corridor.

‘There was a wide range of proposals for projects along the Casino to Murwillumbah rail line but some differing views as to the best model and a range of views and options for investment. Further work will be necessary before we can progress proposals on that corridor,’ Mr Barilaro said.

Rail champions celebrate

‘Congratulations everyone!’ the Northern Rivers Railway Action Group (NRRAG) posted on its Facebook page following the announcement.

‘It looks like the immediate threat of the Casino to Murwillumbah Railway being destroyed to make way for a Rail Trail has passed.

‘The expression of interest process for the Casino to Murwillumbah rail trail is not going to proceed further at this time. It does seem that common sense has finally prevailed and our corridor is to be preserved for the future reintroduction of train services,’ the post read.

Trains on our Tracks spokesperson Basil Cameron said, the minister made it clear that the rail trail proposal had ‘failed to gain sufficient community support’.

‘In the face of a well funded and slick marketing campaign, the community has remained firmly in favour of using our tracks for trains’.

‘The rapid growth in the regional north-south and east-west transport corridors demands rail solutions that are less expensive and safer than a super sized roads only solution’.

‘Rail is a far better investment in tourism infrastructure that will deliver economic benefits and public transport across the region as well as ease traffic congestion in coastal towns like Byron Bay’.

Mr Cameron told Echonetdaily that one of the reasons it got knocked back is that ‘many of the expressions of interest were track based and the rail trail was inconsistent because it requires removal of the tracks.’

‘We would urge rail trail supporters to get onboard with the community that clearly wants trains on our tracks. We firmly believe both are possible. It happens in other parts of the world, including Australia, and it can happen here,’ he said.

Northern Rivers Rail Trail Inc (NRRT), which has been the most active campaign group in support of the trail has said it is disappointed with the decision but says if the pilot project at Tumbarumba is successful there could still be money in the kitty for the northern rivers down the track.

NRRT president Pat Crier said the group was ‘very pleased with the NSW government decision and although the NRRT has not been selected at this time, the selection of the much shorter Tumbarumba to Rosewood proposal was a positive step in introducing Rail Trails into NSW.

‘Rail Trails are not new,’ he said, ‘they are well established in northern America, Europe, New Zealand (Including the world famous Otago Rail Trail), Victoria (with 27 operating rail trails (900Km) so far) and in all other states in Australia.   The first was developed in Australia over twenty years ago.’

NRRT member Marie Lawton added it was ‘definitely not all bad news’.

‘We’re talking to the committee who looked at the submissions today to see what we can learn from that process,’ she told Echonetdaily.

This is a breakthrough at least that Tumbarumba got some funding. We’ve only been going for two years where’ as they’ve been going for about ten. It’s only a matter of time for us.

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  1. Basil is on the right track here. NRRT have huge marketing campaign funding for their self-interest project. Since the fact rail trail is illegal because there are no legislation support the removal of tracks. The all EOI interests have tracks being secured but none of them have any removal of the tracks. This reflects to the interest groups that track removal is not allowed.

    Good job from the minister for doing right thing by not doing any illegal activity. As highlighted in this article, the community consultation is quite weak, let alone to the CSG is in same situation too. Lack of community consultation is directly correlated to corruption and self interest projects. Everything is always about money, to let the social and environmental sides to suffer. I understand Northern Rivers is declining at the moment, but that is why rail trails is not supportive. Rising traffic numbers and pollution is incredibly related to poor socioeconomic conditions. This is evident in many cities in USA.

    Trains is number one public transport solution especially for the regional areas. High speed rail is another project that needed to be consider too. We cannot just focus on dead-end projects because it going to worsen our economy.

    I don’t understand how NRRT people told us that their project will help our economy and improving our environment. I am currently researching in sustainable development at UQ. I never seen or heard any proven evidence of such projects from rail trails and related short-term projects going to revive the regional economy and improving environmental quality. Rail trails is extremely small to run your own city, let alone a state!

    Anyone ever heard of Transit Orientated Development? It is critical method to develop and network public transport for the region or metro area. TOD’s is a clear-cut improvement in sustainability overall for the local socioeconomics. Trains, connected to bus stations and bikeways is an example of TOD.

    • Hi Matthew. Your research needs to be widened re rail trails and economic development. Look up great victorian rail trail, Otago and railstotrails conservatory.

    • There’s an old saying in politics,

      “When the tide goes out, people with no clothes on, can be seen!”

      Well, the tide is the funding.
      The people with clothes on, are the groups that have solid and viable proposals.
      The people with no clothes on, are the groups that have no solid or viable ideas.

      So the NSW regional development panel, is in the process of flushing out the stupidity and fanciful, so then they can see what can be made of it all.

      Since Simon Richardson’s cavalier “Multi-modal” idea attracted his voting track huggers, the whole rail corridor development issue went into a shire induced LSD trip.

      Government funding departments have a habit of not supporting drug-induced applicants.

      As a shire, we need to be very clear about presenting ourselves as worthy applicants for any serious funding.

      Our corridor is crying out for our help.

      We, en masse, are currently seen as hopeless hippies.
      After all, we still believe trains are coming back!

      We all need to understand, that trains are NOT coming back, regardless of how many helicopters lovingly fly over the corridor.

      Trains are prohibitively expensive and annoyingly limited in flexibility. They’re great for cities. But, , , We aint a city.

      That’s precisely why rail trails exist.

      If we were ALL truly self interested, we’d ALL be clambering for a rail trail, because that’s ALL we can hope for, to protect the corridor from eventual sell-off.

      Our corridor desperately needs funding.

      Byron Shire, please get Act Two together.

      The alternative is . . NOTHING

      We have ONE choice. We USE it, or we LOSE it

      • Tim, that last part of your comment is incorrect. I and plenty more have said it before, and I will say it again…

        The railway is currently under no such threat of being “lost” or “sold off”. It is under protective legislation which prevents this from happening, as long as it stays as a railway.

        Where do you get the whole idea that the railway will be “sold off”? because as long as it IS a railway, there is literally no chance of that happening.

        • Hi Gary,

          The point is that it has NOT been a railway for 11 years and counting.

          The longer the corridor is disused, the greater the risk that the NSW government will change the classification by law, and then do what they want with it, like selling bits off, as they please.

          Do you really want to take this risk??

          If we all work towards the utilisation of the entire corridor, then we reduce this risk dramatically.

          Currently, and into the medium future, a rail trail is the ONLY viable contender in achieving security of our corridor.

          Trains may well come back in the decades ahead, but even NOW, the tracks would all be removed to rebuild the railway.

          Just look at roads . . They don’t just widen the old 1890’s highways, do they?
          Why would they tiss up the 1890’s rail line?

          We all need to really think this through, and not get jammed in the tracks.

  2. It’s taken many years, but finally the state government has acknowledged the Northern Rivers community overwhelmingly supports a train service on the Casino to Murwillumbah line. Perhaps the loss of so many votes and the seat of Ballina at the recent state election finally got the message across.

    The C-M line is a high standard rail facility ideally placed to provide transport for this fast growing region and 4.6m tourists. It would cost in excess of $4 billion to replace. In this fast growing region with little public transport and dangerous local roads, rail is the only efficient, sustainable and safe way to transport people.

    There is no hard evidence of the economic value of Rail Trails to tourism compared to the $200m to $300m spent on them recently. Rail Trails in the Goulbourn Valley and Warrnambool-Port Fairy in Victoria are virtually unused, despite expensive improvements. Doubts have been expressed about the Brisbane Valley trail. It’s not good enough to pluck numbers out of the air and say x number of cyclists CAN be expected to use the trail.

    The billions in cash windfall to the state government’s coffers from the sale of our electricity, and stamp duty from property sales, needs to be more fairly distributed to provide the 21st century rail service this region has needed for many years.

    • There are no plans to reinstate the trains on that line. John Barilaro’s office said – because of 6 submissions (4 of which are private tourist operators) – there needs to be more work. He didn’t say the rail trail won’t go ahead and he didn’t say the trains are coming back.

  3. Mathew,
    High speed rail has its problems for the regional areas because of foreseeable political interference. A very fast train means very fast and that means no stopping. Say there is high speed rail from Brisbane to Sydney. To be fast it would have to be not more than five stations. Sydney and Brisbane are two, so that makes only another three stations in the whole distance or it is not worth having a very fast train. High speed rail is mainly for the big cities.
    As for Transit Orientated Development in the 1800s they had good town planning and a rail line was connected to Casino, Lismore, Bangalow, Byron Bay and Murwillumbah.

    • Spot on !,
      Why is it necessary to state the obvious ?
      O.K. I realise the public in the Northern Rivers have little interest in improving their lifestyle and are satisfied with meat pies, football and some dead-end job ( any job in fact ). However the glory days of politicians who had foresight and public good as their prime directive has ended with the dismissal of Gough. Our ‘representatives’ nowdays are firmly focused on, where and who to sell us and the COMMON GOOD out to.
      Transport service = Horsey track ………..don’t think so !

  4. $5 million went to Tumbarumba – not the whole amount. $95 went to airports and that amount was originally $50. It is great that rail trails will finally get off the ground in nsw. This is not the end of nrrt – just a time delay. There has been no mention of the railway being reinstated. Unfortunately the set back means we have a delapidated corridor for longer!

  5. It is pretty obvious that the state govt interest in throwing money at the Railtrail in this area was an attempt to garner community support for the Nationals election campaign. They have come to realise just how much opposition there is to the Railtrail that they’ve run for cover post election, because the Nats got such a shit kicking. In other words, it’s going to cost the govt more votes to spend the money here than somewhere else, so tough luck RT advocates and congratulations to all of those in the community who expressed their support for and desire to have a functioning rail transportation system operating again.

  6. Lets hope you’re right Marie and that this is just a delay in the process and that eventually this wonderful project will be funded by a government with more vision.

    Certainly there will never be trains or any other mickey mouse project using the tracks. It will either be eventually turned into a rail trail or simply disappear as others have done. That would be a tragedy given the potential of the corridor and the amount of work that has gone into getting it established.

    Well done to all supporters of the rail trail and lets believe that this is just a hiccup and that common sense and some creative foresight will eventually prevail.

    • Sorry! I don’t understand.
      What IS the difference between “a rail trail or simply disappear as others have done.” ? A rail trail is the trashing of all the good work done ,for the public good, by previous planners and tax-payers, in order to provide essential services in our region.
      Some dinky trail for hobby horses and bikes will do nothing for the infrastructure desperately needed to halt the rapid progress of this region down the gurgler to oblivion. We need the industry that can be supported by low cost rail transport,not diversions for the indolent.

  7. Rail Trails normally take 10 years of lobbying and studies before reaching fruition so don’t dispair it will happen.eventually.
    A 21st century train system cannot be installed on the old 19the steam era corridor without major straightening,deviations and gradient lowering or wrecking our 9 heritage tunnels.
    If this old corridor is still dormant with weeds and noxious trees growing then what a waste of an amazing community benefit.
    Bring on the rail trail and bring on a new corridor for a viable 21st century train system

    • you may be bending the truth a little there to suit your preferences Geoff. LIGHT RAIL can be built on old rail infrastructure without the need for the gradient and curve upgrades you are warning of. heavy rail and very high speed could not, that is true. this is a transportation corridor that will be lost forever once an alternate use is introduced. this corridor will be vital for transport in the future and should be preserved for this reason.

  8. A rail trail in Tumbarumba would be much better suited there than here as down south they have a much better climate, much more community support and the last train ran on the Tumbarumba Branch 40 years ago (4th of may, 1975) so the infrastructure mostly gone and a rail trail would be good on that line.

    However, the last train ran on the Murwillumbah Branch just 10 years ago, and is in good condition considering it has been out of use for so long.

    The rail trail here is dead as this was its only chance at some real funding in the near future, so perhaps its time to move on from the rail trail and start getting heads together to start thinking about ways to re instate the railway – as it is in much higher demand than a costly horsey path.

    Bring back the trains!

    • I don’t know about you Gary but riding in minus 5 degree temperature in Tumbarumba is not what I would call a better climate.With daytime maximum winter temperature hovering around 10 degrees it is also not much of nice riding temperature..
      I have ridden in New Zealand ,Victoria ,Southern NSW and Queensland , this area has the best all year round riding climate by far.Riding in minus 4 degrees is very painful and riding all day in 10 degrees is not exactly exhilarating.
      So pull the other leg Gary when you start talking about climate and bike riding.

      • So you fond of 30C and 75% humidity, heavy rain and lightning storms especially occurs between September and April? Its incredibly impossible to make a tourism operation for the rail trail as backbone spine of NR’s economy to be feasible. Best climate for rail trails would be Tennant Creek, Atherton Tablelands, Hunter Valley, North Island etc.

        But you missing a lot of points here of why we need public transport as a higher priority than a rail trail. Rail trail is not a public transport, so do our buses. Have you thought of making your campaigns to help the trains too? You said before you want 21st century trains. Why you guys never mentioned it?

        Here are some questions I need to see them answered by you folks.

        1. Does rail trail projects convince 50% of our resident and tourist population? Regarding to the climate, impacts and long distance commute time.

        2. Do you understand the sustainability models? Such as TOD, Bruntland Model, triple-bottom line and that etc.

        3. Why constructing and operating trains is expensive? Back up your claims in comparison to multi-modal train corridors and regional case studies around the world.

        4. Are you aware that Northern Rivers is declining? It highlighted that it is one of top 5 worst economy zone in Australia, ranked 6th crime hotspot, ranked third in unemployment and ranked seventh worst investment.

        5. In relation to question four; how you think a rail trail going to alleviate all of above problems? Without improving public transport, which considered a best method to move people around.

        6. You aware that rail trail is not likely to happen, due to current legislation stated that removal of train tracks is disallowed; let alone the rail trail bill has failed to pass the senate three times?

  9. Ken, what I mean is that the only possible use for the corridor is as a rail trail. There are NO OTHER OPTIONS. This corridor is not suitable for public transport for all the reasons which have been endlessly highlighted, as surely you must realise! If it cannot be funded then it will continue to deteriorate and eventually be lost. Is that what you would prefer?

    • The North Coast community (and the state government) knows the ONLY option for a multi-billion dollar rail line is to provide transport for the 8 out of 10 fast growing communities it traverses and 4.6m tourists.

      A train service will be running on the line into Byron in December. There’s every reason to believe it will be as popular as the train which ran regular services on the line in 2004 which was packed to the rafters.

      People who continue to talk rubbish about trains not coming back and a cycleway is all we can have-none of which is backed up with any hard evidence-have no credibility.

  10. The promise of potential funding and the big media hype surrounding it at the time was clearly a measured push for National votes in the Northern Rivers pre-election. Only NRRT couldn’t see this. I think back to that massive photo in the Northern Star of everyone jumping for joy over the coming funding and I just shake my head at the naivety in believing anything a politician promises when an election is looming. The cheque was never in the mail – it was just a pure and simple stunt to try and garner votes. Post-election the Northern Rivers rail trail funding has gone the same way as Thomas George’s promises to rip up CSG licences – into thin air. The government has lost interest in the project and moved on, having forked out $5 million of the so-called $50 million to Tumbarumba where the proposal was pretty much a no-brainer, with widespread community support. NRRT can have all the meetings it wants with the government over this now to try and ‘get things back on track’, but the message is clear. The rail trail in its proposed form is done and dusted. It’s time now for the community to come together and start lobbying for a multi-modal use track, featuring light rail as the centrepiece. It’s the only fair and equitable long-term solution, and what our diverse Northern Rivers community deserves. You can still have your bike track, but not at the expense of other people’s extremely valid needs.


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